I am a mother.
This truth is starting to penetrate a culture-imposed shame: The defining moment and culmination of womanhood is in bearing children. If a woman does not desire children of her own, there is something wrong with her. She is selfish, immature, afraid of responsibility. She is not whole. She cannot be fulfilled. She will deeply regret this.
I have never carried a sustained longing for children of my own. It has flitted in and out as quickly as it came only a handful of times in my thirty-five years. I always expected it would stay, one day, when the time was right. When I was ready. This is, more or less, what I was taught by Christian culture, by American culture at large. And so I've harbored a quiet shame, because it has never been my truth.
At least, not on the terms laid out for me.
But when I stayed up through the night caring for a baby squirrel, my heart was full. I felt whole. Alive. A receptacle of love and nurture and fierce protection. I was undone by this fragile ball of fur on my chest.
And when I plant trees, tuck new plants in with burlap and mulch, extend a forest, I am sowing life back into the earth. Leaving behind a legacy, the fruit of which I will not live long enough to enjoy.
When I pick up garbage from the lake, I am quietly fighting for the lives of creatures and habitat that I love.
When I bring a lost dog into our home, bathe and brush and feed him, take him to the vet, stroke his face and speak soothing to him, I am offering myself without condition.
When I hang our feeder of sugar water out for the hummingbirds, I am feeding my family. Hoping to lighten the load of daily survival, offering a place of refuge.
When I frequently rearrange Pepita's habitat based on following her behaviors, I am listening to her needs, learning from her. I am affirming that she has a voice, however different it is from my own.
* * * * *
We never expected to go to the Seattle Home Show this past weekend and come home with a baby. But that is precisely what happened. We were wandering through the expo in search of models of tiny homes and were sidelined by a tiny furball in a lady's hand as she addressed a small crowd. Curious, I pressed in. I'd never seen this animal before: a sugar glider.
I looked at Ricardo with wide, shining eyes and breathed, We cannot leave here without one of these babies.
There are seven babies left, the woman announced to the crowd. I stepped up to her side and raised my hand, I want one.
I had just enough in savings to bring a baby home. The kind of spontaneity that makes me nervous, but might as well have been planned for how right it felt.
What should we name him, I asked Ricardo that night. Nothing seemed to quite fit our little marsupial. We went to bed and when we awoke in the morning, Ricardo read me a list of names.
I chose Tarzan.
Tarzan, with the wings of fur that one day may allow him to glide up to 150 feet through the air. Tarzan, whose intricate hands, the size of an almond, allow him to climb the sides and ceiling of his cage like a king of the jungle.
The bonding process with a sugar glider requires time and patience. He does not immediately trust us. In fact, he is frightened of us. Every day in the afternoon, when I get home from work, I reach into his cage and firmly grab hold of him beneath his blanket. I transfer him to his zipper pouch, hung around my neck, and tuck it underneath my shirt, in my bra, right next to my skin. He needs to acclimate to my scent, feel my heartbeat, be snuggled tight and safe. He chatters at me anxiously. With my hand pressed flat against his body, I apply pressure until his chattering subsides.
He is like a crying infant. And I am a new mother. For the next few hours, we move about as one.
We are a family of four: Two humans, one tortoise, one marsupial. As this kind of mother, I can only ever imagine expanding.