Sunday is Mother’s Day. With my two children happily living their own lives about seven hundred and fifteen miles away, I thought it appropriate to reflect upon what being a mother means to me…now that I don’t have kids at home.
I first thought that motherhood was a simple fact of biology. An egg escapes an ovary, travels nonchalantly down a paved fallopian tube, is accosted by a gang of sperm, and is penetrated by one. The newly formed embryo hides out in the depths of the uterus and through the course of nine months morphs from a parasitic fetus into a baby. And then, after a grueling anything-but-natural delivery process, it dawns on you that the child handed over is actually yours. Mazel tov. You officially became a mother. Now what?
Of course, we all know that the biological part of the equation – in any manner the act of procreation or childbirth may have taken place – does not alone qualify one to be a real mother. After all, females of many species give birth and nurse their young. No, becoming a real mother is quite a different process altogether.
For me, it didn’t start with reading child-rearing books. (I truly never read one.) It wasn’t about making homemade organic baby food. (Gerber’s was fine.) It didn’t involve art projects or fancy clothes. And it certainly had nothing to do with checking items off an early childhood development list. (I never worried about the milestones my friends or pediatrician measured.) For me, it was all about building deep and meaningful relationships based on moral and ethical values. And, it was about knowing them, guiding and molding them, but fundamentally accepting them as they are.
My kids are like night and day; not because one is male and the other female. His personality, fears, motivators, inhibitors, challenges, likes and dislikes are radically different from hers and vice versa … and for this, I am grateful. Because due to their individuality, I was forced to parent them differently. I learned to spend separate quality time with each. I developed the ability to recognize and capture special moments with each. And, as a result, I became a different mother to each.
My own mother once yelled at me, “I hope you get one just like you!” Well, I did; my son. In many ways, he is a male version of myself (though thankfully he inherited my husband’s intelligence). He relentlessly questions, demands, pushes, drives, controls, and has high expectations. He doesn’t give up easily or settle. He cannot admit that he is wrong and rarely says he’s sorry. He challenges me to be “smarter.” He’s a stereotypic firstborn and that’s what I – a fellow firstborn – love most about him. From early on, he and I developed an understanding, a trust, and a bond that still runs deep. Mothering my son mostly came from my head. Surely I fixed a boo-boo here and there and kissed away childhood tears, but listening intently over restaurant lunch conversations; strategizing on the way to pitching lessons; exchanging knowing “insider” glances; taking scuba diving classes and planning trips; striving for an “A” in his college Freshman Writing Seminar; and working on college applications are examples of times in which he knew he could count on me. And I always delivered; flattered to have been included.
My daughter, on the other hand, made me a better person. Her gentle soul and sensitive side made me learn to mother from the heart. Logic and rationales were useless when confronted with her raw feelings and emotions. She was quick to cry and easy to wound. Fortunately, no deep scars were left behind. Once, during elementary school, she was having a particularly tough time. So one morning, I declared it was “Princess for a Day” and told her she wasn’t going to school and I wasn’t going to work. I presented her with a little tiara and we spent the day, just the two of us, doing fun girlie things. I carry that special day with me always. It was a seized opportunity that created a beautiful bond and a wonderfully cherished memory.
In both cases, but in very different ways, being their mother has been defined by and built upon a relationship of trust, mutual respect, and deep love.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I thank my children who taught me how to be a mother; a mother who could adapt and adjust in ways that were most effective and best suited to their styles and needs. In turn, they made me a more happy, confident, complete and well-rounded woman.
Now that they are grown, I’m learning how to mother from afar. These days, it’s way more fun.
I love you guys!