I loved that baby girl, CR, with all of my heart, of course, and my eyes would well with tears when I looked into those big hazel eyes and thought of all I would do to make sure she was okay. Those feelings of wanting to protect and nurture and care for her- they were all there. And yeah, those feelings are definitely part of what made me a mother. But in retrospect, it was just Phase One of me becoming a mama.
On that first Mother's Day, I remember desperately needing my husband to give me a card. A perfect Mother's Day card where he wrote all of his true feelings about how I kicked some serious ass in the mother department. I wanted him to tell me that he was amazed at how I had evolved into a mother from the carefree traveling partying spirit he had known throughout our 20's. And to say, wow, look at you now at 34-years-old, you're a mother. And what a mother you are.
But he never gave me that card. Or any card for that matter. And I was pissed off.
"I don't ask for much," I told him. "Just a card. No flowers, no gifts, just a card! Is that too much to ask? Cards mean something to me," I cried.
Needless to say, that conversation got me nowhere. With my husband who probably was looking at me totally and utterly confused and with me, who was obviously placing some serious expectations on a friggin' Hallmark card. The expectation that some printed words mixed with some handwritten words would validate me as a mother.
Two years later, I gave birth to our second child, another baby girl, The Love Fairy, who made my heart burst with love in a different way than I ever thought possible. How could I love two creatures this much? The depths of my heart surprised me. I loved each of my girls as much as the other but entirely different all at the same time.
I struggled that first year of The Love Fairy's life. I stopped working entirely so I could be where I know I needed to be. At home raising our children. I could never be considered the domestic kind of woman but I tried to play the part. I tried some new recipes, I did the laundry, I cleaned, I changed diapers, I took the kids to the park, I did all of the "things" that stay-at-home-mamas do.
But despite all of my effort and the crazy love I had for my girls, during that first year when I had a 2-year-old and an infant, I think I lost my mind. I remember bouncing on one of those big exercise balls one early evening because it used to relax The Love Fairy but it wasn't working this time. My dude was still at work, he was working late those days, and The Love Fairy screamed and wailed and CR stood by my side also screaming for me, "MAMA! MAMA!"
As I bounced and bounced and my kids screamed and screamed, I cried and cried. I hated what I was doing. I didn't understand why I was doing it. I despised that my life was being taken away from me. That these two whiny screaming creatures were robbing me of my freedom. Of the life I used to know.
I prayed aloud while I bounced on that ball pleading with God to get me through. Through to where? I wasn't sure. I just needed to know I could make it through that minute. That hour. That evening. The next day. And the day after. And it all felt so never-ending. And the feeling was crushing me. Suffocating me.
I was so lost.
I had always been a working chick. Working freelance in television production, jumping from project to project, working with all different kinds of people, traveling, getting promoted, getting plenty of pats-on-the-back for my hard work, for my ideas, and generally feeling like me. This was me. This was me.
So who was this disheveled woman barely having time to shower, sucking in the kitchen, angry at her kids, bummed when her man came home from work, resentful of what her life had become? Who was she? Was it me?
Could this being a mom thing ever ever be me?
Another Mother's Day came and went with some cards and yes, I'm sure a card from my husband where he wrote all of the words I wanted him to write. But of course, the words didn't work. They could never work.
Of course when you have a woman who has lost her soul in the course of going through the motions of mothering, it's pretty tough for a marriage to thrive. So as is the story with many many couples, we bottomed out. All I can say is thank God we love each other enough to have recognized that we didn't want to live our lives that way so we jumped into some counseling. I suggested it, my husband completely agreed and off we went.
I'm not going to go into the details of what was unearthed there but suffice it to say, in the course of months of therapy, I learned a whole lot about myself. And for a chick who always thought I knew what was up with me, that was a huge surprise. And a desperately needed one.
The main thing that started to become clear to me in the course of those chats on that therapist's couch was that in this mothering world, I was seeking validation for my skills as a mother. Just as I had always sought validation and actually got it at other junctures of my life. And that validation as a mother was never ever going to be found in the way that I expected and the way that I thought I needed.
I was looking externally for my husband and my kids and the world to tell me I was doing everything right. That I was good. That I was strong. That I was loved. That I was succeeding. I was looking for validation in the way that I had always gotten it throughout my life - whether playing sports, or getting good grades in school, or working and getting promoted.
And the thing is, being a mama doesn't work that way.
As a mother, if I rely on everyone else to tell me I'm doing okay in my "job" as a mama, I'm screwed. This job is too big. Too important. Too emotional. Too everything. How could I possibly expect that external validation could justify the heart and soul that goes into being a mother?
So it's tough to say exactly when things really started to shift. It just started to happen in between the myriad of things that happen in the life of woman and a wife and a mother. But the beginning of the shift started when I became aware of what was going on inside of me and I began to claw my way back up from the bottom. From the depths of my soul when I didn't exactly know who I was and what I was doing.
By the time I gave birth to our third child, my lil' dude, El Destructo, I was definitely more evolved as a mother. When I pushed that boy out, CR was almost 5, The Love Fairy almost 3, and I had definitely started to learn to love the chaos of my life. Hence why we were brave and crazy enough to go for number three.
This past Mother's Day I reflected at how far I had come. I was up early emptying the dishwasher like I do every single morning and deep inside I felt at peace. I was doing what I always do. What my family needs me to do. What I have learned to accept and in many ways love to do.
I am so blessed.
I have people that rely on me, that look to me to nurture them, feed them, clean up after them, wipe their sticky hands and faces, kiss their boo-boos, yell at them, grocery shop for them, try and cook for them, and a million zillion other things that all of us mamas do in the course of a million zillion seconds of our mama lives.
And this Mother's Day I can honestly say that one of the biggest lessons a mama can learn has sunk in. I do not need to look to anyone else to tell me I am doing okay at this mama thing. I don't need some words on some cards, some breakfast delivered in bed, some flowers in my kitchen, some gifts wrapped up in bows, some brunch at a country club, or any other something to make me feel like I'm succeeding. (Although I will admit that the construction paper locket CR made me at school makes me bawl with happiness when I look at it.)
I have everything I need.
Being a mama for me has become a lot about learning to surrender. And I mean that in a good way. Becoming a mother didn't happen overnight for me. Maybe for some it does. For me, becoming a mama has been a slow painful churning soulful search that involved a lot of letting go. Letting go that started through hours of hours of slow torturous labor with my first baby and that continues to this very day.
I know I am not done evolving as a mother. It's not possible.
But finally, finally, although I struggle each and every day still, I can honestly say I am comfortable in my mama skin. And I know who I am.
I am a mother.