I didn’t become your mother the day you were born, nor the day you were conceived.
I become your mother bit by bit as we muddle our way through life together. Little by little. Day by day.
It’s when I let go of an unreasonable limit I was clinging to for the sake of consistency; when I finally see you and see in your face that the limit is not doing its job. It seemed like a life raft in a turbulent sea. If I hold on tighter things will get better! Except when they don’t.
And it’s also my unwavering commitment to the limits that really matter, no matter what.
I become your mother when I overcome my distaste for frolicking because you need me to frolick with you. And I realize that sometimes there’s nothing in the world better than chasing you through the grass. Your face is open like only a child’s can be. I see your love for me. It awes me and I grow a little more into motherhood.
It’s when I take time for myself while still looking you in the eye and acknowledging that it makes you sad when I won’t play with you because–in that moment–I value what I want more.
It’s singing bedtime songs about the conflicts we’ve had that day, using the well worn tunes to tell you how much more complicated my feelings are than I was able to show in the moment. And how sorry I am when I hurt your feelings.
Perhaps most especially it’s when people ask me how my mother’s day weekend is going and I say “pretty great” even though there have been several meltdowns, no sleep, half the naps needed, and nothing went according to plan. And it’s not a lie.
The story of my motherhood is also the story of your son-hood. Of how this year, for the first time, you’ve been really excited about the day–for me. Your love for me shines through everything we have done the past few days. How you wanted me to watch a show with you, but I wanted to visit the garden. I left and a few minutes later you came bounding out to sit in the clover and pick flowers while daddy mowed a circle around you. You picked an enormous bouquet of fragrant white clover blossoms and got your Grandma to help you find a vase. When I came to find you, you beamed up at me. “Mama, these are for you, for your special day!”
It’s mother’s day eve and like all days, I’m more a mother–more your mother–at the end of the day than I was at the start. When we got home from a long day out you went to find the picture you made for me. The one you’ve been talking about for a week. The one I told you I didn’t want you to give me until mother’s day. The one you hid somewhere upstairs where nobody would find it. But it wasn’t where you had left it.
Daddy quietly asked “did you find a rolled up piece of paper in the corner of the closet?” My throat felt dry. That’s the precise spot where I roll up your immense body of artwork to photograph and then recycle. I had just cleaned it out. I had grabbed a single item and, in a hurry, put it somewhere. I went through all the recycling. I went through the disgusting poopy diaper-filled trash. I looked through every pile. It was simply gone.
And it was past your bedtime. You refused dinner. I saw you unraveling. It was the biggest unraveling you’ve ever had. It was tiredness, hunger, and a deep feeling that I didn’t value your love for me and the effort you had put into my gift. Eventually you retreated upstairs to make a new drawing for me. I heard your sobs. They were heart-wrenching.
The meltdown had terrified the baby, who was nursing and recovering from his own tears. I started crying. I walked to the kitchen and handed your brother to my husband. He was still attached and objecting. I looked him the eyes and told him “your brother needs me. Listen to him. He’s very sad. I need to go to him.” He understood because you are the sun that rises and sets on his days.
I knocked. You were sobbing and holding the paper behind your back. I couldn’t keep back my tears and I wrapped you in my arms and told you how sorry I was. My sadness jolted you out of your own. You patted my head and said matter of factly “Can I show you the new one? The other one wasn’t actually very good. This one is better. It’s you. And there’s Ron, and Hermione, and me, and you know him, with the lightning scar.” We admired the new portrait and hung it on the fridge. We headed to bed and on the way in I saw, folded beneath a pile of outgrown clothes, a piece of brown butcher paper. I showed it to you.
“See, I told you the new one was better.”
I listen to your breathing. Your sadness is gone; your trust restored. I felt broken, but I’m not. I’m just a little bit more a mother than I was when I woke up this morning. And so it goes.