Last year’s winter had me on the cusp of a third trimester waddle. The house was snug under candlelight and what could only be termed an explosion of blankets. My hands rested on a foreign, stretched body to feel movement of life within. It was hard to breathe, but I could. It was harder to stay still, so I did not. Instead, I threw myself into plans, the self-imposed expectation of a clean home, and whatever I could to satisfy my hunger, or perhaps anxiety, for preparedness. I knew it was the last time I would be alone with my husband for the holidays. My journal was easily available in the morning quiet I so loved. The pieces of my introverted heart were lined with a dueling sense of anticipation and tension over the changes to come.
In seasons past, the calendar flipped to November and the introvert in me danced for joy as only it knew how—silently, in a corner, with uncoordinated enthusiasm and relief. While many love the parties and full calendars, I rejoice at the time to be still without judgment. The evenings are dark, a crackling fireplace streams on my television (one day I will have a real one again), and comfort food simmers. I prepare for Advent, the opportunity to bolster my soul in winter’s bare loveliness.
This year I find myself stretched in entirely different ways, right in the tumultuous center. Thanksgiving is next week and I hardly remember unless someone asks about my plans. Not a single pumpkin graces my home, unless you count the forgotten candle on my table. The back of my sofa is still laced with blankets, but they are abandoned under layers of onesies, bibs, a dirty diaper I keep forgetting to throw away, and laundry that may or may not get into drawers before the next wear. Toys cover the carpet where the furniture has been gracelessly shoved against walls. Shelves no longer cradle trinkets, but instead books which say goodnight to the moon.
It is beloved, I tell myself, this loss of sanctity. This new chapter, this Motherhood. Extending far beneath exterior change, its reach is deep toward my primal desire and longing to nurture life. Though I am beyond thankful for what this festive season will hold—firsts as a family of three, food on our table, cozy socks, the embrace I feel as I look at the twinkle of holiday lights—I find myself in a strange tangle. Where is the margin for my own life? The days are crowded with chores and caretaking, and I often look toward my unopened journal with an indescribable yearning. Where am I in all this? Have I truly gone so far, far away? Or perhaps, I wonder, my identity has only molted. Like a phoenix, my raw and most vulnerable self is in preparation to break free.
As the flames gather strength, I acknowledge that I am in the most beautiful and brutal time of my life. The contrast of the festivities with the stripping down of all I have known myself to be manages to shatter and restore me in ways I did not know I was hungry for.
A line from Exupéry’s The Little Prince comes to mind: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” In this season, what is essential?
A smile hints at my lips. In this very moment, my longed-for son lies sleeping on my lap. Signs of his life surround me, blended with my husband’s presence and my perhaps overzealous and unopened stack of library books on the table. The light is my favorite at this time of year, slanted and bright to greet a frosty morning. My feet have already filled boots on a brisk walk. A full cup of coffee sits cold beside me, but if I wanted I could reheat it for a third time. Somehow I managed to throw vegetables and butter and stock in a pot, and the aroma is therapy, though I end up burning it later.
This is it.
The white space in the cluttered margins.
Instead of seeing the mess, lack of time, empty journal pages, unread books, undereye circles, not even started Christmas shopping, or bitter cold, I can choose to see rightly.
What is essential has been here all along.
Jessica Moran resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia with her husband and son. She has escaped into books since childhood, and for a little while she brought her favorite characters to life on the stage and in elementary school classrooms. When not chasing her little boy around, you are likely to find her outside somewhere drinking a strong cup of coffee or watching “Parks and Rec” with her husband. Someday she hopes to live on plenty of land to inspire the imagination, much like her heroine Anne Shirley.