Motherhood- holy cow.
I could write 120,000 words on the subject, and I can also sum it up in a sentence: it’s the most beautiful, impossible, challenging and rewarding job/privilege I’ve ever had. It’s a job I’ve always wanted, but I never could have imagined how it would play out.
I was an odd adolescent (are you surprised?) and I used to have this fantasy of being a fiercely independent, single mother to a precocious, female toddler and traveling the European continent as a duo, selling my handcrafted chocolates. Yes, it was a fantasy stolen directly from the movie Chocolat, and it is a great example of my younger self’s tendency towards the dramatic, and utterly impractical. To choose to mother without a partner is not a choice I would ever desire to make now, knowing the intensity of this infant to toddler life. I also know now that my children thrive on routine and reassurance, as the miniature heroine of Chocolat did, as well, being so eager to stop her mother’s wandering and set down roots. See, even in the movies, the plan had flaws. But I always wanted to be a mother, and at that stage, it was a fantasy of compromise, between a teenage girl hell bent on paving her own path and the little girl who’d always, always known she’d want to be mommy one day.
I didn’t dream often of my wedding day, but I dreamed as a little girl about naming my children (I never thought I’d have two boys, so when the time came, that task was much harder.) My plan back then was to have a pair of little girls by the age of 26, beginning at 22, born two years apart. (This was my mother’s story, and I wanted to be a mom like her, fun and vivacious, relatable and pretty.) It didn’t work out like I’d planned. I had two boys, for instance. Two boys, when I’ve never once been called a tom-boy. Boys, when I’d grown up mostly with my mom, aunts and sisters, having had step brothers that came into my childhood later, and infrequently sharing a roof. Two boys, when I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie, don’t enjoy dinosaurs or sports, and feel awkward about potty humor.
I gave birth first at age 25. If you’re doing the math, it would’ve been pretty difficult at that point to hit my original goal. I was married at 23, and did have my boys relatively young, for my generation. Unlike many exploratory, upwardly mobile, ambitious, DINK-life loving (Double Income No Kids, of whom I am now very frequently envious) women I knew, I felt the sharp pains of my empty uterus cry to me at the age of 22. I was impatient for my life to begin, and for me, for whatever strange reason, that meant having children. Thankfully, my husband felt the same. It took longer to get pregnant than I’d planned or the teen drama Oops movies ever set me up to expect. Still, I know now that my 8 month period of hopeful wishing followed by dreams delayed, yet again, was an extremely normal and comparatively brief and free of grief, passage into motherhood.
And when it finally came to be, when I could join in the eons of women before me who’d brought life into the world? Though it happened all “wrong,” by my criteria, I was ecstatic. It turns out, in a post apocolyptic/future world scenario a la Handmaids Tale, that I would very likely be one of the enslaved baby pushers. I sailed through pregnancy, experiencing only the common symptoms that can easily be assuaged with drinking more water, exercising, and crying a lot. In contrast, my sister suffered for her kids, proving the strength of womanhood in the process (though that’s her own blog post to write) , where I merely proved that a 7 month pregnant woman should maybe not wear a baby doll dress in huge polka dots with puffed sleeves, even if she feels an extremely elevated sense of personal cuteness. (Keep in mind this is the first pregnancy I am talking about, the second time I felt slightly less adorable.) I even enjoyed having the baby. Not, of course, in the throes of pain, but in the way that you can look back and say, “that was incredible, and I am a SERIOUS badass, and the whole thing wasn’t as traumatic as I though it might be” (again, first baby stuff, my second made a far more dramatic entrance.)
Being a mom, though, past that initial five minutes of lifting the baby into your arms and being flooded with crazy endorphins… it defies explanation. You can’t have a plan, and if you do have one, you can just about guarantee that it will make a fool of you. Being a parent changes you in a way that cannot be rewound. Stretch marks, nearsightedness, a tendency to sway your hips in a figure 8 motion every time you’re in the presence of a baby, those have got NOTHING on the emotional changes. If pregnancy was a 9 month exercise in loss of control (of your abs, of your sleep, of your ability to hold your shit together and find your keys…) parenthood is a lifelong exercise in I don’t know the fork what.
In becoming a mother, I had to reevaluate my personhood. I had to surrender to the utter loss of control. I had to attempt to reclaim my independent nature when I was being clung to 22 hours a day. I had to be competently vulnerable and honest in relationships, explaining why I couldn’t do x, y, or z, or why I needed x, y, or z. I had to be really honest about when I felt like I was failing, and give myself a break when that was far too often. I had to ask for help, a lot. I had to rewrite what it meant for me to be a woman, employee, friend, wife, daughter. This is an ongoing process, for motherhood has no “end.” Ask any mother of a child recently sent off to college, a mother of a grown son, or a mother who has had to say goodbye to her child- it never ends.
Thankfully, I have had to do none of it alone. My situation, two boys, one husband, and a white picket fence in a small American town, bears little resemblance to my adolescent fantasy, and has much resemblance to my own upbringing. Thankfully, my husband is an equally fantastic father, and we figure this thing out together, not according to any plan but by our best efforts and a sea of little failures. Thankfully, I stay grounded, my little gypsy community of friends and family rooted nearby and available to help when needed. Which is often. We take time to appreciate this short period for what it is- a little bit stressful at times but still painfully short, and utterly valuable.
What does this have to do with “Mama and me” maternity photos Venise and I took before my second son was born? Very little. But like I said, I felt cute. As I usually did for that glorious 9 months of unparalleled self-esteem and sense of purpose. And Mama was just the sweetest cow that ever lived, and so very cooperative with her flowers. I think she felt cute, too.
Motherhood- holy cow.
Enjoy your Mother’s Day, everyone! May you use it to reflect on the “mothers” in your life who have impacted and changed you, and how you may have changed them. Thank them for their service. And then, I suggest you leave them alone. Blissfully, wonderfully, alone.