“She said goodbye, remembering the past and looking to the future.” ~Jennifer
I’ve always felt physically and spiritually attuned to the four seasons. I love the cycles through which nature passes each year: the planting of a seed in spring, the growth and glory of summer, the golden harvest of autumn, the quiet dormancy of winter. There truly is a season for everything in this life. How appropriate that as I sit here writing my final She is Three post, it happens to be the winter solstice.
The house is finally quiet. All lights are out except for the glow of my laptop screen and a faint orange blur emanating from the last embers in the fireplace. It’s time to rest. The cycle is complete. My seed of an idea for a self-portraiture project exploring the three phases of womanhood was planted five years ago. It grew as did I. Every month I showed up, often struggling and always seeking. I acknowledged weaknesses and discovered hidden strengths. I gave and received loving support in this sacred circle of women. I also found light around me and within me…light I thought was either lost forever or unattainable to begin with.
The day I took my final self-portrait, I held three sprigs of rosemary for remembrance. At the same time, I faced forward, ready to move on. The last of the day’s sun shone behind me, illuminating my neck and highlighting my throat chakra.
Tonight I’m honoring the longest night of the year by mirroring nature’s process of slowing down. I’m sitting in stillness. I’m giving thanks for the brave and wonderful women who participated in this project over the years. I’m also saying goodbye as I remember the past and look to the future. I’m gratefully laying the seasons of She is Three to rest and preparing to welcome whatever journey comes next.
Author Archives: Jennifer
“She looked in the mirror and saw three.” ~Jennifer
In January of 2012, I got the inspiration to begin this project. It literally was a breath of air when I felt as though I were suffocating. I had no time or space of my own. I was sleep-deprived, angry, overwhelmed, confused. I had what I would call creative laryngitis. There was so much I desperately wanted to express, but I was voiceless. During those cold, dark days and nights, I yearned for a haven. I needed a place to go for support and release. I was struggling in my postpartum body. I hoped for a safe environment where I could work my way through the rocky terrain of being a new mother. I wished more than ever that my own mom were still alive.
I had made the passage from maiden to mother, but it was not an easy one. I missed much of my former independence. I wanted my body back. I loved my husband and knew what a beautiful blessing our daughter was, but something was still amiss. Ideas and emotions were boiling within me and rising to the surface. I needed the protective embrace of a women’s circle where I could be witnessed but not judged. That’s when I invited two creative souls to join me in exploring womanhood and its three phases: maiden, mother, crone.
I avoided looking in the mirror back then. When I did, I saw nothing but an exhausted mess staring back at me. The maiden was gone. I experienced none of the joy of my former self. I couldn’t find the earthly wisdom of the crone in the distance. I felt ruined, broken, sliced into pieces.
Almost five years have passed since then. I’m now the mother of two amazing children. I’m still tired and busy, which is to be expected. I’m still finding my way through womanhood, but I know I’m not alone. I’ve waded in the healing waters of this community. I’ve been seen. I’ve seen you. And now I see more than a broken woman when I look in the mirror. I recognize the joy of the maiden. I acknowledge the ever-changing middle path of the mother and how I shift along with it. And I know the wise woman is right by my side. I might not perceive her clearly, but she is always there, ready to step into the picture. She is me, and I am three.
“She is wild about nature.” ~Jennifer
The meaning of wildness has come full circle for me. I feel a return happening; a return to the innocence and imagination of youth. I’m reconnecting with the little girl in me who saw life through a lens of magic. That little girl didn’t know darkness. She reveled in stories of fairies and unicorns. She felt the allure of the fiddleheads unfolding in the woods. She found enchantment amongst the daffodils. She was captivated by verdant patches of moss and silvery swaths of moonlight.
I’ve never thought of myself as wild before, but now I realize that I am. We all are in one way or another. I’m not reckless or riotous, but I am daring. I have a great sense of adventure, though my feats are much tamer since marriage and motherhood. And yet, it is in this phase of my life that I am recovering my true wildness. It is a wildness that was buried beneath years of dust and disillusionment. Mine is the wild heart of a girl who is deeply connected to nature. I’m fascinated with how the light plays off of everything around me. I’m in love with flowers. I’m wild about autumn, with its gleaming days and crisp nights. I’m downright amazed at all of the healing potential in this world. There is so much beauty out there, and I’m happiest when I take the time to soak it in.
“She acknowledged the need to have fun.” ~Jennifer
It took a trip to kindergarten for me to remember how important it is to have fun. On my daughter’s first day of school, my husband and I (and the other kindergarten families) rode the bus with her. We met the teacher and we watched as the children hung their backpacks in their cubbies and found their names at the tables. As I stood in the back of the room observing, I learned a great deal.
Gone are the days of chalk and blackboard. The teacher used a Promethean board connected to her computer to project the lessons. With a stylus, she colored in various shapes on the interactive white board. She showed how scribbling with no effort was not acceptable. Then as she was carefully filling in another shape, she “accidentally” colored outside the lines. It’s okay if that happens sometimes, she explained, as long as you try your best.
In the back of my head, I knew I had to take a self-portrait for She is Three when we got home that day. Neither timing nor weather nor inspiration had lined up for me to do it during the days prior. But after we got off the bus that afternoon, I just wanted to relax. I wanted to do my best for the photo, but I didn’t want to stress out about staying inside the lines. It was a gorgeous sunny day, so I took my daughter and my son outside to play. As we were blowing bubbles near the zinnias, I thought about the kindergarten lesson again. Then I told myself to forget about composition, clothing, and location. Instead of going inside to get my DSLR, I snapped some photos with my iPhone while my children were playing right in front of me. Then I put the phone down and went back to enjoying the beauty of the zinnias, the simple joy of blowing bubbles, and the giggles of my little ones. Both my daughter and I colored outside the lines a bit that day, but we did our best and we had lots of fun.
“She is ready to lighten up.” ~Jennifer
“She embodied freedom amidst the flowers.” ~Jennifer
By now, it’s no secret that I love flowers. They are a part of my being. They are my attachment to the past, my link to everyday life, and the garland of dreams that connects me to the future. I feel a spark of inspiration when I see, touch, and smell flowers. I experience an amazing sense of liberation when I stand in a meadow blooming with Queen Anne’s lace, echinacea, aster, and cosmos.
Certain flowers remind me of life stages through which I have passed. To this day, lavender means freedom to me. Those spiky purple stalks take me back to my first summer study abroad and the lavender fields whizzing by the windows of the TGV as I traveled to the south of France. When it came time to go home, I filled my suitcase with dried lavender flowers in sachets of provencal fabric to give as souvenirs and to keep as fragrant reminders of my experiences.
In subsequent years, I would return to France for employment. Each trip was an adventure, sometimes frightening but always freeing. One summer I took a day trip to an island covered in lavender fields. Another summer, I stood in awe when thousands of lavender pots were placed in the Place des Vosges for a festival. Each time I returned to the US, my bags were bursting with lavender sachets and bottles of lavender oil.
Now that I am the mother of two small children, I don’t have much free time at all. And so, when I need a bit of solitude, I step outside. During the summer months, I am lured to our lavender bushes. They hum with the buzzing of bees and they sway ever so gently in the hot breeze. The majestic purple color and the pungent scent transport me to a time and place of freedom. They ground my physical self in the present, they conjure up fond memories of the past, and they ignite my imagination with thoughts of what is yet to come.
“When she noticed the difference, she knew the sacrifice was worth it.” ~Jennifer
For months, I was feeling sluggish. There were times when I truly needed to go at a snail’s pace. I accepted it, giving myself permission to do what my body needed. Rest was one of those physical needs. I started going to bed earlier, even when the kitchen was a mess, the mail (both paper and electronic) was piled up, and there wasn’t a clean pair of matching socks in the house. Once my children were tucked in (for the umpteenth time), I let my body sink into the mattress. I melted into a delicious sleep most nights, but still wasn’t ready to get up in the morning. There never seemed to be enough time in the day, so I’d forego my morning walk to catch up on laundry, pay bills, unload and reload the dishwasher, or address the messes that had accumulated.
Then one morning, I crumbled. The kids were bickering, the cats were fighting, and my husband and I were both tired, grumpy, and hungry. Somehow I ended up half screaming, half crying that I needed two hours every morning to go walk by myself. He and I both knew that wasn’t realistic. He understood the feeling, though, because he is much the same way. He suggested that I wake up even earlier (like he does) to guarantee enough time to get my exercise, my nature fix, and my solitude. Ugh. The mere thought of less sleep made me more tired.
The next morning, I tried it anyway. While my husband held down the fort, I walked and I wandered for ninety minutes. My feet hurt and I was parched, but it was fantastic otherwise. I listened to the songbirds as I moved. I worked up a sweat. I enjoyed the morning light and the soft breeze. I noticed some sparks within me reigniting, some synapses firing, some voids beginning to fill. Then I spent some time with my old friends, the lupines and the buttercups. Oh how I had missed the wonderful feeling of being surrounded by flowers. By the time I got home, I was relaxed, refreshed, and ready for the day ahead.
There were still plenty of challenges to face, but I was more patient, more present, and more optimistic that day. Even though I had given up some of my precious sleep time, I felt energized. I’ve been getting up early every single day since then, because when I noticed the difference, I knew the sacrifice was worth it.
“She had to stop and think: does she walk her talk?”
What is my talk? I had a really hard time trying to pin down exactly what that means. As I sat on a rock next to the daffodils, I stopped to listen. I didn’t hear any clear answers, so I kept sitting there. I stared at the water and felt the cold breeze, thankful that I had thought to grab a coat. I enjoyed hearing the sweet chirping of goldfinches and cardinals, punctuated by the occasional trill of the redwing blackbird. The wind chimes rang in the background, always there to offer a song. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I inhaled until my lungs filled to the point of satiation. Then I let go.
Suddenly, I realized that I had just practiced walking my talk, so to speak. The themes of patience, nature, and letting go had surfaced once again. I don’t know all the answers. Not by any means. Besides, the ones I really want to know aren’t spelled out in any book or illustrated in any chart. They are nestled in the crevices of everyday life. They are inscribed on the petals of a flower. They are written in the bark of the trees. They are emanating from the purr of a cat. They are flowing amidst the ocean waves and gently lapping against the shores of the pond. They are whispering in the tall grass and floating through the air on dandelion seeds.
The answers I seek are subtle yet enormous. They are incredibly simple and yet so hard to attain. How can I be more loving, accepting, patient, and free? How can I release the fears, frustrations, worries, and old patterns still lurking in the shadows? How can I embrace this life with my eyes open and my heart pure? How can I bring light into the world? Even though I don’t have all the answers, I trust that I am slowly unearthing glimmers of them along the way. I never stop moving forward, watching for the next spark, the next shimmer, the next bright spot. I’ll continue to experience dark and doubtful days, of course, but I do know two things: the darkness always passes, and connecting with nature never fails to show me the light.
“Is she aware of what she is holding on to?” ~Jennifer
I hold on to too much. There are things both real and imagined, visible and invisible, physical and emotional that I have yet to release. Some are fears. Some are memories of specific events, while others are reminders that I’m afraid to let go of. I have piles of drawings and paintings my daughter has made, each special in its own way. I struggle with which ones to keep and which ones to recycle. It’s irrational of me, but somehow throwing away even the smallest of her offerings feels like I’m throwing away a piece of her and a piece of my heart. These early years with my children are fleeting and I don’t want to forget any of it (except the tantrums and the lack of sleep).
There are videos on my phone that I can’t bear to part with: the first time my daughter walked in the grass, my son chuckling wildly from tickles, my husband spontaneously dancing in the living room to Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.” I’ve gotten pretty good at donating gifts that don’t bring me joy, trusting that they will light up someone else’s world somehow. I held on to the Santa Claus nightshirt I gave my mom, though…the one that says “Believe” on it. I couldn’t put that one in the donation bin back when we sorted through her belongings. It reminds me of her youthful sense of wonder. And in a bag on the closet shelf sits the beautiful stuffed unicorn she bought for me when I was in second grade. I named it Uranus. (I giggle now, but I was seven years old at the time, and intent on giving it a name that started with a “u” like unicorn.) It’s only an inanimate object, yet I haven’t liberated it yet. Somehow I still equate that unicorn with my childhood innocence.
My husband always gently reminds me that I can let go; that right now is what matters. Intellectually, I know there’s no need to use up space saving material items. I’m gripping the past so tightly that the present could slip away. I’ve been wasting my energy. I know I don’t want to keep anything that is holding me back or robbing anyone of happiness, so I’m sorting through what is true and what is only fear. I’m working to release ideas I have of myself, like the ones that say my nose is too big and my shoulders are too broad. I’m trying to gently embrace reality rather than hold on to the fantasy of what once was or what might have been. My desire is simple yet challenging: I want to cradle the exquisiteness of today in my hands, and then lovingly set it free.
Are you holding on to too much also? What do you want to let go of? If you’re ready to give voice to it, please leave me a comment below. There is such healing in sharing…
“What if she uncovered parts of herself that felt lost?”
In the last five years, I’ve watched myself change. I’ve seen my body morph with two pregnancies, quickly swelling to accommodate each enormous baby, then slowly shrinking back to my normal weight. I’ve shifted my views of my body, my time, my priorities. Everything went to my children. My body was no longer my own; it became the epicenter of nourishing, soothing, and holding them. My breasts became utilitarian, always heavy, filling with hot milk at the first sound of a cry. My hair stayed up in a swiftly wrapped bun, out of my way and beyond the reach of their little fingers, which tended to grab and pull. Jewelry became a thing of the past. Earrings, necklaces, and bracelets went from objects of adornment to potential choking hazards. Sleep slipped through my fingers night after night, year after year, pulling me farther and farther away from the self I recognized.
Motherhood has changed me, but it has not ruined me. It has brought life into focus through a different lens; an amazing one, in fact. At times I have to rotate that lens a bit in order to clearly see what matters, though. Over the past five years, I’ve also learned that on occasion the focus must temporarily shift to my own needs. If I don’t get the sleep, exercise, and nutrition my body needs, I can’t be the mother or the wife (or the human being) I want to be. But there’s more to it than that. Deep down, there’s also the wish to be recognized as a woman; one that can be attractive, feminine, graceful. There’s a desire to peel back the layers of nursing bras and yoga pants just to see if I’m still underneath it all. Sometimes what I need to reconnect with that part of myself is simply a bit of quiet time to brush my hair, put on a pair of earrings, and slip into a dress that makes me feel lovely.