I was not emotionally ready, financially ready, or mature enough to be a mother, but I took the task seriously and did my very best. I imagine every woman has the very same worries and concerns, regardless of her age or wealth, and indeed feels vulnerable those first few days of motherhood, but somehow we figure it out as we go along and we learn every day, sometimes every hour, what works and what doesn’t. It’s quite possible that where we are in life when we accept this job is irrelevant, perhaps no matter how much life experience we have, or how little, we all feel that sense of wonder and think, “I sure hope I do this right!”
I am sometimes mediocre and I am sometimes marvelous, I am a Mother. I am often ordinary and occasionally outrageous, I am a mOther. I am traditional at times and trendsetting at times, I am a moTher. I am heavy hearted when I hurt and I am heaving hysterically with laughter when I am happy, I am a motHer. I am excited by joy and I am edgy from worry, I am a mothEr. I recall first steps and first words and remember first spankings and first scoldings, I am a motheR.
When my daughter was just six years-old I took a literature class in college that was HEAVY with reading. In an effort to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone that semester, I decided that rather than read a story-book to my child every night before bed as I had done since she was an infant, instead I would read my school homework aloud to her. She’d get a bedtime story and I’d get my homework assignment done, and it seemed a perfect solution to the time management issue of being a young single mother with a job and a desire to get an “A.” I remember VERY clearly that she adored two works in particular, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. She would joyfully crawl into my bed and hand me my books for me to read to her, I often wondered if she understood much, if anything she was hearing, but her enthusiasm for the stories, as they unfolded, told me that she indeed was “getting” something out of the words. She asked questions, bigger questions than one would think would come from a small child, and I answered them as if I was responding to a professor. When I wrote my papers on these readings I read her them too…I can’t help but think, all these years later, that some of what molded her into the woman and parent she is today, is partly related to her early introduction to feminism, motherhood, and gender identity from her mother’s choice to read -totally inappropriate for first grade- books to her.
I can say and write with confidence that when your girl child grows up and has children and you see her as a mother, noun, and mother, verb, it is a pretty good indicator of how well you yourself did, it is perhaps a mother mirror. You hope all along as you raise this child that you are doing okay and are well aware that there is not really a right or a wrong way but some ways are certainly better than others…it’s mostly by instinct I guess. A dear friend while in labor was told by the doula, “find your inner monkey” and it might have been the very best advice about being a mother that I ever heard.
I am well aware that there are many truly fabulous women who turned out to be fantastic mothers, having had terribly un-fantastic horrific ones themselves, but I am not writing about those women today, today, this Mother’s Day weekend, I am writing about me and my daughter, both of us daughters and both of us mothers, making our way in the world and navigating the oceans of confusion when it comes to “what TO do” in all things related to mothering. I am done, in a way, she is new, in a way, but I am still required to ‘mother’ as I am frequently responsible for these little humans. I have found myself in awe at times when I see how she and her husband are raising their children, and how she tends to them, teaches them, and touches them. I watch her kiss boo-boos, mend broken feelings, find her secret inner Doctor Spock when they are sick, and her secret inner Martha Stewart when they are making a project. I feel deeply loved when I watch her love her kids: I hear an inner voice tenderly say, “you did just fine.” I guess how we spell it does not matter at all, only how we do it.