“Mama! I’m afraid that one day I will break!”

October 19, 2021

by Hagar Harpak

A tree breaks and creates more life

How are you holding together these days?

Do you feel fragmented? 

Do you have your shit together? 

What’s disintegrating?

What’s becoming clear?

Where’s the clutter? 

What pieces no longer fit together? 

Who are you becoming? 

Lights are out. Big girl is up in the bunk bed. I hear her toss and turn – the usual hard to settle into a sleepy mode. I’m cuddling with the younger one in the bottom bed. He’s trying to be quiet. Every once in a while he turns to me with a question, or a comment about the day. I gently pet his back and encourage him to go to sleep. It is starting to get more quiet. I can hear their breath softening. I’m listening to an audiobook on my headset, feeling my own body transitioning into this last phase of the day. Soon they’ll fall asleep and I’ll get up, light some candles, and do some work.

“Mama!” he turns to me and whispers intensely, his face close to my face. “Mama! I am so afraid that one day I will break!” 

My heart snaps, splits, and scatters. I pause the audio book. “You’re afraid that one day you will break?” I ask, trying to figure out what the hell to say to this soulful child. 

“Yes, I’m so afraid to break. Am I going to break, mama? Am I?” Those worried eyes stare at me through the darkness.

His head rests softly in my hand. My heart is bursting with endlessly deep love, and twisting with the knowledge that his heart will break, he’ll go through breakups, he’ll break down.  Brokenness is not only a part of life, it’s actually what makes this life. The universe banged itself into existence. It keeps on falling apart into being. We become who we are, and more of who we are, by breaking open, by cracking so that life can pour in. Those experiences will make him resilient, will help shape who is, and will guide the journey of his evolution.

“You’re not going to break, my love.” I lie, my hand resting on his heart. I am not about to have this conversation about the nature of the universe and the complexity of human life right now with this bright eyed four year old. 

He hugs me tightly, with all his might. “Thank you, mama!” He whispers loudly. “Thank you so much for saying that to me! I was so afraid and I am much more calm now!” He grabs my face and gives me a kiss, then turns to the other side. My hand moves in circles gently on his back. My eyes watery and my heart open. “Goodnight mama.” He utters softly.

“Goodnight my sweet.” I reply.

He falls asleep pretty quickly after that. My daughter in the upper bed asks me to tell her how to fall asleep, as she does every night. I answer with the tenderness I don’t always possess at this stage of the day. Heartbroken for all the moments of impatience, for all the nights I just want them to fall asleep already so that I can turn toward myself, for being so shockingly imperfect. I leave the room, wanting to stop time and bottle up their quickly evaporating childhood. 

Motherhood breaks me. More and more, again and again, every day. They grow so fast, and the goodbyes are endless. And it’s my job to keep letting them go. My imperfections are woven into every breath of this enchanting adventure. I am scarred by this love. And my own scarrs leave marks in their foundation. That is the nature of parenthood. Darn it! My heart shatters when they are sad, or when they are fighting with each other. It breaks for all the pain that they will feel in their lives. Even though I know that it’s the combination of pain and joy and heartbreak and anger and excitement and dullness and ease and hardships and softness and the seemingly unnecessary that makes a life rich and fulfilling.

Motherhood broke me from the first moment of becoming a mama, when even before I was sure I was pregnant, pregnancy began to change the architecture of my body and soul. It broke me into a humble puddle when the first birth was bursting with unexpected scares and threats and twists in the plot that made us shake and fall and crack. Yet when my baby girl was finally put on my belly and breast, I felt how all the pieces were finding their way to coalesce into something new. And still I didn’t know that the reformation will endlessly continue through a process of falling apart. 

I am more than a mother, and yet this role rules everything that I am. Like the roots of a Ficus tree, raising the sidewalk, digging through layers, tearing and splitting pipes, finding their way into water, into existence, a mighty trunk growing upward, thick branches reaching everywhere, to break through the sky. Motherhood has found its way into every cell of my aliveness. 

The thickness of the love, the grounding force that is embodied through the inevitable rhythms and routines, the gravity of it all. The weight and meaning of all this responsibility anchor the free bird so that she may become a tree. 

Becoming a tree might break all the eggs the bird has laid before. It has in my case. 

Motherhood fractured me through another birth that disturbed a pregnancy seven weeks early, and spinned us from a family of three into a family of four through an unexpected rough and tender storm. Almost a month in NICU, unprepared and madly in love mama bear, torn between the preemie in the hospital and the four year old at home, pumping breast milk around the clock, and pushing back on medical protocols that make no sense. 

I knew at that point that my wholeness is only as real as my willingness to scatter with the winds. 

Being a tree is a whole other adventure, and while no longer having wings, I have grown deep roots. It is in this vulnerable space where the dreams of flying high and far are smashed, that I can finally hear the earth whispering her secret, sacred songs of release and renewal, of darkness and rebirth, of falling apart to fulfill all my parts in the wild and elegant orchestra of life. 

For me, to embrace the brokenness is to live more wholly. To continue to break down, so that more can break through, is what nature models with her cycles. Her resilience reflects to us our own capacity to spring back to life after decay and deep rest. She reminds us to drop the fruit and let it rot, to invite the flesh to give itself to the soil, so that seeds can release, and be taken down into the quiet darkness. And even there, in that space between ending and a new beginning, a breaking of shell must guide the sprouting, and a break through the hardness of ground is necessary for the meeting with sunlight, fresh air, and beams of moon. 

Life’s greatest gifts will break us open, break us down, and carve the path of our most meaningful breakthroughs. 

It’s not always as cute as babies. The entropy of existence might not feel like the deepest love we’ve ever felt. 

This time that we are living through keeps inviting us to break up with old ways that keep us stuck, to break down systems of oppression, to break the glass ceiling of injustice and  inequality, to break through our own limitations – personal and collective both. This time calls for deep inquiry, for self reflection, and for a slower pace. Rushing to try to put the pieces back together the way they used to be will only make the vessel less stable, and less able to hold what’s pouring into it. 

This moment in time is a call to reimagine what else, what more, what new we could do with the scattered pieces of identity. This is a continuously melting and regrouping reality, so what shapes do you want to take next, as you fragment into the wholeness of you?

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