Saturday, May 9, 2009

What it means to be a mother

It's like a grade-school essay title, like "What I Did This Summer" sort of thing, isn't it? Well, hold onto your hats, 'cause this ain't grade school.

What it means to me to be a mother has evolved from the onset of my motherhood, which I date from May 4, 2001, when TH emerged, watermelon headed and pissed off, close to midnight. Within about 48 hours, "Being a Mother" realizations crashed down on my head like so many cinderblocks in an earthquake. I realized that babies don't like to sleep alone and that mine absolutely wouldn't. I realized that babies don't know from night and day. I realized that breastfeeding wasn't a natural, beautiful, intuitive thing but a painful, frustrating, Gentian-violet-colored experience that some days had me crying in pain until "we" adjusted. And I realized that having another human being inspired powerful, painful, terrifying feelings in me that were never, ever going to go away. I wanted to levant to Mexico, disappear in the Yucatan jungle, call in about 20 years when he'd survived to adulthood and see if everything was OK. But I stuck around, for better or for worse, for good.

What it means to me to be a mother has undergone some evolution in the ensuing 8 years and two more children. I'm still scared shitless about it, but I've gotten better at subduing that fear under a seemingly level-headed, laissez-faire outward facade in which I can casually say, "Oh, if he falls off of that, he'll only get a mild contusion. He'll learn from that." Meanwhile, of course, Mommy Brain, the part of my brain that has a greater intuitive understanding of mechanics than my Conscious Brain will ever hope to have, busily calculates the infinite permutations and physical outcomes of the scenario, eventually concluding that the P of actually sustaining a critical injury is about 0.00000000000001. This Mommy Brain calculus works even when I am asleep.

In spite of my incessant, nagging, clawing anxiety that I struggle to drown in busyness, laughter, jokes, hugs, kisses, nighttime readings, movie nights, board games, teachable moments, good dinners, a cupcake every once in awhile, and careful driving, I really have evolved as a mother and as a person. Like many women, I do see my individual self and my mommy self as two different selves. One is allowed to swear freely, have sex, watch R-rated movies, understand PhD-level biology, and stay up past midnight. The other nurtures and has patience, gives baths, hugs a lot, is up at midnight after having gone to sleep at 10 pm, and pays close attention to the minutiae of Pikachu's character arc and that latest Star Wars/Indiana Jones Legos amalgam that Dubya has built. As my children age, these two selves will likely merge more and more into one unit.

One thing I've noticed is that the already beginning merge of Mommy and Me has definitely made some changes. My high-level crankiness, impatience, dismissiveness of weaknesses, urgent sense of living and movement have all ebbed, declined, yielded to the great deal of practice I've now had in being Mommy. I find that I carry my patience with my children into other situations. I find that as I let go of my control freak tendencies with my children, I forget to pack them up again for other scenarios. As I've learned to understand and sympathize with my children as little independent people with needs and desires and strengths and weaknesses that are just as important as a grown-up's, I've translated that into many other relationships. Yes, it's true. Motherhood has wrought changes in Me. Motherhood has calmed Me down. Sometimes.

Tomorrow is Mother's Day. Tomorrow, I'll still be scared shitless. But tomorrow, I'll still be a Mother, and I'll still be Me. As I get older, what I define as Me may change, little by little or a lot by a lot. But since May 4, 2001, there's one thing I've been and that I will always be, for the rest of my life: A mother. Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there. Try to keep that maternal anxiety tamped down and enjoy your day!