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A Discussion on Mothering
A discussion on mothering, in all its forms and impacts, between Em of Frayed Knot Farm and Jennie of Room Service.
Em’s Thoughts on Mothering::
I’ve been thinking a lot about the intimacy of watching something/someone grow every day. How wonderful it is that you get to see all the little details and subtle changes.
For me, obviously, it is of the plant variety or maybe kitties ;) but I want to think that perhaps it might feel similar to anything that one “mothers.”
This intimacy for me can be elating in one moment and heartbreaking in the next. I’ve heard friends describe watching their child grow as watching a part of them grow outside of their body, a fascinating and terrifying experience because there is less control.
Growing a seedling, watching each stage of its life, and then feeling every bit of its stress, is my closest comparison. It does feel a part of me, a love outside of myself, one that feels incredible when it fully matures and blooms, an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and pat on the back for cultivating its growth.
I think mothering is nongendered, nonbinary, more of a verb and less of a noun. It’s the act of giving a part of yourself to something bigger than yourself, hope for the future, a willingness to take on tremendous risk and stress for a greater purpose, to take care, to soothe.
Those that haven't had this force in their lives, might have had to mother themselves, and that I think is a radical act.
Jennie’s Thoughts on Mothering::
What I find most immediate in mothering, both my human and my garden is a clear, bright call to the present. When I hold my son, watching him approach sleep, body heavier and heavier in my arms - that singular moment is crystalline. When he feels the wind on his face, or runs his fingers across wrought iron fence spokes, tumbles over grass, or picks up the tiniest pebble - it is just that moment. It is only the wonder of right, right now.
Stepping into that feeling is the miraculousness (and odd heartbreak) of mothering. The parallel between that, and the time spent with the earth, with growing and tending, nurturing and expanding - I feel them in my body in the same way. There is the clear, bright call again. Be here, just here, only here, now. Be with the feel of the seeds in your hands, the damp of the earth on your knees, the sun on your shoulders, warming all of the above. I don’t know that one can truly garden deeply with a mind elsewhere. It calls to feel every sense, to use every mode of observation… like that of my wonder-filled child. Wind on face, hands to soil, seeing everything again, and yet for the first time, every season.
Questions and thoughts between Em and Jennie::
Em: What are the intimate details that surprise you about being a mother?
Jennie: Such an interesting question! I think the dichotomy of my feelings of aptitude...there are days where I feel purely natural, and fully at ease in the role of mother, and then there are other moments when I have absolutely, literally not a clue of what to do, how to handle something, or what is "supposed" to be happening. People will ask what seem to be "normal parent questions," and I'm like "um, soooo, I don't know - you tell me!" So, that settling into instinct has been a really interesting experience. Learning to take what serves me, and this community of three, and leave the rest.
Em: How has mothering changed your relationship with our environment, ecosystem over time?
Jennie: So, my relationship with my own mother, grandmother, and most influential in terms of gardening, my stepmom, helped to build my idea of what a relationship with plants and the earth could look like from a young age. (Although I certainly didn't have the level of appreciation at the time, by any means!) I remember stormily harvesting cherry tomatoes for my stepmom, Sue, who was a market gardener at the time, mumbling under my breath with my walkman jammed angrily in my ears..
As I've gotten older, I can hear those wisdoms, observations, and connections ring through from them in ways that I never expected. It would seem that the appreciation settled deep somewhere, only to surface again in the last handful of years. Being a mother now has caused me to want to experience the natural world more deeply, to connect to my son's wonderment, and infuse it with what I've absorbed about the earth. Mothering has caused me to feel a deep desire to continue to learn. I feel that the more I know, study, ask, the greater my role as a caretaker to both the planet, and to my small human can be. I feel a beautiful obligation to help create awareness and understanding. Knowledge makes for more mindful inhabitants of the earth. I want to cultivate that as best I can.
Em: What are some “self mothering” practices you use to take care?
Jennie: I do like a good bath, ha! But, I've shifted my mindset from thinking that self-care was big, sweeping things or (gasp) some kind of goal to achieve, but rather noticing more which small things make me feel good, right, whole and calm, and doing more of those. I think it's become tuning in, even if for just a few minutes. Like, "damn, this coffee tastes really good this morning," and let that just be a moment. Getting into the small things has changed my self-awareness and sense of well-being. Oh, and therapy. :)
Jennie: Is there a person in your life, as a farmer and land steward, that best exhibits the elements of “mothering” that you hold dear? What does that look like?
Em: I have to say that the first person that comes to mind is someone I’ve talked about before, a teacher and all-around inspiration to me, Yonnette Fleming. Farmer Yon stewards the Hattie Carthan Community Garden and Herben Farm in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. I am so grateful for the lessons and experience she has shared with me, that is so informative in my farming today. She is a mother of seemingly all, her grace and sensitivity towards all living things are awe-inspiring. It’s through her that I was able to start understanding that we are not separate from the earth, from the soil, from each other. Our vibrational energy flows from one point of matter to the next. She is a caretaker in every sense of the word, a cultivator of safe space, and in service to her community.
Jennie: What does stewardship mean to you, and how (or does), that relationship mirror mothering? What does that role provide to you, in terms of nourishment?
Em: To me, stewardship is a constantly evolving role. A role that is greater than yourself and in the service of others and other beings. It’s an observer, a witness, a storyteller, a protector. I see mothering and stewardship almost in tandem. One helps inform the other. I also am careful to embody these terms without a sense of control and ownership, which I'm constantly trying to disrupt in thought and practice. What gives me the most nourishment is when I can intently listen to the land and its surroundings and interpret what it needs. I try my best, and that's the best I can do. There is no manual, a lot of it just comes from instinct. An instinct that I hope dearly is “right” but I may never know. The ultimate nourishment comes from the intimacy of watching the land grow and change, watching it nourish others in return.
Thank you, Em, for joining me in this beautiful conversation on motherhood, and what and how it looks for different people. Your insights are always a gift!