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Elan Vitae


  • Heather Doyle Fraser


As we head into a time of Wintering, a time of receding and regrouping, a time of cocooning and hygge, I am abundantly aware of the stillness and silence that surround me – especially since my daughter left for college. The silence really isn’t silent, though, and the stillness seems to be an illusion as well. Or maybe it’s just that my expectation of these isn’t what I am currently experiencing.

I am not still in this space. I am finding it difficult to BE because I want to DO to distraction. I find myself searching for the “very important something that I must do” that isn’t here like it was before. Mothering is absent.

In this absence, I am required to reclaim some of myself that I put down eighteen years ago. I say required, but really, I want to do this. I am creating space for it, for me. I am exploring full-out in this silence in a way that I haven’t been able to for years. I thought I had explored – and I believe me when I say that I did – but it was always alongside motherhood because my child needed me. I made a career in publishing, I wrote and published multiple books, I opened my own publishing company, I healed and re-wrote stories that I had carried for years, and I followed passions and ideas. But all of this I did as a second to motherhood. Now – although motherhood is still within me, mothering is not as present as it was a few short months ago. There is space. And this space feels quiet and still even though I am not always quiet or still.

I feel the absence of mothering, though, in the silence of the space that has opened up. Sometimes I feel grounded in this space and in the quiet. Other times, the silence harbors a growing dialogue of shoulds as well as explorations of new possibilities – a paradox that I am continually holding together. I guess it’s not silence after all – it’s just not what I imagined it would be. Or, maybe this is just what silence sounds like at this stage of my life.

I do think there is a soundtrack to our silence. It is filled with unrecognized melodies that permeate our everyday to the point that they become non-existent in our experience. If I stop now and listen to the silence around me, I can clearly hear cars in the distance, the furnace humming low in the background, and the wind blowing outside through the trees. Even with the doors and windows closed, I can hear the wind rustling the few leaves that still remain. And every now and again, I hear a branch scraping against the house. I know where that branch is – it’s right outside my daughter’s window. And that leads me back to thoughts of her, growing up here and learning to be herself just like I am rediscovering this new version of myself without her.

I remember when my daughter was around five years old, and we were driving in the car – just the two of us. I looked at her in the rearview mirror, bundled in a winter coat in the backseat – her braids on the sides of her head peeking out from under her hat – and I asked her if she wanted to have some music or if she wanted quiet. She responded immediately, “I will have quiet, Mama. I want to do some daydreaming right now.” Then she looked out the window for the entire twenty minutes of our car ride, contentment visible on her face.

When we arrived at our destination, I asked her how her daydreaming went. She said daydreaming was her favorite part of car rides. She also said she liked daydreaming more than nightdreaming because the daylight and watching the world go by through the window felt cozy.

I love this memory so much, and it is an anchor for me when I am struggling in the current silence. I want to feel cozy in the stillness and quiet. And often I do. But what if I allowed some daydreaming for myself? What kind of cozy would I feel then? What if I gave myself permission to explore ideas and a vision for myself that might seem impractical or even impossible? What if I suspended my disbelief, dreamed, and then from that place of stillness and silence created what is burgeoning inside of me and begging to come out?

I already know the answer to these what-if questions because I have engaged with them before. Maybe not exactly like this - certainly not with the space I currently inhabit in my life now. Even before I had my daughter, when I had all of the space in the world and a lot of silence in which to create, I was not able to ground into the stillness of my heart. I was caught in the frenzy of shoulds and wanting to prove myself.

At fifty, I’m done proving myself to anyone. I am eager to explore, but I am done with “whatever it takes,” and I am embracing boundaries. Boundaries are difficult in the first blush of motherhood because your child needs so incredibly much, both physically and emotionally. You are growing as a mother just as your child is growing into their own self. The boundaries we set or don’t set as they grow begin to permeate into other areas of our lives as well. And sometimes, we have no boundaries at all (or it feels that way anyway). But as we grow and as our children grow we are given new opportunities to BE in the quiet and noisy parts of our lives. Maybe that’s what’s in my silence. Maybe that is what lives in my stillness.

The boundaries that I have created are much more visible now, and they provide the constraint that gives me the freedom to listen, the freedom to be, and the freedom to experience my life in a way I haven’t done before. Wintering looks a little different as I settle into that intention.

Image by Николай Оберемченко from Pixabay


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