“Once she was born I was never not afraid.
I was afraid of swimming pools, high-tension wires, lye under the sink, aspirin in the medicine cabinet, The Broken Man himself. I was afraid of rattlesnakes, riptides, landslides, strangers who appeared at the door, unexplained fevers, elevators without operators and empty hotel corridors. The source of the fear was obvious: it was the harm that could come to her.”
-Joan Didion in “Blue Nights”
In honor of Mother’s Day, I hope you will forgive me for a post that is off-topic from my usual posts about travel and expat life.
Mother’s Day is an over-commercialized holiday at this point, so I am conflicted about celebrating it, but as a mother, I’ll take what I can get.
Three years ago on Mother’s Day, ideas for a blog post about motherhood started floating around in my head. Two years ago, it felt like time to write them down, but it didn’t feel complete and ready to publish. Last year, still not ready. That’s right, it took me three years to post this.
I am sure I am forgetting something here. I am sure more will be added in the coming years, as I am only 9 years into this motherhood business. I worry I will offend someone or be judged for something I say or didn’t say, but I had fun thinking about what it means to be a mother, at least in my experience so far. This list has evolved and I’m sure will continue to evolve as my son grows and as our relationship changes. But for now, in this moment,
motherhood (to me) is …
- Keeping constant tabs on the truly important snuggly (Froggy) that’s been around since his birth, knowing that losing it would destroy him, and realizing that losing it might destroy me too.
- Wiping a big, wet booger off his nose at the pool and then walking around with it on my finger for five minutes until I find a place to properly dispose of it. (You can’t just leave a booger anywhere.)
- Cleaning boogers off the walls of his bedroom and bathroom, because he thinks you can just leave boogers anywhere.
- A whole new familiarity with ALL the bodily fluids … sometimes his, sometimes mine.
- Never wanting to be the first one to break a hug.
- Getting all the way to my desk at work before realizing my shirt is on backwards … or is covered in spit-up … or both.
- Learning how to accomplish tasks in the 5-minute increments between him needing me for something.
- Not recognizing my body anymore.
- Curating an ever-growing collection of sticks and rocks.
- Cherishing the fact that he still wants to hold my hand in public.
- Catching his vomit in a paper bag and airplane blanket without missing a beat or spilling a drop.
- Carrying a giant purse so I always have hand sanitizer, tissues, band-aids, emergency snacks, paper, markers, and other activities.
- Staying on top of all the latest hit songs, but the Kidz Bop versions, not the good originals.
- Learning how to tune things out (e.g. the shriek of godawful YouTuber children, or groups of kids in the backseat of a car, or the aforementioned Kidz Bop versions of songs) like a champ.
- Caving and letting him listen to the curse-filled versions of latest hit songs on Belgian radio because they don’t censor anything, but I simply cannot tune out Kidz Bop anymore.
- Parenting against the parents of his friends I don’t agree with … and correcting or clarifying the misinformation he brings home from playground talk (“yes, a ‘boner’ is the same thing as an erection.”)
- Doing another load of laundry in the middle of the night so he can have that outfit he needs for school or sports club tomorrow.
- Not being able to fully relax anywhere until I know where the toilets are, because when it strikes him that he has to go, he has to go, and, frankly, since he sat on my bladder for 9 months, the same goes for me.
- Saving every piece of his artwork because some are too sweet to part with, and what if he becomes a famous artist someday and they become worth something?
- Just needing to rest my eyes for a minute.
- Surprising myself with primitive urges of rage when something threatens his safety or his happiness.
- Knowing I’ll never, ever have a restful night of sleep again.
- Taking comfort in the sound of the music that accompanies the iPad train game that was his favorite when he was three.
- Wanting the best for him and loving him so much, so strongly, so deeply, that it sometime gets confused and mixes with pain or anger or fear and comes out all wrong.
- Just wanting to have a moment alone, and then missing him as soon as he is not around.
- Getting to re-live the joys of childhood along with him – eating Goldfish and graham crackers and popsicles on hot summer days , catching fireflies, going on bike rides, smelling honeysuckle, remembering the excitement of Christmas and birthday mornings.
- Reveling in moments when he experiences something new, like his awe when he walked into a cavernous, centuries-old Gothic cathedral for the first time and just breathlessly said, “Wow.”
- Being willing to risk my own safety – my own life – in order to protect his.
- Being brave in moments of my own fear because I know he is watching.
- Trying to figure out what that smell is.
There is so much more that can be said. As I drafted this, I categorized items as funny, sweet/sentimental, and serious. Motherhood is all of those things. I worry that people will read this and judge me for conveying any negativity and/or not enough love, but motherhood can involve both and that’s okay.
The emotions and experiences that come along with being a mother are deep and complicated and endless. Motherhood is rewarding and hard and a lot in between. It can be beautiful and ugly. Motherhood is a complicated adventure. It’s different for everyone, and that’s okay. It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay too.
So, in closing, on this Mother’s Day, I wish the following:
To my husband, thank you for joining me in creating our son, bringing him into this world, and together preparing him to be a productive and contributing citizen of the world.
To my son, thank you for being my baby, my boy, my son – the one who made me a mother and helped me find a part of me I didn’t know existed. I love you more than I can ever put into words, regardless of any moments of frustration, and no matter how long a list of sentimental and silly statements I can create.
To my own Mother, thank you for everything you did and continue to do for me, whether I know about it or not (because I realize now as a mother that Moms do a lot of things their kids don’t even know about). I am sorry for any hard times, but grateful you chose to bring me into this world!
To the other Mothers out there celebrating today, cheers! I hope your children return a few favors today and make it a good one for you. And tomorrow, we carry on. We’ve got this, even if it’s with boogers on our fingers.
To those out there who are, by choice, not mothers, cheers! Sorry if we’ve overtaken your brunch spot for the day. Take comfort in knowing that you can go home without our children.
And to those for whom this holiday brings pain, whether it’s because you are missing your Mom, or missing a child who made you a Mom, or trying and waiting and hoping to be a Mom, or because you are somewhere tangled up in between any or all these things, I send you my best wishes and love and strength and support and the tightest hug this Mom can muster.
On this Mother’s Day, here’s to motherhood, whatever it is to you.