Back by Popular Demand
I wrote this last year and it was published at www.truenorthparenting.com. It is one of my favorite pieces about motherhood, just thought I’d share it again.
When I first heard of True North’s theme for this month, Celebrating Motherhood, I felt compelled to write something about my own experience. Having 2 children and being a part of the “mom” club for almost 4 years now, I was certain I had something to share.
But I realize that I am unsure of how to celebrate motherhood. Although I love my kids, I often feel like I am missing out on something other mothers know about. I do not wake up every morning reveling in the minute details of my parenting life. In fact, I often wake up wanting to sleep just a little bit longer. I tiptoe around the house hoping to keep it just me as long as possible, hoping to rediscover that part of myself I knew before I grew a couple of people in my womb.
The thing about motherhood is it is not finite, not measurable, not a “phase.” And that may be what I struggle with — because it is a permanent shift in my reality. This is not something I am dabbling in, like waiting tables or dating seriously disturbed men. This is not a persona I am assuming but instead a new identity.
How can I still be who I was before I had children, if becoming a mother has changed nearly everything about that person? And why am I fighting so hard to keep her around when it is clear that she isn’t even here anymore?
I have never been great at good-byes. I grieved for weeks when I traded a stuffed horse to a neighbor girl, even though the smurf I got in return was a far better deal. I hate to see the old me go, not just the me who was 40 pounds lighter with fewer stretch marks and no life insurance, but the me who could hold conversations with strangers about world issues, the me who decided at 27 to get a Master’s degree in a full time program while also working full time.
If that me is gone, who is this in her place? This cranky woman who gets a shower every other day and is burdened with the hair to show it. This lonely gal who is so afraid of meeting other moms because they might not like her, or she might say the wrong thing and offend someone, or she might see her mothering mistakes magnified in the eyes of those who limit television and only feed their offspring organic food from local farms. This confused lady who feels conflicting emotions about her role all the time.
Maybe that is why I am struggling to “celebrate motherhood,” because in doing so I am also celebrating the end of all that I knew to be true about myself and the world around me. Becoming a mother meant I was willing to submerge myself in the cold, unfamiliar waters of putting myself second to meet all the needs of someone else – and the risks involved in growing a human are great. I let go of all my comfortable knowledge about how things should be, and CHOSE to be responsible for a baby (now 2 babies) with no way of knowing the outcome. More often then not I totally have no idea what I am supposed to be doing, and not having rules to follow or parameters around me makes me feel vulnerable and, yes, incompetent. It is this incompetence that leads to my ambivalence, and my longing for my old life. Because then I was only responsible for me and I was able to clearly measure how well I was doing at living my life, and there was so much less at stake if I failed.
Perhaps that is what should be celebrated then? Not motherhood itself, but the courage it takes to throw off the towel of your old self and jump face first into that crazy abyss where there are no guides, where the rewards are small and the risks great, where fear often supersedes joy – but that joy is better than anything I knew in my child-free days before I could add “mother” to my resume.
For me, motherhood is not a rainbow-filled day of discovery and Zen-like contentment. Motherhood is getting up in the middle of the night for the 5th time because my little boy has an earache and the heating pad keeps shutting itself off, and I am tired and frustrated with the crying and feeling powerless because it is 4am on a Sunday and there is nothing else I can do to make him feel better, but I keep trying and keep getting up hour after hour. The old me would keep sleeping. Motherhood is saying “no” and listening to crying and whining even though it would be so much easier and quieter to say yes. Motherhood is listening to the same joke for 20 minutes and laughing at the punch line each time because I hate to see his little face fall in disappointment. Motherhood is looking at this body in disgust while also marveling at its ability to reproduce and lactate and hold a clingy 20-pounder for hours on end.
Motherhood is my life now. And it is terrifying and desperate and exciting and dull. And I understand right now as I write this that I will never be the old me again, and I am okay with that. The old me did not know my children, or the way our hearts are intertwined like the roots of a tree. The old me did not see the chubby cheeks under those bright blue eyes smiling up at the new mommy me. The old me did not feel those kicks and rolls from within that were but a small sign of the amount of activity to come. The old me could not know and live with the fear of something, anything, happening to one of my babies, but the new me knows this fear and accepts it as a part of the reality of motherhood.
I do not know if all mothers feel the way I do. But I do know that we all face the same struggles, decisions, fears, and losses. We all give up some part of who we are to make room for our kids in our lives. We do this because it is the heart of motherhood, not a conscious choice but a shift in what we thought was important to make room for something bigger than ourselves. This willingness, this sacrifice, is what we can and should celebrate.
Although it was my choice, my children have defined me as a mother. Without them I would not be who I am today. A woman who loves her kids and tries to do her best. A chick who knows she is not perfect and accepts that she is going to make mistakes. A gal who gets frustrated and burned out with the daily grind of parenting a toddler and a preschooler, yet still laughs at her little boy’s stories and her baby’s temper. A mother with a full heart.