The Blog

On Becoming and Being a Mother

It shocked me that first night as I lay in the hospital bed, you rooting up my chest, seeking sustenance from me. I was at once awestruck and sad. Sad, because it had never occurred to me before; awestruck because at last I knew.
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It shocked me that first night as I lay in the hospital bed, you rooting up my chest, seeking sustenance from me. I was at once awestruck and sad. Sad, because it had never occurred to me before; awestruck because at last I knew.

Since then, it has been a twelve year, individualized post-graduate course entitled, 'To Be a Human Being.'

I have spent long hours in the libraries of my soul, digging up ancient treasures and dusting them off so they may be returned to their original untarnished function. Antiques ranging from self-acceptance to beautiful little rage containers. Some of them have been restored; others are shattered beyond recognition for all the soot and years of trauma. And yet, these archaeological relics have a huge impact on my child because even as I treat her with the highest regard, I am still working with my broken artifacts, and their sharp edges affect how she sees me behave in the world.

Since so many behavioral patterns become hard-wired, knee-jerk reactions, circumventing the old etchings in my brain is just a little bit harder than getting off crack. I pray for the courage to go deeper, intent upon continuing to heal myself so that I may provide my child with a quality foundation that does not require constant retrofitting.

I still wrestle with my own mother, who was alternately my greatest champion and the one who looked away. I've already filled a bucket of regrets; there is no more to be gained by dissecting those injuries or the more violent ones inflicted by my father. What's left from those memories is the 'Roshomonic' task of observing that I now have a glass all full: a beautiful, purposeful life, revolving around a loving family, filled with wonderful friends, community service and a profoundly satisfying career as a psychotherapist. I get to heal and be healed in all aspects of my life.

I'd rather relish the silence than replay old records, living my actual life as it is in this moment: magnificent. There is enough overflowing abundance to 'pay it backward,' towards the healing of my parents' wounds. This summer, my daughter, sister and I are celebrating my mother's 85th birthday by taking her on a European cruise. In preparation, she is diligently going to physical therapy to strengthen her legs for the trip. A gift begets a gift: My mother is growing stronger. Who says time goes only one way?

I'm exploring the physics of processing my long deceased father's pain in his behalf. As for my mother, she is still here for me to love and celebrate. For the death of her seven year old sister, whose name was never spoken again, I can - and did - sing it to the mountain tops when we gave it to my daughter as a middle name: Anna. ANNA. You are not forgotten. In order to survive as a five year old, my mother may have had to bury the pain, but I can cry for her.

My love for my mother is deep and wide; the fact that I have any positive sense of self can be attributed to her. Yet I can disintegrate into criticizing her in the flash of a mispronunciation, or a facial cue; or my attempt at a vulnerable communication that goes unmirrored. It's bad enough to abuse my aging mother but nothing disgusts me more than behaving that way in front of my daughter.

Once I 'come to,' I have a tug-of-war between rationalization and self-loathing. It's like working through a hangover, as I begin raking the leaves anew, methodically clearing the remaining residue of my childhood texts, sweeping away the debris until my vision clears and I am once again seeing through an integrated lens. I excavate the aches and defenses again and again, each time with the intention to be whole. What I might not have done for myself, I am compelled to do for my child. Loving acts release me from the old stories that were my preamble and gratitude is the currency of healing.

In the aftermath of my disrespect, I usually do the work of understanding what triggered me, and begrudgingly forgive myself, but I have nevertheless left two indelible stains: one on my dear mother, the other on the witness, my daughter, for whom the negative message is potent: 'Mom is mean,' read: 'I come from Mom, part of me is mean.' Even more frightening, 'This is how Mom treats her Mom.' I can't bear to say the rest.

You have seen my shadows and you must vow to be better than me.

I wish for my daughter to experience my letting her go as selflessly as my mother let go of me when she drove me to college. She walked down the hall and I closed the door, cried a few simple droplets, and then took a shower. But my mother's containment was so exquisite that it took decades for me to even consider that it might have been hard to let her baby go. I hope that when my child leaves the mutual comfort of my arms I can be as generous. I want her to feel as "unfettered and alive" as Joni Mitchell did in Paris, to feel herself free to fly towards those things that will compel her to follow her own heart, make her own place in a world that needs her as much as she will need it.

As my little girl begins to navigate her way through adolescence, I must protect her heart and hold the necessary boundaries while simultaneously allowing for her development to expand my own capacity, defying my limitations and making room for her limitlessness. Anything is possible. I remain a humble and optimistic climber on the ladder of Becoming.

My darling girl, your teachings have grown me like no other source. What I did not know prior to your birth was that we are here to love and evolve, no more and no less than to continue to develop the chain of conscious life and to heal the world. Where I fall short, may your extraordinary father continue to provide his steady, loving arms of mercy and compassion. May your life be blessed with health and love and the sweetness of meaningful success. And if at the end of my days, all that I have done was to give birth to you, my precious child: Dayanu. It would have been enough. You, my love, have given me life.