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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Motherhood: It's Love and Fear

            It’s almost funny to me that I’ve gotten this question often enough to have developed an answer. What’s it like being a mother? In fact, I have two prepared answers, the long one and the short one. Here’s the short one.
            Motherhood is love and fear. Not always in that order.
            Thank you very much, goodnight everybody!
            The long one is more of a story, but it’s also a better explanation. When I got married I thought that would change my life. It didn’t. Well, it did, of course, but not very much. I still lived in an apartment, still went to the same university, worked at the same job, ate all the same foods, and went out with friends about the same amount. My world got a little bigger when I became a missus. And for the record, I love being married. It’s awesome.
            Then when we had our first child it wasn’t only my world that changed, it was me. I altered on a near-molecular level. It wasn’t just my daily routine that changed, it was everything. What I ate, what I wore, my opinions on certain topics- people who have never had children will never understand those who sacrificed so much of themselves and their personality to stay home and raise them. It isn’t because they lack intelligence or empathy, but because the experience is so unlike anything else in life. Someone who has never had a baby who cried 45 minutes out of every hour for six months will never understand the depth of my experience and how it has changed me just like I will never understand how horrific it was to be in a Nazi concentration camp or the wonder of standing on the moon and looking back at the Earth. It’s that unique.
            Because I’d altered so much, the way I saw the world altered too. I was never an adrenaline junky, but I was pretty daring. I enjoyed being spontaneous and never thought much about my own mortality. Now I had this life, this baby, which I was completely responsible for and who could die for any number of reasons. Allergies, falls, illnesses, sudden infant death syndrome, the list goes on and on and well meaning people all over the world continue to contribute to it in the name of keeping our children safe. And I read everything I could get my hands on. I, who had always wanted a doctorate and promised myself I’d never get married unless there was no other choice I, had dropped out of school and quit work to care for this baby of mine and I would not let that sacrifice go to waste.
            There’s your first explanation of the love and fear of motherhood. Even those mothers who return to work after having a baby have still given themselves over for six full weeks and changed everything about themselves to care for their child. Then when they return to work they have to worry about feeding and milk production and the crippling guilt that comes with being a mother because no matter what you do or how you raise them there is a study somewhere that says you’re doing it WRONG. So the only thing we have left is to protect them, since we’ve already screwed them up emotionally. Physically they will be safe!
            We are insane, we mothers. But that isn’t even all of it. Every child carries a part of your heart with them that bleeds when they cry. But we must be strong and kiss and cuddle when necessary but also help them to be stronger by making them figure it out for themselves. We ache to carry our babies, but know if we do they’ll never learn to walk.
            Do you know what the most unfair thing in the world is? Dry drowning. Don’t look it up. When I found out that my child could drown hours later after going swimming because of water in their lungs, I actually stormed away from my computer. I was furious. What do you mean, I could do all the work of taking them swimming and protecting them the whole time and make sure everyone had fun and no one drowned and get them home safe and then I could still lose one? No. No way. That was beyond unfair. That was cruel, and I was angry and even now thinking about it my heart is racing and I’m breathing in and out through my nose sharply. ARGH.
            That’s the fear. I still check on my kids every night after they’re asleep to make sure they’re still breathing. My youngest is almost six. The fear will get you, and it can paralyze you if you let it. Because everything is dangerous. Every day is a gift. And I want to give my children their very best chance at being happy their whole lives.
            But I don’t give them everything anymore. They’re not babies, and I still need to be a person. Even when they were babies I still needed to be a person. So does every other stay at home caregiver out there. We need to be people, not just parents. There’s a world out there that we used to be a part of, not just a chauffeur to. And so today I give you permission let go of your crazy for a while and be yourself. Especially if you’re not sure who that is. Your kids need to know that you are more than their personal caretaker because they need an example of a person who likes his or herself. This goes for both parents, regardless of working status (whether you work from home or an office, there is no parent who doesn’t work).
You need to find time every day to do something just because you like it. Because you want to. Because it’s good for YOU. The fear and the love are less overwhelming and more manageable that way, when you have some perspective outside your parental role. You love your kids, I’ll never question that and anyone who does you have my permission to shove a dirty sock in their mouth. Taking time for yourself isn’t taking time away from them, it’s showing them that they need to take care of themselves too and giving them a chance to do it.
What’s it like being a mother? Like being in a concentration camp on the moon where you stand between the zombie hoards and the ones you love most. It’s the most freaking awesome ride ever.

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