Back in May (when I was 8 months pregnant!) I was absolutely honored to be a cast member in Baltimore’s second annual Listen To Your Mother show.
Listen To Your Mother features live, original readings performed on stage by local writers on all aspects of motherhood—the good, the bad, and the ugly. The goal is to take the audience on a journey that explores the diversity and complexity of the mothering experience. It’s powerful stuff.
Shows happen all over the country in celebration of Mother’s Day. This year 39 cities participated!
The experience of standing on stage and reading my words was an emotional one. But what was even more moving was sharing that experience with my incredible cast mates—hearing their stories, sharing their joy and their pain (and their nerves!), and loving each other through it all.
Each of the live shows is recorded, and the videos from this year are now ready to be viewed and shared. I’m excited to share with you the video and transcript for my piece: Listening for the Exhales.
Listening for the Exhales: Performed at Listen To Your Mother Baltimore in May 2015.
It’s 10:00pm, and as my hand grips the doorknob, I inhale deeply.
This is a mother’s daily moment of zen.
Because at the end of a day that was inevitably chaotic—begging my toddler to take one more bite of his sandwich, using my own saliva to wipe chocolate off his face before sending him into preschool, maybe a tantrum or two thrown in for good measure—at the end of a day like that, I need a few moments of stillness to savor.
So I enter, and stand like a statue in the darkness of my son’s bedroom and simply listen to the calming cadence of his breathing as he sleeps.
Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.
That soothing rhythm of life—my boy’s life—hypnotizes my harried mind and slows my beating heart and melts away my frustration over the toy car I tripped over a few minutes before.
I am a sponge absorbing every breath and timing my own inhalations to match his.
Some nights he’s snoring so loudly I can hear him before I even open the door, and I make a mental note to buy his future partner a pair of ear plugs.
Other times I have to lean in so close to catch that faint sound of air, or even place my hand on the small of his tiny back to feel that comforting rise and fall.
This is it, I think. This is what they’re talking about when they tell me to cherish every moment because it all goes by so fast. I’m doing that right now.
I also think, please, for the love of God, do not wake up.
When he was an infant, this experience of listening to my son’s breathing in his sleep was less Zen Buddhist and more verge-of-panic-attack.
Despite the fact that I was already waking up several times each night to nurse him, I would find myself stirring at other times, unable to get back to sleep until I heard him take a few exhales. He hasn’t rolled onto his stomach, has he? He hasn’t become a statistic for SIDS, has he?
Inhale, exhale. Sigh of relief. I haven’t totally messed this up yet.
I wonder how my eavesdropping on his breathing will evolve as he grows up. Someday will I be checking to make sure he’s sleeping soundly because I’m worried about the bully at school who keeps calling him “doody-head” on the playground? Or because I know he’s nervous about the big science project due tomorrow?
In high school, will I rush into his room to check on him when I hear him come home a mere seconds before his curfew? Will I ever worry that his breaths smell vaguely of Natty Boh?
And that last night before he heads off to college, will I linger extra long, painfully aware that it may be one of the last nights I can be comforted by the presence of his breathing?
It’s not just about my son and me though.
Standing there with my ears perked, I feel solidarity with mothers everywhere who I know are doing the exact same thing.
And then there are the mothers who only wish they could be.
I think of anguished moms-to-be holding tiny, lifeless babies who never had the chance to take a breath at all outside the womb.
I think of the 3rd grader gasping her way through an asthma attack, or the nebulizer of the middle schooler with cystic fibrosis, and their respective mothers who desperately long to hear the sound of one non-labored breath.
I think of the mom whose kids are with their dad for the weekend or the holiday, and even though she knows she should be enjoying this time to herself, she just can’t get over how empty and breathless the house sounds.
I think of my own mother-in-law, who just last year lost her teenager to the merciless disease of addiction—the utter torture she must have felt when she saw her baby girl in a casket, with no rise and fall of her chest, no little gust of an exhale.
With these thoughts I’m reluctant to leave my boy’s room, to step away from the sound of his deep, peaceful breaths.
Partly because I know the future is unknown, and, frustratingly, essentially out of my control.
But mostly because I need these moments at the end of particularly challenging days—days during which I snapped too many times, plopped him in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for far too long, or gave in to his incessant requests for candy before dinner.
In other words, on days I feel like I’m royally screwing this whole mom thing up.
Because though I may have messed up time and time again, the sound of those sweet inhales and exhales is my needed reassurance that I must have done at least something right—and that I get a chance to try again tomorrow.