Podcasts always fill my commute, and I especially love shows that make me think in new ways, like Death, Sex, and Money from WNYC Studios. In a recent episode host Anna Sale interviews dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp, who raised her son as a single-parent in New York City while simultaneously building her company, Twyla Tharp Dance, which combines ballet and modern dance. In her Death, Sex, and Money interview, she is both candid and genuine in her assessment of motherhood. “Having a child,” Tharp explains to Sale, “gave me an anchor.”
That line hit me – hard. Ever since that very first December night when the doctor held our squirming baby up above the surgical curtain post c-section and let my husband proudly announce, “It’s a boy, it’s a baby boy!” my son has been my anchor, although I’d never thought to express it in the way that Tharp does.
Just as an anchor holds a ship firmly in place, my son holds me firmly to my values; he makes me uncompromising because if I compromise I’m no longer the only one who must suffer from the effects. Like an anchor on the ocean floor, he digs into what’s important and securely tethers me to my priorities. A ship without an anchor is at the mercy of the wind, and of the waves, and it must go wherever those forces carry it. In comparison, a ship with an anchor is held fast in place. It may not travel the same distances that it once did, but the anchor allows it to explore new depths instead. That is my son, my anchor, my heart. My experience of motherhood has very much been about disallowing the many competing forces in my life to carry me away in their currents. With an anchor, they are no longer given that power.
Concretely, and in a radical departure from my pre-baby people-pleasing self, this means I no longer feel compelled to say “yes” to work assignments or volunteer positions or sports or events that I don’t enjoy, that will compromise my peace, or that take up too much of my precious time (and can I share a little secret? I’ve not met one person yet who is upset when I say “no” because my son is the priority. It’s magical!). Today, as a mom, my time feels more valuable than in the past. My time is valuable because my son will only be as young as he is today, for today: there are no do-overs for his childhood, or for my motherhood.
These days, when I begin to let the many competing forces in my life carry me away in their currents, my little anchor holds fast and pulls me back. Such was the case on a bitterly cold winter morning a few months back. I was running late, and rushing my son out the door. On our front steps he ignored my instructions to hurry, stopped, and looked up at the dark sky instead. Slowly, he turned his little round face towards me. “Mom,” he said sincerely, “pretty moon.” Startled, I stopped my rushing for a moment, quieted my swirling mind, and looked up. It was a beautiful moon, golden and plump, hanging heavily over the school across the field from our house. Anchored. My time has to count, so I choose to spend it wisely.
My time is for taking my son to the library and reading The Gruffalo over and over again, delighting in his happy shrieks when we turn to the page where the Gruffalo finally appears in the deep dark woods. My time is for baking oatmeal banana muffins and giving him the opportunity to really smell the vanilla and cinnamon. It’s for letting him mix the batter, even when it means flour ends up all over my countertops, and for marvelling at his palpable excitement when the muffins have finally cooled enough to eat. It’s for making crafts with googly eyes in questionable locations, and for piling on way too many happy face stickers. My time is for long walks and stroller runs where we soak up the sunshine and laugh at the ducks in the pond and listen to the high-pitched whistles of the gophers as they abandon their sunny spots in the sun and scamper back to the safety of their burrows as we approach. My time is for taking the scenic route, and slowing down just so he can see a horse. It’s for turning around and driving past again when he says, “More horses, please Mom!” It’s for swimming, where we giggle and splash and practice blowing our bubbles and floating perfectly still.
To all the sons out there who anchor their mothers, we are grateful. We love you. Happy National Sons Day.