Motherhood is an institution, or a thing that is always changing my attitudes. It is always challenging my world views, and yet also confirming age-old suspicions.
For some–it comes naturally, or it seems to. It is like a reliable one-size-for-all dress that just fits some people especially well. My friend C, for example, always wanted to be a mother and she is a wonderful excellent mother. She always had a natural nurturing side to her and yet it brings about a vulnerable human side to her as well–I would sometimes help her when we would go out by holding her one-year-old daughter while she would fold up the stroller, pay for her bus fare, and console her daughter all at the same time. And yet she is doing it all over again with another one on the way due quite soon. Her daughter is a delight to be around–and I don’t say this often about many children. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree–she is sweet, kind, and has a similar joie de vivre that her mother does–which is one of many reasons why we are friends. I look forward to seeing the daughter this summer–it is always wonderful to see how children grow, especially when you’re not the one changing their diapers afterwards. Another friend of mine, A once said that he delights in his many nieces and nephews because at the end of the day, they go back to their respective homes.
For others–motherhood comes as more of a challenge as is evidenced by the latest Modern Love piece. The mother has a health scare and it is facing the possibility of mortality and how it would affect her son that “scares” her to face the absolute truth: the scariness yet beauty of motherhood.
I am not a mother. I don’t know whether I will be “blessed” as they say with this “gift” or phase or however you call it in this lifetime or in the next (if you believe in reincarnation). But I find myself making mental notes increasingly more often in the last couple of years about what I would or would not do. My father once told me that his style of raising me and my brother was inspired by the way his father raised him–corrective retroactive parenting if you could call it that. Trying to improve parenting by the generation. But at the same time–history repeats itself.
I lounged at a friend’s house this afternoon, a welcome break from researching for my thesis intensively every day and he told me how he once boarded an airplane by himself and got off the plane and found where he was supposed to go–at five years old. Five. Years. Old.
I thought to myself–okay well he probably had the required Unaccompanied Minor wrist-bracelet for when he was on the airplane–but even so, he was not accompanied to the gate or to baggage claim–he had to fend for himself at such a young age. Whereas my mother basically had to arrange to have me treated as an Unaccompanied Minor at 15 years old, and worried herself into a panic when I went to Santa Barbara for a weekend convention when I was seventeen and I wasn’t even by myself–I was with a group and even had to share my hotel room–so was virtually never alone.
There are many cultural reasons why my friend and I had mothers with vastly different parental styles. One, mine was Jewish, his was not. They say that WASPs and “Gentiles” are more easygoing as parents–there’s more laissez faire in the “WASP” or “Gentile” way of doing things.
I remember I had to promise my father that I would hold my brother’s hand every step of the way when I took him out for a brother-sister outing. And we were merely just crossing the street to go to Starbucks and have hot chocolate–and if we were one minute over our 60 minute time limit–my mobile phone would be ringing nonstop as if it were a hidden tracking device for a criminal who had crossed/violated the boundary line.
My father anxiety-driven nightmares on his children, his “kinderlach” as he diminutively and Yiddishly or uber-Jewishly called us, growing up. Empty nest syndrome before the nest was even empty.
He had a dream once that he lost us at a party, and opened the front door to find us but ten years older. His dream is a twisted benign version of what could happen in real life–that we are “taken” and no longer really recognizable. A severely warped version of the Jaycee Dugard story.
And yet we eventually do grow up. Maybe not into the exact types our parents wished for us. Goodness knows what my late mother would have to say about my daydreams of lets say, driving to the far East, and I don’t know, maybe slicing into the northern part of Afghanistan, while simultaneously making a mockumentary of the whole experience that is partially Top Gear meets The Amazing Race meets an inversion of Borat.
A friend of mine enjoys cross-dressing and we imagined what good footage or material it would be if we had this friend encounter the border guards in lets say, Turkmenistan or Tajikistan. Of course, for practical and safety reasons–we wouldn’t “mockumentarily” make this happen but one of our favorite pastimes to do is just imagine these “lets venture into the completely ridiculous and absurd” scenarios. I enjoy people like that who can, well, use their imagination, are curious or crazy enough to even consider some of my more, what might one diplomatically call “quirky” ideas, and still think I’m remotely sane.
Many people consider me…quirky. Or too complicated to understand or handle. Or just call it a better word: weird. At first, I would fight these definitions and put more effort into trying to prove myself or these people wrong. But you know, the more you try hard at something–the more you just ultimately do the opposite. Why do I need to work hard at impressing more people when I already am privileged and fortunate to have my wonderful friends already?
Part of growing up or maturity is about self-acceptance. And just learning how to deal with it, live with it, if you will. Thinking, “Okay, so I’m different from everyone else, so what? What now?”
One of the things I slowly am still getting over , and this is taking so far at least five years (I am quite slow at somethings) is this underlying sense of guilt. That my mother was not quite finished with her job in raising me and she felt bad about that. She was always apologizing for leaving me too soon. She felt horrible about her father (my grandfather) having to lose his daughter too soon. That was a great source of torment for her.
Friends in the past complained about their mothers. About a lack of mutual understanding. How their mothers “didn’t get them.” Well, at least their mothers were still around so there was still hope for some resolution or reconciliation in the future. They had the luxury of time in their hands. These friends would get angry with me my lack of sympathy, or lack of participation in “lets bash our mothers” campaign. I couldn’t, because I didn’t have one then anymore to bash.
I was angry; envious even when Mothers Day came around every year. Commercials of smiling mothers and her giggly jubilant children appeared on the television. Or when you were in a cafe and saw a moment that was too cute or adorable for words, that you wished you had your camera for. Mothers hugging daughters on campus, on the street. A middle-aged mother just walking with her teenaged son with ice cream cones in hand. A couple tickling their shrieking and laughing toddler children. The mother more into finishing her latte while her partner or husband was more “hands-on.” As that cheesy song goes, “you don’t know what you have/had until its gone.”
Time has passed and sometimes I have to go to Youtube to remind myself what my mother even sounded like. I laugh to myself sometimes about what an earful I would expect to hear from my mother if she knew I were “crazy” enough to live in Poland of all places. Or that I had been to Kosovo–well she would give that earful to other family members for not preventing me from going there in the first place.
Some of my family members and I are spiritual and spirituality has gained more meaning and significance to me lately. My grandfather once told me we were descended from some Jewish mystical “Litvuks” or Lithuanian cabalistic types who would hold seances and make tables float in mid-air. I don’t know whether he was merely pulling my leg…