Resources and reporting for mothers and others who think about social change.
get active
about mmo
mmo blog

Hanging on to Salsa by Kathleen Furin

page two

When I ended up back in therapy after the birth of my second daughter I began to work harder on some of these issues. My therapist gave me an exercise in which I was to pick out a picture of myself in which I felt I was my most essential self. I did try; it seemed valuable; but I couldn’t do it. I don’t know if that says something about my own state of mental health or if that says something about the way we try to squeeze ourselves into categories when truly we are wide wide wide. Infinite and wide. I looked at pictures of myself pregnant; huge, taut belly, too much acne, too-long hair that hangs over big breasts. I looked at pictures of myself with my daughters, loved myself in this role even as I hated the messy hair, sloppy sweatshirts. I don’t have any pictures of my serious self, my writer self; maybe because it is so private, so close to my heart. In some pictures you can catch a glimpse of my wild self, the self much of society doesn’t want to know about. Since I have become a mother I am much more cautious and conservative than I used to be, but that wild daring girl is still in there. I duly chastise my children when they defy me, but in my head I am laughing, recognizing my own indomitable spirit and hoping they will always be strong enough to stand up to authority. I see my daughter flirting already and hope that she will be more free to enjoy her sexual energy; less tortured, less ill-educated. I plan the wild things we will do together once the girls are older, the places we will travel to together, the long hikes, the books we will share.

When I quit my part-time job to stay home with my 9-month old daughter I was surprised at how good I felt and how concerned certain friends were about the state of my feminist values. I remember thinking, “huh?” Maybe I was just too sleep-deprived to realize I was selling out on feminism. The truth was with the benefit cuts we had just endured at my job I was working to pay for day care; but I desperately wanted to be home anyway. I stayed home for a little over a year, no paid employment at all. Fortunately I was in a position (barely) to do so. What the experience did to my identity was fabulous! Little by little I felt layers of stress peel away; the stress of running out the door every day by 7:15 with fresh pumped milk and plenty of diapers, the stress of rushing in to pick up my baby only to have her take a minute or two to recognize me, the stress of a job that, while valuable, focused more on paper than people. Being able to focus in completely on my new daughter allowed me to re-experience the world in beautiful, powerful ways. I had a close friend who was staying home with his son; we checked in each morning at 8:00 am, with plans for parks or coffee shops or train rides. The truth is, I never could have been a stay-at-home mom if I’d actually had to stay at home. But I was out in the world, not shut up in a dingy office, and I loved almost every minute of it. I never questioned my feminist values. Staying home was not only my choice but my desire, and I was just grateful that we could afford it. It would have been different if I had wanted to work and was forced to stay home; or vice versa, like too many women now under fascist TANF laws. But for the first time in my life, maybe, I was doing exactly what I wanted. I didn’t have to meet someone else’s deadlines, schedules, or agenda…except my daughters’, and we were so intimately connected that it rarely felt like a sacrifice.

Much of what I experienced in my initial transition to motherhood was a newfound sense of power. Power, pure and simple. I had longed for a natural birth and worked hard to have one. Yes, I hate needles and anybody wielding one, but it was more than that. On an intuitive level I just felt that birth was something that should be experienced. Birth is so intimate, so personal; each woman will bring her own attitudes and philosophies to her birth, make her own meaning out of it. For me, birth felt like something spiritual; sacred. No one could have prepared me for how joyful I felt giving birth. It was absolutely the most exhilarating experience I could have had. Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t painful; I certainly experienced pain in birth. But I also experienced a new awareness of myself as a woman, a sense of gratitude and awe for my body which had produced such an amazing, beautiful gift.

I carried that sense of strength, power, and accomplishment with me into my everyday life. In many ways the change within myself was not that conscious. It happened deep in my core, without me even having to think about it, without even being aware of it. Suddenly I believed, if I could dream it, I could do it. Fear, insecurity, logistics, finances; those were nothing more than minor hurdles to my dreams. That may sound corny, but it is true for me. I would not be the person I am today had I not experienced birth, had I not slipped and foundered and found my own way into mothering. Both things taught me to trust my inner voice, to heed my inner wisdom, to honor my own needs and desires. I did put many of my own desires on hold to meet the demands of my children and family, and I still do. But I seek a balance. As the girls grow they can understand more about being part of a family, of everybody working together to meet each others’ needs. As the mother in the family, I am responsible for meeting my own needs as well as theirs.

Fortunately I came to mothering in my 30’s and I felt as if I had deep reserves, plenty to give without replenishing, for a while, at least. After my children were born I felt as if I lived in a parallel universe, a sort of underground sea; the real world kept happening without me, floated by once in a while, bumped into me like a piece of driftwood. I was in a sort of suspended place of paradise in which my children and I discovered each other, learned how to get along. I could stay in this underground world for a long time without needing to come up for air, just floating along with my babies.

Still. I held the dancer girl inside, kept her in check when I needed to, pulled her out and brushed her off and took her out for a spin when I could. The first time I went out after my first daughter was born was just six weeks after her birth. It was February, and the moon was full, the air icy. I went to a smoke-free club and danced three songs before my milk started leaking and I left, mortified. I don’t think I even tried to get back out again until the summer. Many friends I had made in the salsa world had also moved on, moved away. I had to make new friends and it felt harder this time around. For one thing, not only was I a mother, I was older too. My body was different. In many ways it was better, especially in terms of how I felt about it, but you couldn’t see that from the outside looking in. I had stretch marks, a little belly that wouldn’t go away, more lines in my face, more grey in my hair. I went out anyway. I held on to my salsa identity like a drowning woman hanging on to life preserver.

My salsa haven is small, dark, filled with beautiful women and men who look good and smell even better. The music is too loud, the place is too crowded, but I love it. I am not a great dancer. If the guy is a really good lead I can follow along OK, but if he’s light and talented I tend to get lost. I hang in there, keep taking classes, dancing whenever I can, because salsa feeds my soul. There is just something about the music, the form of the dance. With the right guy, I lose myself completely, achieve an altered state of consciousness. It’s like being drunk without a hangover. Some of it is physiological I’m sure, an endorphin response, but some of it is magical, too. Salsa music is the most beautiful music in the world. When I hear it, I feel full of hope. Listening to it, deep down, I just know that everything will be OK; we will find a way to end poverty, violence, war, and hunger. There is a future of peace and abundance for all beings on earth; we just need to dance and drum our way into it. Dancing salsa allows me to just be. I’m not thinking about anything else; usually I’m not thinking at all. In my salsa world, there are people from all over. Young, old, black, white, Asian, Latino of course. Doctors dance with the guys who deliver pizza, secretaries spin with executive directors, attorneys are holding hands with the guy that cuts lawns all day. Salsa is our great equalizer. No one has to know or care how I spend my days, so long as I can follow their lead and not step on their feet! I am anonymous, sort of; all I have to do is dance. Oh yeah, and I can be just sexy enough to stay out of trouble!

So this is what motherhood did to me: allowed me to be, first and foremost, a woman who believes in her dreams and her growth and her freedom. Many of my dreams involve my family; my two beautiful daughters, my progressive husband who tolerates my salsa addiction (sort of). Motherhood gave me the courage to write, to say what I think and leave it at that, to open my own small business. Motherhood made me even more aware of how important it is to love and support each other as women. In spite of the fact that I quit my job to stay home for a time and I love a dance in which I follow the lead of a (gasp!) man, motherhood has reinforced my feminist values, inspired me to stay active in whatever way I can until things change for real. Motherhood has forced me to find “mommy shoes.”(pink tattered sandals in summer, scuffed hiking boots in winter.) I also have my work shoes(typical, professional footwear; black or brown). I have my bare feet, which connect me to the earth, which feel good on porch cement. And I have my heels; silver, gold, black, red, and blue. And as long as I can dance I will keep a pair around, just in case… because if there is anyone who deserves to have a good time, it’s those of us who are raising our kids, struggling to hold on to who we are as we stretch and shift and lean into whoever it is we will become.

mmo : september 2005

Kathleen Furin is the co-founder and co-director of the Maternal Wellness Center (www.maternalwellness.org), which provides education, psychotherapy, and advocacy for pregnant women, mothers, and families. Her work has been published in Literary Mama, The Birthkit, the web edition of Philadelphia Stories, The Expectant Mother’s Guide, and is forthcoming in the Bucks County Writer, The Mother, and Midwifery Today.

page | 12 | print |

Reuse of content for publication or compensation by permission only.
© 2003-2008 The Mothers Movement Online.


The Mothers Movement Online