What We Carry: A Memoir by Maya Shanbhag Lang is one of those books that surprised me. I was not familiar with author Maya Shanbhag Lang, and I didn’t know much about the book other than the fact that it was a memoir, a story about a mother and a daughter.
Now having recently completed the book, I realize my copy is full of sticky notes.
How would I describe this book?
With these adjectives — Touching, heartfelt, tender. Moving, affirming, empowering.
And by sharing these passages:
“So it goes between us. Everything she does is for my benefit. This is what a mother’s love looks like to me. It looks like suffering.
“I accept it. I am about to become a mom three thousand miles away from her, in a gray, drizzly city that feels wholly unfamiliar. Soon, I will be the one putting my needs last. It helps to believe that somewhere in the world, I still come first.”
“It was a release to have her say what I could not. This was why I loved my mom, why I craved her audience, why only she would do. In life’s most difficult moments, there was no wall between us. She would never say, ‘I’m so sorry for your loss,’ would never put herself on the other side of hardship. She came over to my side. She ached for me, felt for me. She received life’s blows on my behalf.”
“I took refuge in stories. Books transported me to farms and ships and castles. Even when bad things happened in novels, the events followed a certain logic. This comforted me.”
“Contemplating worse pain doesn’t lessen mine.” (This sentence shouts at me from the page, because I have marked it with a neon yellow highlighter. While the author wrote this sentence in relation to the difficult relationship with her father, I find I need this reminder as it applies to my physical pain.)
“My assumptions of motherhood have been all wrong. I feared I was supposed to have all the answers. I didn’t know my daughter would help me find them. I worried she would be an obstacle to my dreams, not the reason I went after them. Zoe makes me want to be the best version of myself. That isn’t sacrifice. It’s inspiration.”
“It sounds like the worst time to weigh one’s desires, as a new parent, but maybe it’s the best, the most necessary. When tasked with caring for a human being, when asked to subsume one’s own needs, this is when we require a firmer grasp on ourselves. Rather than telling new moms to indulge, to do the frivolous activities women in movies do, we should say this: Find yourself. Gather yourself up before it is too late. You are at risk of getting buried. Maybe you’re already feeling buried. Do something that will solidify your sense of self, buttress your retaining walls. Don’t worry if it feels scary. It’s probably a good thing if it does.
“Working on my novel for an hour or two restores me. I return home from the coffee shop feeling renewed.
“Perhaps this is what we should give new moms: A laptop and a cup of coffee. A notebook and a pen. Permission to dream.”
“I thought this was going to be a dark and difficult time for my family, one of strain. It occurs to me that diamonds aren’t made voluntarily. What lump of coal would opt for so much time and pressure? It could be that what shapes us against our choosing is what makes us shine.”
“Alzheimer’s is devastating because it annihilates one’s story. It vacuums it up. Even the name feels greedy to me. What gets me is the apostrophe, that possessive little hook. It drags your loved one away from you. My mom no longer belongs to me. She belongs to her illness.”