Friday, February 22, 2013

Mama Artists

Having babies has been on my "Maybe Someday" list for a long time. But something is shifting.

Eric surprised me with tickets to Verdi's La Traviata at the Cowles Center. It was a stripped down production with no sets or costumes. One of the sopranos was gloriously, Venus of Willendorf-ishly pregnant. She stood in the spotlights in her black evening gown, hair spun into a French twist, neck and wrists dripping with glittering jewelry. I couldn't stop looking at her belly as she sang- watching it lift and pulse as she belted out arias. I imagined the little baby inside of her, listening to those sounds vibrating all around her body, comprehending none of it, but understanding it perfectly.

A few weeks later, we went to see the James Sewell Ballet at the very same theater. The dances ranged from traditional to modern, the performers wearing tutus in one sequence and leopard spotted spandex in another. One of the dancers, long and lanky with acres of neck and legs, was also pregnant. She wore a sheer black blouse over a black bra and tiny shorts- her belly sitting low and oval, like an ostrich egg. Her pregnancy was unmistakable and yet not the first thing you noticed. Her confidence and self possession shined out of every movement she made. She leaped and jumped all over the stage, so light and free in her changed body. I wondered the about her and her baby- what was their life like? How had she decided to get pregnant? Was this her first baby? Did she ever feel nervous moving like that with a baby?

I thought about these two women for weeks. How strange see two hometown performers in different mediums both pregnant at separate shows only a few weeks apart. Both women were doing creative work that demanded so much from their bodies- they had to be completely engaged in what they were doing. Both could have opted out, maybe were even advised to, yet neither one did.

You can choose to become lost to yourself. You can ignore the lessons life offers you by looking at the wrong things, avoiding pain, deadening your feelings, zoning out. So it must be the same with parenthood. Children can either be something to lose yourself in, or something to discover yourself through.

Entering into parenthood feels even more sacred than marriage to me. You are guiding a spirit into a body, teaching it how to be human, how to move through the world. You must be worthy of imitation, in the words of Rudolf Steiner. It fills me with awe to even think of it- bringing something from the void. By mixing my soul with my husband's, we can bring forth a new being- it's such an honor and tremendous responsibility.

That's why seeing those Mamas up there touched me so much- I couldn't look away. For them, motherhood didn't stop their work, it enhanced it. It pushed them further into the mystery of living, pushed them deeper into the reasons they make art to begin with. At it's best, art puts you in touch with the unknowable, the awesome, the deep possibilities. And at it's best, parenthood offers you the same lessons. I wonder why I never understood that before.

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