Thursday, February 24, 2011

Both Sides

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way

But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way

I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all
- from Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell

I've had Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell embedded in my head since I sang it to The Baby last night at bed time (In the evening, if you hear noises akin to a goose getting attacked by an alley cat, it's probably me "singing.") It seems to lull her into sleep, or perhaps sleep is her only escape from my yowling. I used to sing it to the others when they were much younger. And occasionally Henry, when riddled with school anxiety and longing to be wrapped in the comforts of simpler days, will request that I curl up with him and sing. "Sing the song about how you really don't know anything." I remember when he was four years old- begging me to stay just a little longer in his bed with him, to sing "just one more song." I had pulled Both Sides Now out of my hat, having exhausted all lullabies. At the end of the song, he lifted his head off of my shoulder where it had finally become heavy- so close to yielding to sleep-and, he looked me square in the eyes with the greatest concern. "Mommy, do you really not know life, at all?" I laughed because he was worried that I was confessing to being ill equipped to guide him, to parent him. I knew everything about life that I would ever need to know. I was a mother, after all. "It is just a song, honey. I didn't write it. It's not about me."  And, that was true, back then. 

I would not be able to answer Henry's question today with the same assurance. For the first time in a very long time, I have been struggling to figure out my place in the world (yes, the whole gigantic world). I know that I am a mother, a role that I once played with the utmost confidence and ability.  In their much younger years, I beheld my children in terms of the whimsical beings they were and the forms of potential I dreamed them to become in the future. My little clouds- softly shaping into architects, doctors, professors. But, then they started to grow up. They formed their own ideas about the world and the meaning of life.  I realized that I could no longer teach, much less keep up with, the subject matter they were learning in school (ugh, algebra!). And, they would soon surpass me in breadth and depth of knowledge of all things worldly and other worldly. (Of course, this is so important because I may one day need them to take care of me and help my feeble mind make sense of the changing world). Then in the whirlwind of all of their growing, we welcomed The Baby into our family. And, she declared, in no uncertain terms, that the game had changed- that all we  held to be infallible in parenting had to be abandoned in order to navigate through the muddle of her high needs. In the midst of fighting to press through exhaustion and then dealing with chronic ailments (the vertigo, the migraines, the persistent gnawing pain in my gut), I had been left reeling with the realization that there are so many things I was no longer certain of.

There is a reason certain songs resurface and stick at particular moments when we toil in our humanness. This one is telling me to reconcile the dream and the reality and  to make peace with the knowing and not knowing. It is not an easy undertaking. Now, when I cradle The Baby at night and "sing the song about how I don't know anything," it means so much more to me and the words catch in my throat. 


  1. That's what life is all about !
    We're all there honey! Just trying to figure it out.

  2. It's a scary thought that the songs that pop in my head might be telling me someone. I am constantly singing Christmas Carols and Mr. Rogers neighborhood songs.... oh dear.

  3. @EMK- I love you, Mom! When are you going to officially become one of my followers :-)

    @Kristen-Now I have Mr. Roger's in my head. Thanks. "It's such a good feeling to know you're alive.It's such a happy feeling: You're growing inside.And when you wake up ready to say,"I think I'll make a snappy new day."
    It's such a good feeling, a very good feeling,
    The feeling you know that we're friends." I wish I had this in my head all day- I might not have felt so heavy.

  4. I already feel so lost, i wonder what will happen to me when I have kids...I'll have to finally be the grown up....or at least act like one, right?

  5. Caterpillar, I didn't want to scare you away from having children. There will be many guideposts along the path of parenthood to let you know where you are and where you are going. From your fabulous writing, I can tell that you will be a marvelous mother. You may find, if and when you become a parent, that you are not lost- but you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

  6. Discovering who you are is a constant struggle in life. I think ditching the labels and embracing ourselves as "one of many" as opposed to "one of the above" helps define who we are as women.

    I can hear Joan Baez singing "Both Sides Now" in my head. Very poignant post.

  7. Any blogger that likes Joni Mitchell is brilliant in my opinion. Looks like we write about the same things, figuring out who and what we are and how the hell we got here/there.

    Thanks for finding my blog, glad I found yours.