Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Being a Mother

I've been putting off a overall post on this topic forever now, because there is so much I want to say but I'm not sure how. So I've kept rolling certain ideas around in my head and never really putting pen to paper, so to speak. Motherhood is a very individual experience, of course, but I do think there are some universal themes. I don't expect this post will be as all-emcompassing as I had hoped, but here goes...

The thing is, if people knew, really knew how hard being a parent is, I'm convinced no one would ever do it. It's one of those things you can't really know in advance. I thought I did. I never had fluffy visions of baby smell and baby giggles. I knew it would be hard work, but I didn't really know. Fortunately, by the time you really know how hard it is, you also know a little, tiny person, a little tiny person you're totally in love with, and so, you wouldn't undo anything, even if you could.

From the second Rolo came into this world I had an overwhelming amount of love for him. I knew he was mine, my responsibility, a part of me. Sort of like a mama bear, I knew I would protect him no matter what. These parts of being a mother were automatic.

Other parts weren't. The actual role of being a mother hit me like a two ton truck. It took some getting used to. The change in lifestyle. The raw emotion. The physical toll. For weeks, I would spontaneously cry for no reason. I wasn't necessarily sad, although sometimes I was, I was just overcome with emotion. I couldn't watch anything upsetting on TV. I had moments when I numbly asked myself "What have you done?" I was someone's mother. Who let that happen? You need a license to marry someone, to drive a car, run a business, but no qualifications at all to have a child.

I've said before on this blog that I feel like there are multiple versions of myself (please hold all schizophrenic jokes to the end, thank you) and they don't always go hand-in-hand. It's funny how you can be two things at the same time; how you can know, somewhere in your heart of hearts, that you're a good mother, that you're doing a good job and how you can also feel like you have no idea what you're doing.

One aspect of being a mother that I always suspected was there is the isolation. Feeling things but not being able to talk to anyone about them. A good friend of mine had kids before I did and for years when you asked her about the kids or about parenting, the answer was always, "Fine, everything's fine. Nothing to see here!" Now when I recount some bit of awfulness that is parenting, she sighs and tells me she knows just how I feel. Well, why the hell didn't you warn me it was going to be like this?? But the truth is if she had told me I wouldn't have understood at the time. And more importantly, she couldn't risk my knowing. The fact of the matter is there are times when you want nothing more than your old life back but you can't say that out loud. There is a secret code among women that you don't discuss the dark side of parenting with anyone unless they are in your inner circle and also have children. And then, still only rarely.

Does all of this make me sound like some sort of postpartum depression poster child? Well, I'm not, but that's why people don't talk it very much.

The reality is that whatever dark moments there are, they never overshadow how great being a mother is. Yes, it's overwhelming sometimes, but it gets easier in ways. You adjust to the new life. It'll get harder in other ways. You see your baby "playing" with other kids at daycare, not capable of having hurt feelings. And in your mind, you fast forward 5 years and wonder if he'll make friends as easily then or if he'll be picked on or bullied. You panic slightly when you realize that you'll have to help him with that 5th grade science fair project and you hope your own reluctance to make new friends doesn't rub off on to him. That cheesy, crappy saying about parenthood really is true: it's like choosing to have your heart forever walk around outside your body.

Motherhood can round you out though; challenge you (in good ways). For me, it's been a blind leap of faith. I really didn't know what it was going to be like. I know I'm a good mom, but that I'm probably always going to wish I was better. Well, I hope I'm always going to try to be better, too. He deserves that. When it's all said and done, it might not be pretty, but being his mother is pretty amazing. When it gets hard, I focus on the words of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J, which hang in my kitchen:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love; stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

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