Monday, June 27, 2005

And the Living is Easy...

It's summertime. And around here, from June 15 to July 4 especially, comes a whirlwind of celebrations and observations. One birthday after another (Son-Two is on the other side of the year, but the other three are clustered right here together), plus our wedding anniversary. Along with being a financial and practical challenge--juggling gifts and parties with all of the end of the school year activities, academic and otherwise--it often sends me into a tailspin of Deep Thought. Because there are so many reminders of passing time clustered together, this time of year is just as emotionally charged for me as the winter end-of-the-year holidays are for most people, with the added bonus this year of stifling heat and humidity.

This time around my deep thoughts have been centered around my early days of motherhood. I was the first of my group of high school friends to venture into marriage and motherhood, getting married just a little over a year after high school graduation, and having our first son a year later. Hubby and I had a certain warped wisdom in our rapid-fire reproduction schedule--we knew we wanted more kids than most people and we figured we should have them all right in a row, so that once we'd made it safely through one stage--diapers, preschool, puberty--we could move on to the next. Of course, from the outside, we appeared mildly insane or bent on self-destruction depending on the day--we've had more than one friend tell us that visiting our house in those years was the strongest argument for birth control they'd ever seen.

In any case, back in the beginning, when it was just Hubby and I and Son-One, a friend of mine who was a third-year engineering major at a private university in Pennsylvania, wrote me a letter about campus life and her career plans and then asked, "Is motherhood what you expected?" Please understand--at this point I was a full-time mommy to a single child who was just nearing his first birthday, mommyhood had much, much more in store for me and of course I had no idea what any of that was, but I was wholly absorbed in Son-One's daily doings and hadn't really had the time or energy to give much thought to expectations. Between diaperings and nursings, I gave it some thought. (By the way, anyone who thinks full-time motherhood is not challenging has never tried to nurse a teething eight-month-old who can't wait to try out those newly hatched "teefers.")

What I decided was that there were all sorts of practical ways in which motherhood was exactly what I expected--I had three younger siblings, countless cousins and a raft of babysitting charges who financed my adolescent addictions to books, music and junk food, I understood what was involved in keeping a young'un alive and reasonably content from one end of the day to the other. It was all that other stuff I couldn't have seen coming--how my interest in world events (and my investment in them--this is the world I'm sending Junior out into someday) increased in inverse proportion to the amount of time I had to keep informed, or to do anything with that information. How my relationship with my own parents changed drastically and some days I felt as though in their eyes I'd become merely a bridge between them and their grandchildren, no longer a person in my own right. But I especially had no idea how it would affect the way in which I viewed myself from one day to the next.

Some days I would feel like Mother Earth herself, full of nurturing energy, unconditional love and flowing kindnesses. On those days, I was sure I was the only person qualified to parent this child (with, if I was feeling generous, an assist from Hubby), and that his only chance was for me to never let him out of my sight, even for a second. Then there were the other days. The days when, for whatever reason, I was certain I was unqualified to care for anything more evolved than a houseplant or, if I was feeling generous with myself, a hamster.

The funny thing is that with all the years that have passed, with all the experience I've got under my Masked Mom Utility Belt, and with all the lessons I've (at least theoretically) learned, you would think the I'm-not-fit-to-care-for-a-hamster days are a thing of the past. If practice makes perfect, you might think I would have days of soaring arrogance about my mothering ability, but I never feel like that Earth Mother woman anymore. I never suffer from that dead-on certainty that I'm doing right by my kids. I've mostly come to be satisfied with knowing that I'm doing the best I can, that whatever the results, I mean well and I try really, really hard.

And mostly, it's enough.

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