This is #7 in The Motherhood Letters, a monthly feature in the Mothering Arts community by Leaning into Light founder Jessica Rios. Rooted in universal themes of motherhood, Jess shares the essence of her unique art of mothering through letter writing.
It’s only been two days since we said goodbye. Our little family of three is jet lagged as expected. Sweden to San Francisco, for us, meant a 26 hour trip. And after every plane I’m in that lands, my heart is wide open. I know I could have died. Life is more lucid than it was the day before.
I’m writing to you because my heart is filled with a bewildered sort of thanks.
It's the kind of thanks that questions why we can’t all be as good at showing up for others, as you are. It is the kind of bewilderment that wonders how I got so blessed to live a life with people like you in it.
Moving to a different continent and culture 5,200 miles away from my California home took a lot of courage. Even though I knew it was the thing to do, the experience presented multiple stretches way outside my comfort zone.
For our entire year there, you lived close by. So close that you saw my first bout with anxiety, when physical circumstances stood my hairs on end because I feared for my daughter Helena’s life. So close that, as her grandfather’s long time wife, you spoke up about it. You felt it, too. You voiced your Mama Bear concern, assuring me that I had a right to be scared. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. You were that mama for me.
Through your empathy I stood stronger in my own mothering skin.
From the moment we landed, you were abundant in the attention you shared with me and Helena. You gave generously with your curious, attentive spirit, becoming her gardening partner and playful companion. I knew I could trust you to be honest with me, and that made me feel more at home even though I was so far from it.
When I accepted that I didn't feel a genuine desire to learn to speak Swedish while there, simply because my "plate" felt too full already as a mother and writer living abroad, you accepted me. I didn't feel judged by you.
That kind of love is really, really helpful to a mother of a young child, who is navigating life in a whole new land.
At dinnertime during one of my horrible multi-day migraines, you asked if I wanted the overhead lamp turned off. I could barely answer; I could barely think. You didn’t wait for me to reply. You stood up and turned the light off. And that wasn’t the first time you noticed something on my behalf, or Helena’s, and took action because…
Village. We had a village together for that one precious year.
In a world so far away from what I knew, your outrageously radiant smile shone through your eyes at me, reminding me that mamas always have each other’s backs.
And I also saw you honor your own limits. When you were tired, you told me you were tired and you told Helena, too. You didn’t force yourself to be something you were not. Through this you showed me and my daughter how women can take care of ourselves. It helped me to give myself full permission to be my true self, too. When I was grumpy about the long winter or my marriage, you were fine with me where I was. Not taking sides, not feeding my complaints, just letting me be me.
When I birthed this child and married her father I had no idea you were coming along with the deal. I had no idea I would gain in my life, a woman who I’d lean on intensively, and who would show up with a spirit of sheer generosity as I lived out one of my life’s greatest adventures.
Mamas need each other. Women need each other. Life depends on other life. You aren’t my mother, and you sure showed me and Helena love that felt as deep as a mother’s love, while we were there.
We miss you with every jet lagged, bewildered tear our eyes shed. OK, she’s not shedding tears. I am. I really love you.
Endlessly, endlessly, thanks.
It's common knowledge that gratitude improves quality of life. Simply put, when we feel grateful, we feel good. And feeling good makes life feel better.
When our daughter Helena was one year old, we began a family ritual. Every night as we sat down for dinner, before picking up a fork or taking one bite of food, we would share three things we're grateful for. What began as a way to bring more joy into our lives has not only lifted us up after long days at work. It has made us laugh and probably helped us digest our food better and eat more mindfully, too.
At first Helena would say, "I'm grateful for blueberries." That was it, blueberries. That was her thing for weeks on end. Other fruits entered the scene, and then it was "pink" for a while. Tonight at dinner it was, "All the colors." Her shares are almost always more laugh inducing than mine.
So in the spirit of this delightful child we've been blessed with, and in the spirit of The Child, who lives within each of us and freely shares her/his joy, let me share my Top Ten Gratitudes for the day. Just for today -- tomorrow they may be different.
As is the case with most of my writing, this is both an honest, personal share, and an invitation for you to explore what brings you joy... what you're grateful for... Both are an expression of my love for humanity: all of you, and me.
10) I'm grateful to have a pro skateboarder friend who's super kind and generous and will gladly send a few skateboarding goodies to me for my young skater pals' birthdays. His generosity feeds the healthy passions of my young pals.
9) I'm grateful for the last 3 weeks off Facebook. I don't miss it.
8) I'm grateful my ego gets weaker every day.
7) I'm grateful to like who I am, even though I sometimes piss off close friends with the bold things I'm not afraid to say.
6) I'm grateful for the college professor who encouraged me to write my own major.
5) I'm grateful my husband loves to cook, and is really good at it.
4) I'm grateful our daughter survived after being born with pneumonia.
3) I'm grateful for our backyard golden raspberries (pictured above). They are my favorite thing about our current home, ripening abundantly every spring.
2) I'm grateful to have studied communication since I was about 8 years old, even though it took childhood trauma to launch this passion.
1) I'm grateful for acupuncture, frisbee and smart friends to help me refine my resume.
It's addictive! See how I snuck in three on that last one? What are Y-O-U grateful for today?
Get out a pen, write down your ten. Choosing to feel grateful results in feeling more grateful. What we focus on, grows. Simple physics. What we acknowledge, we get more of. If your attention is on it, you are giving it power.
I'm grateful you just read my blog post.
One of the things I remember from childhood was being told, "You are smart and beautiful." Mostly by my mother Carmen, aunt Irma and sister Stephanie. It didn't matter what anyone else thought about me. Nobody is smart or beautiful in everybody's eyes. My world -- those closest to me, as a child -- believed in me.
Those words sunk into my chest. Between them and the sense of safety I found in my home and community, I felt I could do anything. The world would take care of me.
I could unravel, like a flower, exposing my affectionate soul to the sun and being fed, day after day, water and light.
It wasn't the words smart and beautiful that mattered. Instead it could have been "kind and creative" or "generous and truthful." It was that Love was behind them. The most powerful force on the planet. The deepest human need. Through their words and how they chose to see me, my deepest human need was being met.
Acknowledgment is some of the most potent medicine for relationship and yet very lacking in our culture. It is as if we are supposed to pretend we don't need to feel appreciated. We're dying for it, yearning for it, yet encouraged to suppress this longing. We are led to believe we can be fed instead by external resourcing, often commonly referred to as addictions.
When it comes to children, we rock: "Gosh Ariana, you are a marvelous piano player!" we might say to a 4-year-old pecking the ivories with two fingers. But when it comes to adults, we withhold it from ourselves and each other, robbing life of this most simple aspect of affection, and then walk around wondering why we feel empty, unappreciated and broke.
So sure, go buy Valentine's Day cards. Let your children make them. Show love. But for God's sake, don't deprive yourself of it for the rest of the year by forgetting that every day is Love Day. Every day is a day to give ourselves and others the most basic human need there is: the knowing that we are loved, and capable of loving.
Stop suppressing hugs. Open up to their joy and oxytocin.
Stop criticizing people. Start seeing and appreciating their beauty instead.
Quit the insecurity act. You could die tomorrow. Your child could die tomorrow.
Don't withhold the love that, on your death bed, you'll know was the only thing worth living.
Any acknowledgment -- any love -- you withhold from others is withheld from yourself.
Let yourself unravel for love, instead.
Love looks good on you. Withholding it does not.
There are four forms of acknowledgment, the most common and therefore least uncomfortable for most people, is Voluntary. So go ahead, close your eyes and peer into your heart and see what wants to be said. Voluntarily offer somebody your appreciation. Who can you tell that you love them right now? That you think they're generous, considerate, or courageous? That you admire their work ethic, creative persistence or patience?
Then mark your calendar to do it again in March. And April. And on. Make it a habit.
And if you're empty, because you've let your own beautiful batteries become discharged and forgotten to take care of your own needs, then take a deep breath and lay it on yourself. If you don't feel fully acknowledged and appreciated, don't look outside yourself for it first. Look within. What do you long to be appreciated for today? What would help recharge your batteries? Is it... I acknowledge myself for being an attentive mom.... or I acknowledge myself for being passionate about the welfare of animals... or I acknowledge myself for being a ripe, juicy and divine expression of wonder... (It's totally that one, huh?)
Those ready for some potent medicine -- in relationship with self or other -- are invited to join Leaning into Light for our upcoming 90-minute phone workshop on The Power of Acknowledgment, Sunday February 28th, 10:00-11:30AM PST. Cost is $28 per person. Limited to 20 participants, first come first served. Sign up here.
We will do a deep dive into the domain of Acknowledgment, covering the four types of acknowledgment and how to work with them. Participants will leave with the ability to move through life feeling acknowledged and appreciated, and the ability to share that with others so that they feel acknowledged and appreciated. How's that for a power-packed 90-minute dose of Love Month medicine?
Listen to our free recording for August, a 30-minute talk with Jessica Rios on her 13 month adventure living abroad, Humane and Heartbreaking, here.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a mother, coach, lifelong letter writer, and eternally a fan of Fred Rogers. This deeply personal blog and our free recorded conversations are devoted to one of her greatest passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.