Dance with Them
Thirty Stumbling Mothers Share Glimpses of Grace
That is the subtitle to Kathryn Soper’s new anthology. Her first, The Mother in Me (published last year) was a stunning collection of personal writings by LDS women about growing into motherhood. It’s a must-read that topped out as my favorite mothering book last year. The sequel, Dance with Them, is equally poignant and moving, but can be enjoyed independent of the first.
Dance with Them is a compilation of essays and poetry written by women who, as Soper puts it, “get up every morning to attempt the multi-faceted balancing act we call mothering – particularly, the mothering of school-age children.” While The Mother in Me focused on mothers with children ages 0-5, Dance with Them is written for mothers with school-age children.
Children in these delicate years seem to require just the right amount of parent proximity. It’s a bittersweet season where children are yearning to be on their own – and to our conflicted dismay – beginning to let go. This book is for all mothers who find themselves “stubbing toes and bonking heads amidst their best efforts and good intentions” writes Soper.
Contributing writers explore issues of independence, control, tolerance, intimacy, expectations, safety, trust, acceptance, boundaries, conflict, “and perhaps most of all” says Soper, “the difficult reality that both mothers and children must learn through experience.”
In the introduction Soper quotes Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who discusses our fragile faith in love and relationships – particularly with our children.
Although my five children are still at home (my oldest will start kindergarten next fall), I can feel the brevity of these early years. Sometimes I find myself staring wide-eyed at the “ebb” of their babyhood. The “growing-up” tide keeps licking at my ankles, catching me unaware, no matter how often I adjust my beach blanket and try to enjoy the view.
Soper, conscious of every mother’s resistance to change – her insecurities and fears, offers readers a beautiful angle from which to approach the complexities of mothering school-age children. She proposes that we become dancers. “When they push, you pull. Move with them. Make it a dance, not a tug-a-war” recounts contributor Sharlee Mullins Glenn.
In her essay, Dance with Them, Glenn continues,
With seven children of her own – ages sixteen to four, Soper is right in the middle of this “school-age” phase. She likens the dance between mother and child to our personal relationship with God.
These subjects, discussed by Soper and her writers, are at times heavy, hard to reconcile, and profoundly affecting. From mothering a child with special needs to the disappointment of sin and the joy of repentance. From the pain of divorce and blended families to a mother’s wavering testimony, the included essays make it obvious that this next phase of motherhood opens up a fissure of seismic emotional challenges. A pandora-like box of complications unleashed on top of the already exhausting demands of a young family.
I felt like I was reading the prep manual for my next mommy phase. I became acutely aware that my five little people will soon become big people – wannabe independents with huge choices, wielding their freedoms, suffering hurts and disappointment. I began to wonder (as have most of these women) am I ready for this?
We’re All Scared
It is evident. We’re all a bit scared.
“The balance is turning, and with each passing year I will be less the all-knowing, all-powerful mother of my imagination. It scares me” writes Angela Schultz.
Lisa Ray Turner writes, “At first, it was easy: three sons in five years left me little time for contemplation. Pimples, proms, and hormones seemed a lifetime away. But lifetimes go fast in the span of motherhood, and here is my oldest son, perched on the edge of puberty. He scares me to death.”
Perched on the edge of puberty. I had to laugh, but yeah – scary! They scare us. And we scare ourselves – worrying over mistakes (ours, theirs, past and future) and the fact that we cannot control their worlds. Yet, as Angela Hallstrom noted, women of God trust in His ways.
These women acknowledge their fears with honesty, while carefully sifting through feelings of protectiveness and ownership to arrive at a place of peace – even if only for the moment. With God whispering in their ears, they realize they will be alright. And so will their children.
Amid the stumbling, tripping and bonking of heads (which makes for absolutely delightful, riveted reading), Dance with Them glimmers with a handful of beautiful, graceful truths. Mothers who know God would never trade the risk and hurt of this life for one without their children. With Him as their partner, the possibilities and joys are endless.
To Each Her Own
Soper has a way of attracting excellent writers. Each essay and poem is a dance of its own. The steps vary and the the mood can change quickly. From fast and wild to slow and lilting. Each mother has her own style and rhythm – every essay the product of a wise and talented author.
The poetry in this anthology is also breathtaking and should not be overlooked. I’ve held onto several images.
A child dashing headlong into the waves, a couch considered holy ground, children in Halloween costumes, a patriarchal blessing, Christmas cards, the “tender tether” of a mother to her daughter, children “blowing off the earth in one long sigh,” and the gift of watching a soul unfold.
One particular poem titled, Early Harvest, by Melissa Dalton-Bradford, impacted me deeply. Written about her teenage son who died too early in a river accident, the emotion of it was raw, beautiful, and perfectly balanced by her faith in Christ. The patterning and pairing of her son with The Son was masterful.
As for the essays, here are some excerpts from mothers who shared truth so eloquently that even if I couldn’t relate, I had to nod in agreement.
From Emily Halverson’s essay, A Doughy Heart and a Contrite Spirit.
From Tracy McKay’s essay, Wonder, in which she recounts the year of her divorce and the way she bravely took care her children.
And this comment about divorce, which was so powerful.
I loved Kylie Nielson Turley’s wise comprehension of the Atonement in her essay, Tightrope Walking.
From Lisa Ray Turner’s essay, Enjoying the Ride
We climb aboard the bikes and tear down the hill. The trail flattens and we pedal faster. We whoosh past a field sprouting a new shade of spring green. I look at my son on his bike in front of me, his legs pumping furiously and his wheat-colored hair blowing in the wind. I’m not sure what’s next for us, but I feel more prepared to face the future. Devon isn’t scary. He’s my kid. His adolescence might be tumultuous for us both, but maybe if I loosen my grip on the handlebars and spend more time appreciating the view, it will be easier for us to enjoy the ride.
And from The Freakin’ Fifteens by Nancy Harward.
Think about it. Fifteen-year-olds think almost entirely of themselves. They have learned enough to know that talking can get them into trouble, so they stop pronouncing the words clearly or stop speaking altogether. Fifteen-year-olds have learned how to operate a vehicle – at least they think they have – but are prevented from driving anywhere by unfair, antiquated laws. Fifteen-year-olds try very hard to get the attention of everyone except their parents, but those unfair, antiquated people try equally hard to prevent them from enjoying the attention of anyone who matters (read: members of the opposite sex.) And when they get frustrated, fifteen-year-olds can rant as well as any toddler.
I laughed out loud more than once while reading Harward’s essay.
I rejoiced with the Mother whose forgiven son was able to baptize his eight-year-old sister. I cheered for the Mom who let her son grow a “rat-tail” lock of hair even though she wanted to snip it off while he was sleeping. I was awed by the mother who wanted to drive her son to the state penitentiary, but ended up in the parking lot of the temple instead. And the mother who took her daughter to get her ears pierced – earlier than planned? That entire story made me smile. Dance with Them reminds us that, as mothers, we must listen, feel, then move when the Spirit moves us. That is the beauty of the dance.
Gone for Good?
Milestones will continue to come and go too quickly. Giving up ownership will always be tough. And sometimes the craziness of simply getting everyone where they need to be will make us want to shout like Darlene Rowley, “Stop this calendar. I want to get off!”
But as Kathryn Soper writes, the connection between mothers and their children is eternal. Something that will “never be gone for good.”
What a comfort.
Dance with Them has potential to create a whole new movement among LDS mothers. A floor full of dancing moms doing their best to get in sync with their children (and God). Put this philosophy into place and maybe I can look forward to having four in high school at the same time!
Whether you are anticipating this stage or past it, the stories and wisdom of Dance with Them will leave you changed for the better. Hurrah for Kathryn Soper and her staff of writers for putting out another tremendous and influential work that gives so many mothers a voice, and the rest of us, an illumined perspective.
Kathryn Lynard Soper is the editor and founder of Segullah – a literary journal that publishes LDS women’s writings. The Segullah Group is sponsoring its first Writer’s Retreat this June. Click here for more information. And enter their giveaway for a free copy of Segullah’s 2010 Anniversary Issue here.