What is it about newborns? How can someone the size of a bread loaf contain so much soul that she completely changes the energy in a room? We are all drawn to newborns, even the loud uncle who flashes his new gadgets and backslaps too hard. We whisper around a baby, keep the lights low, look into the little person's eyes. We forget about multi-tasking and emails. We are our best selves: calm, loving and present. We listen more than we talk and want to help in any way possible. We feel a pure love. Somehow newborns remind us of the most beautiful and quiet feeling inside us. They remind us of who we are.
But then the relentless physical duties of motherhood begin -- the feeding, the burping, the pooping, the diapers, the sleep deprivation, not to mention hosting the pesky aunt who insists that the baby's nose closely resembles hers. The first trip in a car is a herculean challenge. Packing the bag with the wipes, the diapers, the extra clothes, the bottle, the barf cloth. And then the car seat. You might have read the manual and adjusted the straps before your baby's birth, but who knew that a human being could be so small? How do you adjust the shoulder thingies? With sweat on your chin, you wonder if there is a way to fix the thing without removing the car seat and turning it upside down on the sidewalk. And where do you put the baby while you do that? Forget the spiritual. At that moment you need a big, burly mechanic.
Early motherhood made me feel like I had a split personality. Sometimes, my experience of that beautiful love was so strong that it felt as if I was made of that love. But then, in a flash, it was beaten out of me and I became the witch in the house. When my son wouldn't go back to sleep at two in the morning, I scolded him. Sometimes, I dropped to my knees as if his crib were an altar and I begged, "Please, please stop crying. Please, please, please." The constant toggle between being the love and being the lunatic got more dramatic over time. The crazy lady burst out of me more frequently and with less warning and she ran the show for longer periods.
My first response was to point the finger at other mothers. They were even crazier than I was. This one drank two glasses of wine every night at five. That one used the traffic cop voice on her 1-year-old's table manners at the diner. People at the consulting firm where I had worked only went properly insane when trying to waitlist onto the 6 p.m. flight back from Chicago, and even the biggest jerk only blew up once a month or so. Not a single day passed in my neighborhood when I didn't see a mom go icy like Jason Bourne or stormy like Rocky Balboa. As I filled my five o'clock Chardonnay so high I had to bend over to slurp the first sip, I let myself off the hook.
The wake-up happened one day in the park when my son didn't like his ice cream choice and threw his cone at my face. I screamed at him, "You cannot do that, not now, not ever, not once, not now, not ever." And when his response to my episode was an equally loud and dramatic yell of his own, I restrained him in the stroller as if he were a violent offender. I muttered and lectured the whole way home with my bony finger reaching past the stroller handle in his direction. My one handed-steering forced the stroller right and left and we made our way home in a jagged line, like a sailboat in the open water, tacking right and left. The crazy lady inside me was in charge of everything.
By the time we got to the apartment, I was spent. He, on the other hand, had forgotten about our momentary madness and from the throne of his stroller, smiled at me full of joy and love. My anger cracked and in its place came the memory of that crazy love I felt when he was a wee thing. Love trickled through me, as if it were raining inside my body, and I felt tears of reunion with my best self, with my own experience of holding love inside me. Where had I misplaced that feeling? Was it buried beneath the laundry pile of all my maternal duties? I was overwhelmed with shame.
This motherhood thing, I realized, wasn't about me teaching my kid about the world; it was about him inspiring me to hold onto that feeling of pure love. It was as if he were throwing me a ball and I dropped it time and time again, and with every toss he would say, "This time you'll catch it. This time you got it." He wasn't entering my world -- even though he had come in through my belly -- he was inviting me to enter his. And his world was full of warmth and love, without judgment and disappointment. I was his student, not the other way around.
At first, I felt relieved. I thought I knew what to do to calm him down. What I didn't realize was that holding love wasn't about him. It wasn't even about me doing something new. It was about being something different. I had entered spiritual graduate school. My new education was going to cost me. It was the end of my Yuppie dreams. Everything I had learned in school and at work didn't help me. I began searching for ways to find that feeling of warmth and calm, to hold it for longer, and make it the center of my life. What started out as a way to handle my toddler has ended up being a path into my own heart. On this Mother's Day, I celebrate my little boy -- who is 17 now, and whose simple, constant love inspired me to seek ways to try to find and hold that love always.
This is the first in a series of 10 posts by Paula Throckmorton about (re)discovering ourselves through motherhood. Follow along with the hashtag #HoldingLove!