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Open Letter to Mamas Suffering Here and Far

This is open letter to mamas suffering here and beyond. To all of you up before dawn—checking fire maps, reading tips for reducing anxiety in kids, catching up on the latest COVID 19 research—doing all things you do “before the day starts.” This is my story, and maybe some of it is yours too.

Last year at this time, I made an agreement with myself. I said that I would never again sit at the edge of the apocalypse. Looking back, I was indecisive about when to evacuate and where to go, and when I did go, I felt like I was just sitting on the edge of destruction, watching helplessly and feeling all the collective stress. So I told myself that next time we needed to escape fire and smoke, we would go sooner and farther, and stay longer. I would not bargain with the reasonability of a wildfire. And I made several shifts during the following year to support that agreement—changed our insurance, bought a bigger car for easier packing, streamlined our paperwork, inventoried our most precious belongings, etc. All the things I was supposed to do.

Now here I am again. Evacuated last month, spared on this one. Never spared from knowing someone who is losing now, never spared from the ever expanding grief and fear in the community. It’s not really the apocalypse, but I am tasked with the same sorts of decisions as last year.

As a mama, I carry a lot for my family, often literally, as needed for outdoor family adventures, and most certainly emotionally, mentally, and logistically. I naturally slid into this agreement to carry all of this as our family grew. I didn’t think about it as a carrier agreement, not like the explicit agreement I made with myself about the apocalypse. Nonetheless, it is definitely a significant agreement.

At times like this it is easy to panic that maybe I agreed to too much. Maybe I can’t deliver, and if I fail, when I fail, maybe my little loves will be harmed. I promised to keep us safe, to be pro-active. To get us as much as possible out of the way of chaos, uncertainty, and suffering. And yet, the suffering is everywhere and always expanding.

So here I am, with smoke, and wildfire, and a pandemic to boot. Of course I am concerned about my family’s mental health. We all are. Being a therapist makes one more aware of the symptoms, causes and treatment around mental health issues, but sadly it does not offer immunity from the symptoms. So what are the tenants of my agreements right now?

As a mama—what am I to carry?

I carry responsibility. And sometimes because of that I am seen as difficult. I own that. Can I have three pets instead of one at the hotel? If you won’t let my car through in the mandatory evacuation zone, are you ok if I walk in and get my elderly cat? Can I ask you to have more patience with my child because he is really going through it?

I carry worry. I know life. I imagine death. I try to make beautiful all the space in between. I hoped that uncertainty would be farther off, but in fact it’s here. This generation inherits my worst fears.

I carry apology. I am acutely aware of the suffering we have brought upon ourselves. I don’t have an excuse, only humility for my failure as a human, and as a member of planet earth.

As a mama—what do I hope for?

I hope that all our children are resilient and blow our minds with what they learn through suffering, failure, and renewal. I hope I am not doing too much damage. That all the moments when I stumble and fall are just more stories of human learning through the many hard lessons of life.

I hope for understanding, of ourselves, of others’ experiences, and of the larger meaning of this chaos. I hope for strength to carry on and on and on.

As a mama in this moment—what can I do?

I can do so many things, probably too numerous to count, and I won’t even notice I am doing them. I won’t think of it as work, I will identify it as being a mama.

I can make dinner from the random foods I threw in the bag. I can laugh at all the things I forgot, broke, and overlooked.

I can wrap my arms around my beloveds and assure that no matter what comes, we have each other now. I can look at you and feel my heart ache with your loss.

I can not be so hard on myself for all the things I am not attending to in the moment.

I can appreciate that I have some great magic in me, and that is worth a lot in the middle of a convergence of chaos.

I can breathe deeply, and sit down for a minute.

And you mama, do you know what you have already done for me?

You told me me how much you love me.

You’ve asked me how I am doing and really listened.

You were candid, not perfect.

You answered my call even when I have only texted you until now.

You commented you are grateful that I am safe.

You showed up how you could when the help call was sounded.

You cried too.

You reminded me that I am never alone.

There is so much more. I celebrate my strength, your strength, and our collective perseverance. I know we are always looking for tips, but I want to remind all of us that we quietly observe and problem solve daily because that is what we agreed to carry. May we all find a moment to give ourselves a little rest and to feel this love and celebration of all that we do.

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