Because isn’t this what we try to teach our children?
In these heated times, listen as much as you speak
by Jessie Veeder
Last weekend we slowed down our typical agenda and spent some much-needed time with our good friends. Because we both live in rural North Dakota, we thought it would be fun to meet in the big town to do some shopping, eat out and take our babies swimming in the hotel pool.
My friend and her husband have a son who turns one soon and in the years prior to the arrival of our long-awaited children, we would spend hours on the phone together discussing doctors appointments, crying over losses and wondering why it was so hard for us and so easy for others.
These days, much to our delight, we talk about car seat choices and sleep schedules and how working from home and taking care of a toddler is the hardest and most wonderful gig we’ve had so far.
When we finally get a chance to get together, we hardly take a breath. Our husbands shake their heads and change the diapers and connect on what it’s like to be working daddies married to emotionally charged women.
So much of what we’re going through at this moment is the same — same demographic, same type of rural existence, same stage in motherhood, same small-business goals — but (and I think I can speak for my friend here) there are still experiences and pieces of our lives that don’t fully translate.
There are personal situations and feelings that we may never truly absorb or comprehend about one another, no matter how much we have in common or how much we adore each other.
And that’s ok.
“Be careful not to assume your experiences are the experiences of others.”
This statement appeared to me somewhere tucked inside the political back and forth that has become our lives in America these days. For some reason it really spoke to me as a line that somehow sums up what I’ve been feeling in a neat little package tucked in my pocket just waiting and ready to be disputed at any given time.
I’m not sure if I’m going to explain it properly here, but since becoming a mother it feels like every nerve I possess is exposed, every emotion so volatile. I see children in a different way now. I see them attached to mothers like me who felt them kick inside their bodies and welcomed them in the early mornings or long dark nights to worry and pain and then wails of relief.
I see those children, no matter the race, religion or distance across the ocean, and I see Edie.
I see their mothers, by birth or by adoption, by choice or by chance, and I see myself.
And then I wonder if they walk on this earth the way I do, so aware of how each decision made holds their babies so fully in their wake.
But that’s where the shared experience begins and ends. Because I might just be naive enough to think that loving a child the way a good mother loves her child is, in so many ways, universal.
What if I couldn’t give Edie a decent meal? What if the home I planned to raise her in was invaded or destroyed? What if she woke up with a fever or fell and broke her arm and I had to calculate and sacrifice our tight budget to afford a trip to the emergency room?
What if the only chance I thought we might have at surviving this life was to load up my one-year-old on a raft and float across the sea with nothing certain but uncertainty at the shore?
What would I do?
There are mothers in this world making choices like these while I sit in a hotel room drinking wine and playing cards with my best friend, our babies sleeping safe and sound beside us.
It’s not lost on me in these trying times, in a world seemingly teetering on the edge, that our opinions can be thrown around, but dear friends, they won’t go as far as the compassion we might find in stories we hear.
If we listen as much as we speak, we just might be reminded that we are nothing but the lucky ones.