Q: What do parenting a newborn and reading Rumi have in common?
A: They both go better if you don’t think about them too much.
People say, Enjoy your baby, and This is such a special time—you and your baby are getting to know each other. And, when I have time to think about these things* I get all worried. I love to stare at Iris’s little face, and think of ways to describe the color of her eyes, and smell her hair, and snuggle with her and look at her tiny, tiny toes, but do I do it enough? Am I really looking at her? Am I actually getting to know her or am I just carting her around all day? I nurse her and rock her and take care of her but am I doing this too mechanically? Where is my soul? Does this feel as great as it sounds like it’s supposed to? Is this it, or am I doing something wrong?
Yesterday I found myself looping through those thoughts and starting to feel sort of inadequate and lost, and I realized this was a familiar feeling.
In college I took a course called “Poetics of Enlightenment,” where we read mystical poetry from a bunch of different religious traditions. Most of the students in the class were goatee-ed young men, many of whom, for no reason I’ve been able to tell, often wore long, black knit scarves, even inside the overheated classroom. It was a seminar style class, and these guys would wind their scarves around their necks and stroke their beards and talk and talk and talk about the poems we’d read.
To this day I don’t really know what they were saying, but they always seemed to convey that the poems under discussion were So Deeply Important, that there was Something To Them. And I’d sit there thinking What am I missing? I liked reading this. It even seemed mysterious and beautiful. But I didn’t detect anything as deep and important as these guys seem to be talking about. What am I doing wrong? As the course went on, I became less and less able to enjoy reading any of it, and I dreaded sitting in that classroom looking at the Looks of Importance and hearing those guys talk.
In the years since then, I’ve happened across a lot of those poems again, and away from the silly-yet-intimidating goatee men, they are different creatures entirely. Some have become personally important, helped me see things I needed to see at just the right time. I’m convinced that the biggest difference between reading them in college and later on was that the second time I wasn’t worrying whether I was doing it right. I was just reading.
The awful seminar feeling was so similar to the enjoy your baby worries that I’m pretty sure the solution is the same. Don’t worry about matching up my insides to anyone elses mystical mothering memories. If anything mystical is going to happen, it’s not going to happen while I’m squinching up my face trying to see it. Just change the diapers. Just give the milk. Just hold the baby.
* i.e. when I’m not at the playground, simultaneously neglecting Iris, disappointing Ingrid, failing to hold up a conversation with a play group acquaintance, and leaking milk all over my shirt.