by Ariel Zaslav
I spent my twenties preparing to become a mother. I taught early childhood, nannied, lived with and helped parent the child of a close friend. I grew close to the families I worked for and watched closely when I was in their homes – how does bedtime work? If you are up all night with a sick little one, what exactly do you do the next day? How do you negotiate siblings? How do you negotiate media? Can you really be a feminist and a mother? How do you provide a meaningful yet relaxed, fun and engaging Jewish education? How do you do anything else other than parent?
I also tried to load up on the activities I was sure I would never do once I was a parent. I engaged in social justice work, had big gardens, spent hours upon hours laying around talking, processing and dreaming with friends. I read a lot of books and learned to knit. I spent a year learning in Israel. I tried my hand at many kinds of paid work.
As I entered my thirties I waited for the exact right moment when everything was aligned, both in the cosmos and in my own mind and heart. That moment never arrived. I never landed in just the right career. I had no money saved. I didn’t feel done with my hours long conversations with friends and there were still so many things I wanted to try.
I realized at a certain point that things may not magically align. If I really wanted to become a parent I may just have to leap. Which has become a metaphor for my entire parenting journey thus far. Despite all of my careful prep work, becoming a parent has been the most terrifying and profound experience of my life. I have loved many young people deeply. But I have never experienced anything like loving my own child – this impossibly-bound-up-in-each-others-hearts-for-life kind of feeling.
I had never fully wrapped my head around how scary it would be to love so completely and love someone who needed me so completely. I was not prepared for how hard it would be to connect with other parents, to maintain friendships, to find childcare that I could both afford and feel good about. I had also never experienced how amazing and hilarious and breathtaking it would all be. I am quite certain that my child is the most brilliant, zany and delightful human to ever walk the planet.
As for all of those things I was worried I may never do again. These things are finding their way back into my life. Beyond what they may do for me personally, they are showing my daughter that mothers get to have full and rich lives. She and I both benefit from this. Now that she is three and sleeps through the night (mostly), it seems quite realistic that I may do all of those things and more. And even better, I may get to do many of them with my daughter. Already she has close relationships with many of the friends I spent all those years growing close to. She counts them as real friends and allies in her life. And she sees that I have real relationships in addition to her and her papa. Family is bigger than just the three of us. She has also seen me try new things – last year I began to study herbalism – a lifelong desire. I made a commitment this year to say to her, “I get to go to work today,” not ‘I have to go to work.” I want her to know that while I cherish my time with her I also enjoy other things, my job being one of them. My hope is for her to understand that I am someone who has needs and someone who seeks to have them met. Being a mother and being a woman goes beyond taking care of people to taking care of myself.
Ariel is a jewish educator, a barista, a book-keeper, an aspiring herbalist and a mother. She lives in Mt. Airy with her partner and their phenomenal three year old daughter.