Deep Survival: Motherhood

I read Deep Survival about a year ago. It was in keeping with my long-time obsession with survival stories. Since I was a teenager, I have gobbled up any true-life adventure story I could find, reading and rereading the "lost at sea, lost my mind" memoir, the "ate friend-tartare to avoid starvation" story and the "sawed off my own arm to save myself" adventure as well as all the run-of-the-mill "tried to climb a mountain/sail across the world/live in the wilderness and almost died" narratives.

There is something cathartic about reading these books. Man/woman against nature, rising victorious from what must be the most desperate, difficult situations. I always wonder how I would fare in these circumstances (Because, you know, it's totally possible for me to be a South American rugby player who crash lands in the Andes. IT COULD HAPPEN.). Would I have the strength to pull through? Would I rise to the occasion?

My mother and I share this fascination. We are endlessly debating what to do when you are attacked by a bear (Cover your face, protect your neck and lie down? Raise your arms and growl like you are the fiercest bear around? Run like a crazy person, shedding clothes along the way so the bear wastes time ripping your Polartec to shreds?) (Turns out, it depends on the type of bear.) Perhaps this is because I grew up in New Jersey, where the most dangerous place is the mall on Black Friday or the Turnpike at rush hour or Camden AT ANY TIME. The fact that my mother and I always get lost on the way to our car in the grocery store parking lot means that we would be ill prepared AT BEST in most wilderness survival situations.

OH, but I've always hungered for this type of challenge! So I shivered under a tarp on an Outward Bound course when I was in college and I spend time wondering how to escape bears and I read and reread Deep Survival.

I keep coming back to the ideas and information from this book when thinking about how to survive yet another majorly challenging situation: motherhood. Author Laurence Gonzales' twelve rules for surviving the most dire circumstances can also apply to motherhood.

1. Perceive and believe: Understand where you are, clear-eyed and aware of all the challenges. Motherhood ain't for sissies.
2. Stay calm - use your anger: Having control over my emotions, being able to focus them and rule them, rather than let them rule me, is a skill I am working on daily. My three year old makes sure of that.
3. Think, analyze, plan: Survivors often rely on a strong sense of organization and schedules. WORD.
4. Take correct decisive action: That tantrum in front of everyone at the grocery store? The same rules apply to being crash-landed on an icy peak: be clear about what needs to be done and plunge ahead through what you know you have to do.
5. Celebrate your success: Did your kid just say thank you? Without being prompted? Pat yourself on the back and take just a moment to let it sink in. She did that because YOU TAUGHT HER RIGHT.
6. Be a rescuer, not a victim: How you chose to see yourself really makes a difference.
7. Enjoy the survival journey: Finding even the most bizarre thing to enjoy about a difficult circumstance will help you survive it. (I actually did a few bicep curls while carrying my tantrumming preschooler the other day. Motherhood: the workout!)
8. See the beauty: This is why I try hard to take decent pictures of my kids laughing, smiling and looking lovely. Because if I don't regularly stop to appreciate their transcendent beauty, I can easily get lost in the mess/frustration/tedium.
9. Believe that you will succeed: As in most things, confidence and having your eyes on the prize will take you really, really far. When Z is flailing around at my feet, I like to close my eyes and imagine the well mannered young woman she will become because I refused to (FILL IN THE BLANK WITH SOMETHING RIDICULOUS).
10. Surrender: I am a mother of two small children. My house will not be totally clean and organized for another 18 years, at least. The laundry that I just spent all day washing, folding and putting away will have to be done again in two days. The kitchen counter will always have at least four things on it that don't belong in the kitchen. The dog sheds in the wake of my vacuum. That's the way it is.
11. Do whatever is necessary: You never knew you had it in it you to be the strong one, the one in charge, the one who has to make the decisions and clean the messes and provide the answers. But you do.
12. Never give up: Gonzales says it best: "Survivors are not easily discouraged by setbacks. They accept that the environment is constantly changing and know they must adapt. When they fall, they pick themselves up and start the entire process over again, breaking it down into manageable bits."

There is one point that I keep going back to in the book. Gonzales writes about how we all enter situations with a "mental map": an idea of what is about to happen. The survivors among us are flexible enough to adjust our mental map as we receive new information along our journey. Rather than running into a contradictory piece of information, a new situation that doesn't fit in our original mental map of How Things Are Supposed To Be, and ignoring it, we constantly absorb and incorporate it all.

Each day, I must remind myself that the only constant is change. My mental map of who Z is and how I relate to her must evolve daily as she explodes with new information, new behaviors, new ideas. I remind myself all the time that E is a different, unique person and I can't expect her babyhood to follow the same trajectory as Z's.

To survive motherhood, I must change and adapt and evolve as rapidly as they do.

If that ain't a harrowing true life adventure tale, I don't know what is.


Fran said...

I love #10

Michelle said...

I love this. Especially No. 11. Doing whatever is necessary is my motto every day.

Hillary said...

My favorite part was visualizing what a wonderful person your child is going to be because you're not putting up with the crap now. I always imagine The Boy as a teenager.

desperate housewife said...

#10 is something I have to whisper to myself every day. This is just how it is. Surrender. You can't change this part- this past being the MESS.

The part about adapting and changing your mental map is really interesting. That is every bit as applicable to parenting as it is to surviving any wilderness or catastrophe!

Marie Green said...

While reading this, I kept thinking about how much I loved the book "Into the Wild" and the documentary "Grizzly Man"... and it was near the END of this post that I realized that *neither* of those stories are exactly "Survival Stories". Heh.

So maybe I like Survival FAIL stories?

Anyway, thinking of motherhood in this context is brilliant! Also, that bit about the mental map? I get hung up on my own mental map ALL THE TIME, but now that I have vocabulary for it, perhaps I can do something about it.

Lovely post, darling!

Eleanor Q. said...

YES! I love the mental map idea and having to adjust and change it every day. I think I struggle with this and try to keep an open mind about my expectations for the day and of my child.

I also love reading adventure survival guides. This used to worry my mom to no end since she thought that it would give me even more crazy ideas to go out and try.

Grateful Twin Mom said...

Think, analyze, and plan. WORD, indeed. I think I use this one to plan for success too. If my kids know my expectations, and feel confident that I will celebrate their successes, maybe we'll all be experiencing #5.

bingo mama said...

I believe in 9... and 12. Each day is a learning experience.

Jenni said...

Number 11 really says it all for me.

Great adaptaion.

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