I originally wrote this article for a series online called This Book Belongs To. It was never published. Today, I realized it’s not about the book at all, but rather, sisters. How appropriately timed.
Somewhere in my first month postpartum, a package arrived unexpectedly at our door. It was from my sweet sister, Kate, who already has two children herself; there was a sentimental, motherly wisdom in that package that understood the benefit of frivolities during a time where so much was raw and pragmatic and, dare I say, boring. It contained the children's book, Life by Cynthia Rylant, a hand-printed onesie (that read "We really like each other," meant to match the t-shirts my partner and I had jokingly/ not jokingly made to wear early on in our romance when we were just that in love) and a pair of painfully cute, knit unicorn slippers.
I cried immediately upon opening the package, mostly because, at that point, sunk in a fog of way-too-long undiagnosed postpartum depression, it was a reminder that the outside world existed, when I felt so very trapped between a seven pound newborn and my couch. How singular, timeless, shapeless, one's experience becomes with the arrival of a new baby; some, I think, relish it, while others, like myself, feel lost, like they are tumbling, amorphous, through it. This repurposed Amazon box felt like a tether to the outside world, a tiny lifeline. The onesie and slippers were, on my small girl, still gaping. The book, however, fit perfectly right away.
Life is the most simple story. It's a story about how life grows, how each creature relishes their habitat, their experience. It is filled with stunning landscapes and stoic animals and a quiet reverie that somehow captures both the magnitude and the smallness of life all at once.
On one page, a deer watches a flock of birds scattering from a nearby tree, their cluster of bodies silhouetted against the night sky or stark against a glowing moon. The edges of the page are curling with foliage, the ground is covered with a grass that seems to dancing, moving, almost visibly pushing its way into the moonlight. The scene is all awash in shades of blue, so serene, yet so full of life.
And the story reads, "All these [animals] know something about life: that everything is changing. And it is worth waking up in the morning to see what might happen."
I have read this book no less than a hundred times at this point, and, without fail, by these pages, I cry, just like I cried the first time. I cry because, if I have learned anything about motherhood in the past 17 months of doing the darned best I can, it is that everything, indeed, is always changing.
Whatever good routines I think we've built-- those healthy eating habits or solid nap times or predictable moods/ schedules/ needs-- they often transform or straight up evaporate as quickly as I claim them as victories. Whatever traumas I think I've inflicted-- frozen waffles for dinner or very, very impatient words or, holy smokes, the time my daughter fell out of the sink onto the floor-- are erased from memory as soon as I claim them as insurmountable failings. Parenting is a constant practice in non attachment.
I have learned to, in a small way, look at life as a parent as a series of seasons. The uncomfortable and traumatic: it is changing. The triumphant and joyful: it is changing, too. But whatever the season, it really is worth waking up to find out what's next. If we can step back from it just the tiniest bit, take in just that moment, it can be really magical. It can also be horrifically boring/ exhausting/ trying. But either way it's okay. We keep moving.
I didn't really know that one month in. I didn't know when the package arrived, when I first read this book, but I had an inkling of it. I am sure that, in some ways, I barely know now. I have mothered, relatively speaking, a very short time, but long enough to know, I have no idea what's ahead, except that it will always be changing. But even though the journey of that discovery had only just, just begun when this book arrived at my doorstep, something about that page was comforting to me. It ripped me out of that very narrow moment in time; it said, You are a part of this. Part of the earth, part of the changes, part of the animals, living in their exact places, doing exactly what they are meant to do. In fact, I am one of them.
I remember padding out to the car with my daughter where my partner stood, tinkering. I was clutching the book in my hands, weeping, insistent that I read it to him immediately. I needed to show him the contents of this package, my book. I needed him to see what my lifeline looked like, what it might look like to save me a little.
Life felt grounding at a time, when I felt dramatically untethered. It didn't fix anything, necessarily. I will still depressed. I still struggled in a huge way. But it did feel like a very real, very small moment of meditation, of solace. I am so grateful to my sister for knowing what I needed.
We haven't read Life much in the past few months. My daughter is old enough now that she prefers instead to flip through board books, herself, comfortably reclined in my lap, but always in charge of the pages at hand. But last night, after a week of everyone being sick, on a quiet day filled with grey skies and recovery, we huddled on the floor of her room and I chose the books, I turned the pages.
I chose Life.
At 18 weeks pregnant, I needed the reminder. I am scared to have this baby, scared for labor to unfold like the first time, scared about my body recovering, scared to relive how dark the months following felt the first time, scared to figure out how to manage two small children.
So I come back to the book. And it reminds me. "Life is not always easy. There will probably be a stretch of wilderness now and then. But wilderness eventually ends. And there is always a new road to take." I let that echo a minute. I cried. My daughter, curled up in my lap, so always appreciative of time spent reading together, yet so clearly sure which books she likes or dislikes, was oddly still. I believe there is a reverence to this book that translates, even to a toddler. She, too, knew.
Postpartum, this time around, it still might be a wilderness. We might get lost. Heck, much of life might be a wilderness. But I believe, deeply, in the simple, beautiful message of this book: we are a part of the natural cadence of things, and there is always something to love, even when it's hard.
I have started making a list for when baby two comes-- ways to cope, things that help, reminders that eventually, even if it doesn't get better, it changes. On my list so far is: exercise, mascara, sparkling water, yoga, Life, Kate.