On Mothers: Mine

My period came last week, with remarkably little fan fare. Usually, there is a lot of cramping, nausea, acne, and other delights. But aside for oddly sensitive teeth and gums, my PMS was at a minimum. I wasn’t terribly pleased to get my period, but at least I was a little less overwrought.

While I waited those infernal two weeks, I thought a lot about motherhood. Yes, someone who is trying to have children might think about motherhood from time to time. But noooooo, I’ve got a whole layer of depressing to add. Because my life is lived in EMOTIONAL EXTREMES.

My mom is in the hospital recovering from serious injuries. This has been going on since November. Though at the moment it looks like she will remain “with us,” there were moments when I wasn’t so sure. I was very close to losing her, which made me wonder about life without her.

It sucked.

My mother is no angel. She is difficult, stubborn, selfish, fragile– you know, human. But I’ve always admired how comfortable she has been with not exactly fitting in. Her compassion for the outsider and the underdog is limitless. She doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what other people say about her decisions to live her life. (Her own opinion about her decisions, that is another story…)

When I was younger, I felt truly ambivalent about having kids. I’m not a particularly maternal person. I never liked babysitting. I don’t coddle or take care of people the way that women are often expected to. I’m fiercely independent, and I expect other people to be too.

This has led to occasional tension in my life. I don’t really “get” a lot of other women, and men often don’t “get” me. It’s  amazing how ingrained gender expectations are in our little brains. Anyway, I’ve been lucky to find friends regardless of gender who just don’t give a crap. But there are times when cultural expectations punch me in the face.

When confronted with the idea of what a “good mom” should be, I just didn’t see myself taking on that role. I remember talking about this with my mom, questioning if I should have kids. “I felt the same way,” she said. “It is different with your own kids. You’ll be your own kind of mother.”

And I started to see what she mean. My mom wasn’t your traditional idea of  a “mom” (at least in the 80’s when I was little.) There were no snacks on the table when I got home– I made them myself. She didn’t pick out my clothes or brush my hair– I looked pretty much like a hobo. She didn’t shelter or pamper me– I made my own decisions, and took responsibility for the consequences.

That isn’t to say that my mom didn’t care. She spent hours with me on my homework every night. She would sew my pajamas and halloween costumes. She made sure I got a full night’s sleep. She always listened to me. Always.

I specifically remember being terrified (at age 9) of getting AIDS. I had no idea what it was, but it seemed to be everywhere. My mom very honestly told me what it was, and why I wasn’t at risk– try explaining intravenous drug-use to a 9 year old. I left feeling relieved, smarter, and in control. But there was no “Now let’s get you a warm glass of milk, kiddo” moment afterwards. Sitting up in bed, she turned back to the book she had been reading before I walked in the room.

Maybe that’s what she meant when she said that it is different with your own kids. A good mother knows what her kid needs to feel safe and taken care of. You change based on what they need, not based on some pre-determined nonsense. I didn’t need a warm glass of milk- I just needed the truth.

And what sucks is that I can’t tell my mom that I finally figured this out. I can’t talk to her because she is recovering from a stroke and can’t understand me all the time. I can’t tell her how afraid I am that I’ll never get to be a mother myself, to take care of my own kids in a way that is true to them.  I can’t hear her tell me, honestly and with warmth, that everything will be okay.


One comment

  1. bionic · February 7, 2014

    Oh, Jesus, do I hear you. (Do you know the last communication I had with my mother was an email telling her about your mom, and her reply thanking me?) Mine wasn’t exactly Donna Reed, and I just don’t know how to do a damn thing without her. Or why to bother.

    On the topic of your mother, I have so many memories of a kind of grand-scale mothering, an immensity far more important than afternoon snacks. One that springs to mind right now is when RU-486 was brand new and on the cover of Time or Newsweek. We couldn’t have been terribly old. But I remember her standing in the room with the tv and the apple 2e, saying that if you or your sister got pregnant, she would take you to France for that pill. I was blown away, even then, when all those things seemed incredibly theoretical, by the ferocity and depth of love in that promise.

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