To Human Solidarity

I wrote about Sweden: all the things that surprise me about living here, about the rocks that pervade the landscape, about the way everyone has giant windows and no blinds, about the yogurt and riding on the trains, but after I finished writing, I looked around and saw cheerios covering the floor, and heard Thea waking up in her crib.  I'll still post that writing sometime, because it is interesting, but this week I need more to write about being a mom, read: being a human.

I am a stranger in a foreign land, and with that comes a decent dose of wide-eyed, glossy cultural change which shocks the system just a little, but far more than that, my world has shrunk down to the intimate space between a parent and children.  My entire experience is cloaked in the thick and colorful tapestry of motherhood, so when I tell you about riding the trains into the middle of the city, what I'm really saying is: I wrangled my children from pajamas to baths to clothes to breakfast to stroller to bus to snacks to meltdowns to silent train car to trying desperately to keep the kids calm to downtown to cold and through a thousand thoughts that leave me wondering, 'am I doing any of this right for these babies?'   Sweden is a beautiful place full of lakes and rocks and lots of things I want to tell people about, and I will, but it is hard to write anything about this experience without first writing as anything but a mother to two small people.

And with that, I think the thing that has shocked my system more than anything (as would the first month in most any new place) is the solitude.  I came from a place where I would come downstairs in the morning to Remy pouring bowls of cereal for his friends he had gone and fetched from their respective houses.  I left a place where I went outside and spoke to friends everyday.  We knew each others business because we cared to know it.  My friends knew that Thea woke up 4 times a night and that Remy was going through a phase.  Motherhood in my old neighborhood felt spread across a nexus of dozens of hands, the weight, though mostly mine to hold up was woven into the threads of shared dinners, the children Remy spent his days with, phone calls with my mom and sisters daily, discussion at the playground and sometimes simple proximity.   So coming here to Sweden has felt solitary and for the first time in a long time the weight of motherhood seems almost entirely mine and some days it feels like a pillar reaching up into the sky and I'm not sure how to carry it.  Don't think of these observations as complaints, because there is also much joy celebrated between just me and my children and Carl before he leaves each morning and when he gets home each night, and one of the best things about leaving the place you feel most comfortable is the way it calls you to reckon.

Things in Sweden are not dismal, by any means. Carl, the kids and I love and are grateful for this adventure.  We are making friends at the open preschool downtown.  We are gathering phone numbers and addresses like seeds we carry carefully in our pockets because we hope to sow them.  We are grateful for our quiet afternoon scurries on the rocks and through the woods, and often times we simply endure the hours between four and six in the afternoon, when we've all exhausted our resources.

I guess the thing I mean to say is this:  I believe being a human is meant to happen in the care and watch of many others.  I love that my children are a part of a community where both my friends with children and my friends without children are a part of their growing up and a part of mine as well.  I love that I can be a part of somebody else's.  What I mean to say is that solidarity is a godly treasure.  I am amazed by the way the worries and joys we carry (mine being mainly parenthood at the moment) are both lightened and multiplied and more bright with meaning when others are around.

Reach out to people.  Since being in Sweden I've had to turn my head to wait for the water in my eyes to clear several times, not because I was sad, but because I was so incredibly, and probably pathetically grateful for even the simplest gestures of kindness toward me. It's not just the people immediately around me though: any phone call, email or even instagram have been bright lights.  I'm just writing a bunch of cliches now, which makes me madder than ever, so I'll stop at saying that I believe there is incredible power in solidarity as we tumble our way forward and around this old earth.  Ask for it, seek to give it, be a thread in weave that is trying hard to be vibrant and shining, and let others
offer their thread to you.


Alice said...

Motherhood makes us the strongest people on the planet! Strong in so many ways.

Emily Fox King said...

Ash I made two replies early this am while nursing the baby and reading your words. They didn't make it across the inter web it guess so in a nutshell: love you, thanks for sharing and beautifully putting together words that we are all thinking and experiencing, but can't describe coherently and as beautifully as you do!

Anika said...

Ashmae, I know you only through my brother Joseph and sister Sarah and your writings and drawings. I feel like my brain is so full of my experiences of early motherhood--my oldest son is now thirteen and I'm expecting my fifth baby--that I still haven't found emotional space to write it down let alone sort it out. Yet, when I read your posts, I feel like you are doing some of the heavy lifting my brain hasn't yet let me do. I'm reminded of living in summer in Moscow, Russia (when I had a toddler who would only run the opposite direction of wherever we were going), and I learned that I had a voice in my head that would say "you're all alone in the world and nobody loves you"--which I knew was false, but I had to actively replace it with a dialogue of love. I think of moving from my beloved Brooklyn (where I was surrounded by remarkable women juggling demands of young children) to central NY where I learned to find meaning and friendship in a place with a dramatically different momentum. So thank you for writing.