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On Being Seen

On Monday I took Vera to ballet class, as usual.

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And as usual, I spent the majority of her class time chasing after Juliette who crawled around the anteroom with the other babies, trying to put every pair of tap shoes she could find into her mouth. But every few minutes I made sure to pop up and stick my face in the viewing window to catch a glimpse of Veronica. Each time I would wait for her to look up and see me there, her eyes changing from hopeful into a smile, when she saw me watching.

As soon as she looked away again though I’d turn back to my other girl, watching her too. And for one hour this dance between the two continued. Something about it this past Monday really struck me though. This thing of making sure my girls know that I see them.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve received more messages from readers than ever before. All of them about loss, about grief, many of them about being motherless, and also about being mothers. The messages have pulled me open in this hard, beautiful way. Each story, each life in words sitting there in my inbox, is something so unique and painful and perfect. And it’s not that I don’t think about loss all the time, or parental loss all the time, because I do, I do, but with every story shared I see a new depth to it all.

And this Monday standing there in the ballet studio with my girls, seeing them, watching them, watching them watch for me, it all seemed so simple and obvious what it is our parents do for us. They see us. They see us in this way that no one else does. They look at us and they see someone that they love more than anyone in the whole world, they see someone they want to protect and nurture and lavish. They see the future and everything that could be.

It’s the best feeling in the world.

But what happens when that is suddenly taken away from us? When my mother died when I was 18, all of that seeing disappeared. No wonder I felt lost in the world, adrift, hungry for someone, anyone to see me. It breaks my heart to think about.

And it’s also painfully obvious all the ways in which I’ve sought to been seen ever since.

This kind of seeing? It’s such a simple thing, really. But one that I never truly understood until I became a mother myself.

I know that my big lesson in life will always be about learning how to see myself, without needing others to help me do it. And now I know that’s something I want to try to teach my girls as well. But for now? While they’re little like this? I’m going to keep making sure they know I’m watching, even when they think I’m not.

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20 Comments

  1. So, so beautiful, Claire. Thank you, as always, for your perspective.

    Comment by Sara on February 20, 2013 at 11:13 am

  2. Oh my gosh — is that *the* stuffed monkey on that pile? I’m sure he must have shrunk, It can’t be possible that your baby V is SO much bigger now!

    I love the concept of intentional seeing that they see you seeing them, Claire. Our older son was just visiting us here on Maui with his sweet little family, and several times I made sure that he saw me appreciating how wonderful his interactions were with them. No words necessary — just love :-)

    Comment by Carroll on February 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

  3. Thes two little girls are so precious. They have the most amazing eyes.

    Comment by Tammie on February 20, 2013 at 2:33 pm

  4. Yes. And we know this deeply only when we lose it.

    Comment by Patricia on February 20, 2013 at 3:39 pm

  5. Have recently started reading your blog from kelle hampton’s post featuring you.

    I just wanted to say, i love the way you write. it’s so real and emotional and i adore it.

    I almost always cry, but it’s because i feel what you’re writing.

    Especially the part about not understanding until you became a mother yourself.

    My mother and i fought ALL the time when i was a teen. we didn’t get on at all. i never understood- she was so completely protective of me. so OVER protective. When i became a mother to my little girl… suddenly everything made sense, and it brought me and my mother a relationship we never ever had before. And i feel that insane protectiveness over my little one.

    And i fear so much, she will hate me the way i hated mine. And it breaks my heart that my mother had to wait for me to have my own for us to start having a relationship together.

    Comment by Lisa on February 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm

  6. So spot on with this post. Love the photo of Veronica cradling Juliette’s head as she appears that she’s going to kiss her (or did)…..such beautiful sisterly love!

    Comment by Karen on February 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm

  7. Wow, Claire. You totally nailed it for me. Thank you.

    Comment by Dana on February 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm

  8. So so beautiful. And true.

    Comment by Aidan Donnelley Rowley on February 20, 2013 at 6:37 pm

  9. so true. it is the best feeling in the world, and i love the way my heart swells at that smile they give back when our eyes meet.
    yup. this was beautiful.

    Comment by Baby by the Sea on February 20, 2013 at 11:46 pm

  10. Beautiful post. I read a commencement speech a year or so ago that was given by the Governor of South Dakota. He spoke of the fact that while his parents were both visually impaired they never missed a sports event or band concert that he participated in. One day he mustered the courage to ask them “Why?” “Why do you come to all these activities when you can’t even see me?” Their reply: “Because you can see us.”

    Comment by Laura on February 21, 2013 at 5:41 am

  11. Love you – and they do want to be seen – ALWAYS – even when they are 23, 19 and 14 – and we want to see them – as mothers. :)

    Comment by beth davis on February 21, 2013 at 9:45 am

  12. Beautiful piece. Thank you for sharing

    Comment by TOI on February 21, 2013 at 10:00 am

  13. Yes. This is EXACTLY it! You have beautifully and magically put words to my feelings. I will be sharing your post with my friends because it says what I so often cannot. Thank you!

    Comment by Amy on February 21, 2013 at 10:27 am

  14. Claire,
    Thank you for writing this. It’s so beautiful, and rings so true.

    Comment by Zareen on February 21, 2013 at 1:18 pm

  15. [...] On seeing, being seen, and a mother’s important responsibility. [...]

    Pingback by WAS Link Love {No.1} on February 22, 2013 at 6:11 am

  16. Claire, first of all I want to say that I just recently found your blog (thru Kelle) and I’m smitten. : )

    I was orphaned as a child of 7 when my beloved mother died and our father deserted all of us when she was ill. My two little brothers were adopted by another family and my maternal grandparents took my 9 yr. old sister and I to live with them. Although I was with family—- I know now that it was never the same as being held, raised and loved by my own mother. My grandparents were older and had raised 7 children and had 21 grandkids so they must have been run ragged trying to make sure allllll those people felt “seen”!

    My sister and I were not raised with the unconditional love we deserved and no-one ever hugged us or talked to us about our mothers death, father’s abandonment and the loss of our precious little brothers….it’s all so sad that it makes me cry just typing this.

    I cannot wait to read your book, all though I know it will turn my heart inside out~ bless you for putting into words what so many of us have felt and lived through. It is healing- it is…. and now as a mother of 3 I just LOVE your reflection of how we all just long to be seen-

    Thank God we survived and are getting our chance to love our little ones!!!!!

    love, beth larson

    Comment by beth larson on February 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm

  17. Beautiful. Thank you. What you wrote about all your mom’s seeing having disappeared when she died made me think of something Anne Lamott wrote about her dad’s death in Traveling Mercies — “It’s so different having a living father who loves you, even someone complex and imperfect. After your father dies, defeat becomes pretty defeating. When he’s still alive, there are setbacks and heartbreak, but you’re still the apple of someone’s eye.”

    Anyhow, lovely post.

    Comment by Nancy on February 25, 2013 at 10:31 pm

  18. Beautiful insight. I adore your writing.

    Comment by Meg {Phase Three of Life} on February 27, 2013 at 12:46 pm

  19. “I know that my big lesson in life will always be about learning how to see myself, without needing others to help me do it.” Now THAT is so powerful. I lost my mom eight months ago at 32 and I still need her to see me. To see me being a mom and a wife and a professional and a good daughter. Your statement, and entire post, gives me great perspective on why losing, grieving and learning to live motherless is soooo profound in womens’ lives. I’ve started writing about it on my personal blog called Mother Hunger.

    Comment by Ashley on March 1, 2013 at 10:25 am

  20. Claire, I just finished your book and am one of the many who admire your writings as a daughter and as a mother. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story-telling with us.

    Comment by Jennifer Mullman on March 5, 2013 at 9:24 am

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