This year I will be celebrating my first Mother's Day as a mother. My dear baby boy was born in September and has been lighting up the world ever since. This year, perhaps more than any other year of my adult life, I have truly needed my own mother in all ways. During pregnancy, I just assumed that my mothering qualities would burst into full bloom as soon as my baby arrived, that my intuition would appear, fully matured, all on it's own. Motherhood is natural, after all, isn't it?
Well it turns out there are a few tricks to the trade that must be learned and my own mother was by my side for the first four weeks of my son's life, teaching them to me one by one. The birth of my son has changed me in every way I can imagine. I am more emotional than ever- things that make me happy send me over the moon and things that I find sad sometimes turn devastating or move me to tears in a flash. I feel a sense of empathy and protectiveness for every child that I see, which has me making funny faces at crying babies in the grocery store check-out or rolling down my window to scream "Hey! Zip up your damn coat!" to bewildered neighbourhood children who are otherwise trying to look cool in February. I am more careful of what I eat as I know it will turn up in my breastmilk later on making for either sweet sleep or a crying, gassy baby. I am more careful of my lifestyle in general, my full-time smoking, drinking and going out days are long behind me. In fact, going out at all can be a bit of a challenge since my exclusively breastfed son refuses to take a bottle. There are the more obvious changes as well, such as the 60lbs gained during pregnancy and the 35 that are still hanging on. It's funny how, although it does bother me sometimes, I used to get so much more worked up over five or ten pounds gained over the holidays than I have over the four dress sizes I've gained. Motherhood has changed me in many ways and while I owe most of it to dear baby, I owe much to my own mother as well.
My mother. There is no one like her. When I told her I was pregnant, she was thrilled for me. I cried on her shoulder about how I hadn't finished school, we lived in an apartment, we weren't even married, it just wasn't the plan! I knew she was empathetic, having had two "surprises" herself and raising my sister and I as a single mother. I'm sure she was also holding back a giggle or two, especially when I cried out, "I'm too young to have a baby!", given that I was 27 years old on the day of dear baby's birth and by that time in her life, she had a six year old and a three year old that she was raising on her own. Looking back at that afternoon, I can't help laughing at myself. At the time, I had thought my life was ending, but in reality, it was just beginning. Of course my mother knew this, but I'm sure she also knew it was the sort of thing a woman has to find out for herself.
When it comes to my mother, I am often at a loss for words. It's hard to sum her up in the way that I feel she deserves. The word that always comes to mind is sacrifice. The word itself sometimes conjures up a negative sense for people, but for me, it is the word I use to describe the series of loving acts done by my mother that made up my childhood. She was young when my sister was born in 1981, but she kissed her early 20's goodbye without looking back. Many young mothers try to hold onto their night life, leaving their babies with grandma, ignoring the disappointed frowns and heading off to "have it both ways". I'm sure she has her secrets, but as far as I know, my mother didn't date for eight years until she met my stepfather, whom she didn't even tell us about until he had proposed. My mother believed in protecting her children and in setting examples. Our neighbourhood was full of women who lived on welfare cheques and were somehow able to have brand new furniture, nintendo systems for their kids and a revolving door of "uncle joe's". I'm sure there were times when my mother glanced across the street and thought about going the easy route, but instead, she worked two jobs tirelessly to support my sister and myself and teach us the value of a work ethic. Our house may not have been full of new things (or even nice things), but even as a young child, I knew what my mother was made of. I looked at the other mothers and I felt that they didn't measure up. I'm sure those women loved their children, but, even at a tender age, it was clear to me that they were still putting themselves first. They were not the type to sacrifice for their children. While they were out "finding fathers" for their kids, my mother went to work teaching us about confidence, self-respect, self-assurance and the value of good education. She valued reading and artistry. She nurtured our imagination with books of children's poetry, she taught us to cook traditional Italian food and extolled the virtues of good manners. We went to seafood restaurants where we ate plate after plate of marinated squid and crab legs while the servers looked on in amazement at these little girls with tentacles hanging out of their mouths and we felt very sophisticated and privileged. We went to late night ice skating shows and stayed up well past bedtime. We went to the circus and the movies. We went camping and although it rained every single time, we sat in our soggy tent and no one complained because we knew how many extra shifts my mother had to work to get the weekend off. My mother loved us with her whole heart. She never felt sorry for herself that other young women were out experiencing the world, taking university courses abroad or staying out all night having the time of their life. She went to the school of life and it taught her that there was nothing she could find out in the world that would make her feel as whole or as relevant as motherhood had.
There were times, in elementary school, that other children would ask if I felt bad about not having a father. Children will ask you anything, as they lack diplomacy, and I remember being asked if I felt sad that I didn't have a "real family". I often think of that now, and what the idea of a "real family" means. My family, which consisted of my mother, my sister and myself, was always complete. From the day I was born, it was always the three of us. I never suffered the losses that children of divorced homes suffered. I never "lost" a parent, split my time between two homes, had two Christmases or felt myself being pulled in different directions through a custody battle. For me, family was three girls eating fresh pasta at a round dinner table and that is as real as the rain. Having a single mother, I was sometimes put in the "broken home" category. Truly, there was nothing broken about my home. There were three in the beginning, and we are still three. We have each added on a partner and my sister and I now have baby boys, but we are as three as ever.
After the birth of my son, my mother moved in with me for what was supposed to be two weeks but turned into a month. She was at my side all throughout my labour, supporting and encouraging me. She delivered both my sister and myself naturally, without drugs, and I knew that when she held onto my hand and said, "I know it hurts, baby", she really did know. In the first days of his life, it became clear that the battle had not ended with labour and that breastfeeding was proving to be an even more treacherous mountain to climb. Night after night, I handed my newborn son to her as I sank back against the rocking chair, tears streaming down my face and full of shame at my inability to nurse my son. My sister and I had taken to breastfeeding like little ducks to water, and so although she had no way to relate to the pain, the guilt and the terrible feelings of failure, she quietly assured me that motherhood is full of little heartaches and that this too shall pass. It wasn't until much later that she confessed to me that on the nights when she went out to get me some miracle nipple cream, breast shield, cooling compress or whatever new thing we thought might help, she would first sit in her car and cry into the steering wheel , wishing that there was something she could do to fix my problem. As every mother knows, and I now know, it is the most excruciating thing to watch your child suffer. Of course she never let on, she was by my side all the while, cool as a cucumber. She has taught me that motherhood is about making sacrifices for love. The pain of natural labour was the first sacrifice, sticking with breastfeeding was the second and I know there are many more to come, but I have big shoes to fill, so I welcome these challenges because I see them as an opportunity to prove to my mother and myself that she raised me extraordinarily well. She has taught me to nurture, to be stern but also kind, to stop and watch my baby before all these little moments pass and make way for toddlerhood, childhood and eventually adulthood. I will never forget the time that she spent with me when dear baby arrived. Waking up for every night feeding, telling me how some little face my son made reminded her of me as a baby, helping me get the impossible burps out and praising me when my red-faced little bundle finally quieted down to sleep. My mother has a little saying that she heard in a poem and she would often remind me of it whenever I stressed about the state of the house or the fact that I'd been in the same pyjamas for three days...
"Settle down cobwebs, dust go to sleep. I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep"
To my mother, who is an angel on earth. If I lived over one hundred lifetimes, I could never thank you enough for what you have done for me in this one. Everything I have, you gave me. Everything I know, you taught me. Everything I am, you made me. Thank you for teaching me what it means to be a mother and for truly meaning it when you told me your love knew no bounds.