May 13, 2018

a day's consideration of mothers

I wouldn't go so far as to say I despise Mothers' Day.  I just dread it.  I make a "yuck" expression when someone mentions it.  When I'm Queen, I will wipe it off the calendar and dust off my hands.

Every year, I'm compelled to use e-mail (never, ever a card) to send a "Happy Mothers' Day" message to my mother.  Sometimes I sit for five minutes, ten minutes, trying to think of something lighthearted that sounds sincere and covers up my insensate half of our relationship that underlies the words I type.

Because what else do you say to a person you're required to relate to for the duration, to give to and meet the needs of without getting anything back?  What do you say when the words come from a desire to ward off guilt and social castigation, when what you don't mean follows the path of least resistance?

Therapist Gumby frequently asks me to inventory what allows me to give my kid things as a parent that I never got from my own parents, what enables me to take a vastly different approach.  I say I cobbled it together from watching hundreds of people, listening to their anecdotes, paying attention to the norms of my generation's parenting.  I read avidly during my pregnancies about breastfeeding and cloth diapering (to which I said "pfffft, fuck this" after three days) and skin-on-skin attachment.  I had access to information that my mother did not.  I used that information.

P.J. once described me to someone as "fiercely maternal."

My mother fretted when my kid was born and I chose to breastfeed and did so for thirteen months.  She said she was worried he wouldn't get enough to eat, and when he was born at nine pounds and weighed seventeen pounds at seven weeks old, she turned about and fretted because he was getting too much.  I ignored her.  What I heard was a woman who was vicariously suffocating, feeling chained by the demands of a child on her.  I was a different kind of mother before he was even born.

(When my first son was born, she asked me to get rid of our cats because she believed the urban legend about them stealing babies' breath.  You can understand why I looked around for other options.)

There's more to this day than my own discordant dance with my mother.  It's to the point where complete strangers, always women, say "Happy Mothers' Day" to other women, as lightly as if it were "happy holidays" or "enjoy spring break."  All of the arrow-piercings in the hearts of those who, like me, have had children to die, or miscarriages, or heartbreaking abortions, or infertility, all of the little pricks of social rejection experienced by women who have simply chosen not to have children, are unregarded.  The grief of those who just lost their own mothers.  Older women in grocery stores will see young women with burgeoning bellies and smile and say, "Happy Mothers' Day!  Is this your first?"  They never know what might lie beneath glib, sometimes rehearsed replies to such questions.

Maybe losing my first son molded me.  Maybe he is the reason I pored through books and articles and sought advice from people in my life whose parenting intrigued me.  Maybe he was the impetus for my cobbling together my own mothering of my second son, the countless rocking-chair hours with him on my shoulder, teaching him to read at three, reasoning with him instead of spanking, letting the cursing fly free so we can completely be ourselves at home.  To be fair, he started that bit:

See that?  The little fucker flipped
me off while still in utero!

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