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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

The Heart of Everything

Updated: Dec 26, 2020

Children, Forest, Dreaming, (CCO)
Children, Forest, Dreaming (CCO)

I sat, rocking my infant son, watching the same Rodney Dangerfield movie over and over again, thinking that I was probably the only person up at that hour.

I was stunned at how often my firstborn woke up throughout the night. I remember thinking that no one told me about this part of things. I had read everything that I could get my hands on preparing for motherhood. I missed this.

At first, we were staying at my parents’ home. During one of those late-night interludes, my father entered the room. When he smiled, I fought back the tears—a combination of hormones regrouping and lack of sleep.

“I don’t know why he keeps waking up,” I said, thinking that he was changed, fed, and wearing fresh, clean jammies. What did he want or need? I stared at my baby—ecstatic in his awareness—grinning and cooing at the ceiling fan, which he liked but not as much as the rubber door stops that he seemed to know from a previous lifetime. Apparently, my son was simply alert, happy, and curious.

My father sat across from me. “There’s not necessarily anything wrong. You’re getting to know each other.” He was not a man of many words, but when he spoke, if he was not fishing for a smile, he was full of wisdom. I give thanks for that.

I needed to hear his words to make sense of my new role as Earth Mother in its own infancy. From that point on, I got up in the night thinking that it was a time for bonding outside of the womb. There was a new meaning to our wakefulness. As I journeyed further down this path, and after two more children, I realized that initially, I had been overly-attentive, ready to fulfill his every need.

Several years later, I am reflecting on the many nights that I got up with my children. I learned to give them space to cry and figure out that they might wake up during the night and that it was okay. If they didn’t fall back asleep, and if they needed something, they would let me know. I showed up when my intuition guided me to do so.

Throughout their lives, I encouraged my children to be inspired. Although my role was primarily both feminine and masculine, I refrained from acting and doing for them. There is danger in living for and through them. Over and over again, I have learned and been reminded that they are on their individual paths. I showed them how to find and use their own compasses. The learning doesn’t stop. I am often tweaking and pondering how to be a mother after they no longer need the nurturing that at one point, in my own heart, defined me.

Be creative. That is what I have always deferred to. Instead of giving all to others, it is now time to nourish me. More than ever, I have turned inward, relying on my intuition and the wisdom of my body. I refrain from all judgment, and as hard as it is, I do not judge myself. I have reclaimed the parts of me that had strayed, that have wandered dangerously close to what society expects.

Yes, women give birth and nurture. What follows motherhood, the true essence of women following their childbearing years has been grossly undervalued. It is up to us to reach down beyond those creaking bones and illuminate previously unseen and powerless souls.

Throughout time and in my own maturing, scattered memories of these significant bonding encounters emerge. It could be when I awaken from a dream, thinking of my daughter when she was traveling or my sons as they have grown and spread their wings, living in far off places.

It is almost always in the middle of the night when I awaken to a conflict—distinctive, hollow desperation. I face the heart of everything that once was, longing for the days when I carried my children close to my breast, pressed into the fullness of myself. I struggled with my sense of belonging and no longer recognized my own being.

I find myself keenly aware of a disquieting collision between two worlds—one, a mother called upon for basic or urgent needs, and the other, the power of release. Just as I taught my babies to find their way in the darkness, it is my turn to trust. It’s okay. It is time to nestle into my quilt and find my way back to dreaming.

Although not physically present, for them and for me, I am. My attachments have shifted to the land and animals. I create. Any fear buried deep within has no place. The umbilical cord is not severed; it continues to grow.


Dec 07, 2020

Poetry springs from your umbilical.


Mj Pettengill
Mj Pettengill
Dec 07, 2020

Peter, what a beautiful story and indication of your compassion and true appreciation for what both you and your mother experienced. This knowing is a gift. Thank you.


Dec 07, 2020

You are lucky to have that bond. I do not know what it is to give birth to a child. I've never known fatherhood, but I still am a child of two parents. I remember one time as an adult male I was complaining about how my Dad was constantly nagging me about this and that. I was driving a good Canadian friend to work. She was older than me probably by about five years. I knew a lot about this woman. I knew her husband, I knew her children. That day as I was being an ungrateful son and cried out loud that I just wish my Dad would let me live my own life and learn…

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