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the lesson i’ve learned from ancient mesopotamia.

mesopotamia_chalkboard drawing

Last week I began lessons on Ancient Mesopotamia with #3.  We talked about the Fertile Crescent and why it is known as the Cradle of Civilization.  We talked about the nomadic lifestyle of people on earth prior to this epoch.  Their main concern was survival – following the food, hunting and gathering, and building temporary shelters to meet their immediate needs.

I drew a map and described this Land Between Two Rivers.  I told the story of a land that like an oasis in a desert.  A land with rich and fertile soil.  I talked about how the people learned to farm which led to them making more permanent homes from the clay that was deposited along the river banks.  I asked her this question, “What do you think happened when people were no longer solely concerned with satisfying their physical needs on a daily basis?  What if food, water, and shelter were no longer an issue?  What would they be able to do?”

This lead to our discussion on the first cities – Babylon, Ur, Nineveh, Uruk – and the architecture marvels like the ziggurats.  I told her the “first story” every written – the epic of Gilgamesh.  We tried our hand at cuneiform, one of the earliest systems of writing.  We wrote on clay tablets (and polymer clay).  We also talked about Hammurabi’s Code –  one of the earliest and complete legal codes.  Reading some of the laws, we talked about the concepts of fairness and justice in the context of that time and place compared to how we would view those same laws if they were in place today.

The intention for this block was to introduce her to what happens when essential needs are met – food, water, shelter, safety.  How does a civilization begin to build itself?  How are cities built?  How are societies created? When survival needs are met, how can the collective “we” use our creativity and imagination?

Some of the earliest written records were Babylonian astronomical observations.  When they no longer needed to worry about hunger or safety from the wild, they looked up.  People no longer led nomadic lives.  They could stay in one place and watch how the skies changed every night.  They began to measure time.  Life didn’t feel like one continuous moment.  There was a degree of planning that could be made.  Life could settle.

This is my third time talking about this part of history in this part of the world but I connected a very different dot this time.

The story of being preoccupied with basic needs in one continuous moment in time seemed so familiar.  It felt like I knew this story but hadn’t heard it in awhile.  As I watched my son tie his shoes without my help (which by the way he had been doing for some time and I had only noticed recently), it dawned on me.

Early motherhood felt like prehistoric times.  It felt like I was in survival mode – making sure the children (and myself) had basic needs met.  My whole being – body, mind, and spirit – focused all of its energy on making sure they were fed, clean, and felt physically safe and secure.  I remember days and nights blurring together.  There were children always asleep on top of me or next to me throughout the night.

When my babies were newborn, 2, 4, 6, and 11, it was about moving to the rhythm of their physical needs.  I recall having a solid rhythm for maybe 2 hours of the day: 8:00-10:00am and then it was a total crap shoot.  My blogging was all over the place.  I wanted to write it all down but there were literally days when I couldn’t remember what happened 5 minutes ago.

The memories of those jagged and raw days, those days that encompassed a very primal need to protect and nurture (and also flee), have blunted.  I look upon them as motherhood beach glass.  These pieces were once broken shards of naive expectations of perfection and beauty smashed to the ground once I was thrust into life as a mother.  Time has made them smoother.  I am not afraid to touch them.  I am not afraid of getting pricked by their sharp edges.  Today I keep them close to me as a collection of perfection and a beauty that only can appreciate.

When mamas ask me how I do it, how I manage to have a life outside of being a mother, I want to tell them about Ancient Mesopotamia.  I want to tell them that my children, for the most part, can take care of their physical needs.  They no longer depend on my physical body to keep them alive and to keep them warm.  There will be a time when you will be able to use your energy for other things – when self-actualization will become completely possible.  After your last child learns to tie his shoe, after you find yourself sitting and reading a book without being interrupted every five minutes, after you can move your body to the beat of your own rhythm, you will want to disentangle your identity from the mix of motherhood.  You will sit and reflect and dream.

It will be a time for invention and discovery.  Trust me, there will be that moment when you no longer look at the littles at your feet or have your arms filled with them. You will be able to take a long deep breath and look up at the stars.

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