I rode my bike home at dusk today, far too late for mothers and children to be playing at the park. From a distance I could hear the pee wee football players running their plays as the coach barked inspirational suggestions of improvement. Nearby, the pee wee cheerleaders pivoted and jumped in unison to some hip hop song I couldn’t quite make out. As I rode the familiar path towards home, my mind ticked through the mental checklist that pops up far too frequently: dinner? homework? lessons? laundry? I wondered what my teens had been doing all afternoon while I was at work, and hoped for the best. My heart felt that tinge of loneliness that happens only when I’ve been away from them too long. His birthday is tomorrow. Fourteen years of blissfully mothering him. Crossing the bike overpass, I dipped down towards Sycamore Park as images flashed in my mind; we’ve been mothering together for 15 years. How could that be possible? Two thirty-something moms, both bulging from the last trimester of pregnancy in the scorching summer heat, we dreamed of a few moments of shade while our three-year olds dared each other down slides and monkey bars. We chased them down, secretly hoping the jostling would push us into labor. Juice boxes and goldfish marked our territory, shared stories and sympathy sealed our hearts. We searched the pages of the parenting handbook, sure that the advice we sought must be somewhere out there. Mothering toddlers together helped us feel less alone, less unsure, and more hopeful that just maybe we’d get it right.
I see now what they meant -those women who said, “Someday you’ll understand when you have your own.” Funny how that pops into my mind these days. I remember standing in our blue and white kitchen, my two teenage brothers pulling food out of the refrigerator like bears just out of hibernation. I couldn’t understand why my mother always complained that she had just gone to the store, and lamented about the empty cupboards left at the end of the day.Suddenly, with my own two teenagers I get it. I hear her voice when I pick up the towels from the bedroom floors, when I straighten their unmade beds, and when I wash the peanut butter crusted knife left drying in the sink. ‘Season the chicken more than you think you should’, and ‘Don’t work too hard’ ring through my mind when I find myself alone, silent in the moment. Mothering teens often feels treacherous, as if I’m teetering on the next big catastrophe. I breathe deeply, and Motherhood pulses through my veins, bringing forth all those lessons passed down from one to the next.
She couldn’t have been more than a few months old. Curled in her kangaroo sac, snug against her mother’s chest, Fiona coiled her chubby little legs tight against her torso, happy just to be pressed securely against the most important person in her world. I felt the weight on my chest, just looking at her, remembering my own first months of motherhood. I’m not sure I would have had the courage-or confidence-to bring my newborn into a work meeting. Life then had very separate lines, motherhood and teaching. Like flipping a light switch, I would move in and out of my roles with intentional distinction, not yet knowing that that movement was truly impossible.Not realizing that, like Fiona, my children would be forever on my chest, eternally positioned over my heart. I didn’t realize that, yes, I would make mistakes and wish words could fly back into my mouth and yes, I would occasionally miss a page from the parenting handbook. I didn’t understand that as my children aged and moved away from my reach that I would have to stretch my arms to reach out to them, never wanting them to leave and yet simultaneously thrilled to see them go out on their own.
Motherhood. Something learned, yet innate all the same. An experience to be cherished, not squandered. A gift to safeguard, not consume with personal neediness. Meant to be shared. Meant to be savored, every last second.
A controlling mother, a missing daughter, and a family who is desperate for love. This post was inspired by the the psychological thriller Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas. Join From Left to Write on September 19 as we discuss Mother, Mother. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.