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Motherhood Is a Foreign Country

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SARAH RUDELL BEACH
Sarah Rudell Beach

Someday, I want to write a profound meditation on pilgrimage, on our spiritual journeys and our changing relationships with mystery as we go through the various stages of our lives.

But I haven't had a lot of time for profound thought lately. What I really want to ponder today is why so many mornings, I drop my children off at school, then return to my car, slide down in my seat as I turn the key in the ignition, glance over at the clock to realize that it's not even 7 a.m. yet, and emit a long, sighing, "FFF-uuuu-ddgge." (Only I don't say fudge.)

Because the few brief hours I have been awake have NOT been smooth sailing. Some mornings I've surfed the stormy waters of sibling arguments, homework meltdowns and lost backpacks, and drifted right into sassy attitude land.

One morning it all began with my request for my daughter to put her shoes and socks on. But that, apparently, was equivalent to RUINING HER LIFE. She yelled, threw her socks and shoes and responded to my (mostly) calm reminders of the consequences for such behavior with "Fine. Okay. I LIKE consequences," all done with a shake of the head and an intonation that suggest she is actually a 13-year-old trapped inside a 7-year-old's body.

This particular outburst ended with, "When we get home from school, I am kicking myself OUT of this family and going to a HOTEL!"

I guess she's been thinking about pilgrimage, too.

She had a plan. She would take her piggy bank (which probably contains about $1.63). She would ride her bike. Or run. Or catch a bus picking up other kids. She would spend the night eating candy in her hotel room.

But she would be leaving, because WE ALL MAKE HER MAD. We're NOISY and BOSSY and SHE JUST CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE.

It's times like this when I feel like I am on a pilgrimage. I've left my homeland to travel to a new world: motherhood.

Parenting has in fact involved many voyages as I try to plot my course through new stages with my children. Do I visit Attachment Parenting? Free Range Parenting? Helicopter Parenting? Unparenting? There are so many options on the itinerary, so many travel guides in the bookstore. How do we know where to go? Sometimes I feel like all the other parents speak the language and I am still working on mastering basic vocabulary.

And I have so many questions!

How do I know what is normal? Is "YOU are the meanest mommy EVER, in the HISTORY of mommies!" a customary greeting in this land? If so, I totally hope they have that on a mug in the gift shop.

How do I deal with the culture shock? The natives here dip their apples in ketchup. They apparently cannot consume, in the same bowl, identical brands of cereal originating from two different boxes. And they can hold their breath for freakishly long amounts of time.

Will I ever recover from the exhaustion? The sleep-deprivation, the jet-lag, the endless nights of coast-to-coast red-eyes? Is it at least possible to upgrade from coach to first class?

What am I supposed to do when we hit detours? Am I supposed to empathize with my daughter's feelings of frustration over needing footwear? Should I ignore her outbursts? How do I prevent a return voyage aboard the S.S. Irrational Tantrum?

Motherhood is full immersion into this new world, stepping through the looking-glass into Alice's wonderland where all the laws have turned topsy-turvy. I think we can agree that children have a logic entirely their own. My own attempts to reason with my children could be reduced to perplexing Zen koans. Try this one to attain enlightenment:

"If a mother delivers a reasoned and logical plea for appropriate behavior to a three-year-old, does she make a sound?"

A pilgrimage is usually a long-distance journey, and I know parenting is too. We have more milestones to reach, and more tantrums and attitudes to endure. I will do what parents and pilgrims have likely done for centuries: I'll ask my fellow travelers for advice, and I will seek to reconcile with the inhabitants of this strange land. And if all else fails, I'll consult my GPS (a.k.a., Google).

But even with all the exhaustion and frustration, travel is inspiring, life-changing, even sacred. And the motherhood itinerary is not solely comprised of rides on sinking ships that encourage under-the-breath f-bombs. There are moments of love and light, our flights of fancy. The wandering of a pilgrim, or the searching of a mother, is not merely "travel" -- it is an act of devotion.

Perhaps this is my meditation on a spiritual journey after all.

For by the end of this particularly challenging day, my daughter had forgotten her plans for her hotel-bound sojourn, even though the morning had felt like civil war. Reunited after our day apart, we had our reconciliation (though certainly not our first, nor, I'm quite certain, our last). But the ship had momentarily been righted.

In the course of one day, we can go from threats to dissolve the union to conciliatory I-love-you's. Motherhood is our pilgrimage through thousands of these journeys, beginning anew each and every day. As we continue to map out the terrain, this strange new land eventually starts to feel like home. But we'll never know all the answers or solve all the mysteries, and that's probably the whole point of a pilgrimage: to live the questions along the way. That's probably the only sacred destination we will reach.

Just be careful if you ask your children to put on their socks and shoes before you leave.

A version of this post originally appeared on Sarah's blog, Left Brain Buddha. You can follow Sarah on Google+ and Facebook.