On Being a Mother

The other day, my firstborn son had a birthday. Long ago (although now it doesn't seem all that long ago), when people warned me how fast it goes -- how before I turn around, my baby will be all grown up ("they grow up so fast!" were the words I heard ad nauseum) -- I'd simply nod and politely smile, not believing that what they were saying could possibly have a shred of truth about it. I couldn't imagine a time when, on any given day, I wouldn't be able to tell you precisely how many weeks it had been since my son was born. It was inconceivable to me that each long, physically demanding day would ever feel short and abbreviated, where every single point in time might not be remembered in the sequence that it happened, the fine details as ingrained in my consciousness as the letters of the alphabet.

Yet in a desperate sort of way, there were times I wanted it to be true. Some days, time could not pass quickly enough. I needed to get unstuck from being in the house, day after day after day, while my child suffered ear infections, high fevers, colds and the assorted usual infant woes. There were those days I wanted to forget; the days when I cried along with my child for my sheer frustration of feeling inadequate; the days when I couldn't manage a shower until my husband came home, the day turned dark before I could ever get out to see the light.

But on the 27th of this month, when my son entered his 28th year, it came upon me that almost three decades had passed since his birth and those fine details that I swore would always belong to me were now blurred and fuzzy, long-absorbed into the daily rhythm of life (which, as it were, does fly by).

Conception did not come quickly for me. Months of trying to get pregnant soon morphed into years. I watched, as everyone around me seemed to have swelling bellies ripe with new lives while I cursed my own for not cooperating. It was only when I'd finally abandoned the idea of ever becoming a mother that the test strip turned the right shade.

For nine months while he swam in my womb, so did that new identity -- "mother" -- swim in my head. But unlike the carefully-orchestrated process of fertilization, implantation and the wondrous machine-like clockwork it took to complete a full human being, the term "mother" was harder to grasp. After yearning to be a mother for so long, suddenly, the word was strangely alien to me: weighty with responsibility, emotion and most of all, the unknown. I'd never been one to easily embrace change. Had I really thought this through? Was I -- would I ever be -- fully prepared? I needed some kind of manual. What did I know of motherhood, anyway?

Motherhood frightened me beyond measure.

Yet somehow, despite my crisis of confidence, despite my nagging skepticism and my sense of out-and-out un-preparedness, I took to it. I brought my son into the world with an out-and-out determination that left me looking like a prizefighter -- literally. After a prolonged and exhausting (three-day!) labor, when the time to push was finally upon me, I somehow unearthed the brute strength it took. I push so hard as to completely blacken my left eye. I emerged from the birthing experience way more bruised and battered than did my 8-1/2 pound, 21-inch baby.

Perhaps that rather dramatic birthing experience was my first impulse toward motherhood, akin to the adrenaline that enables someone to lift a car off a person in order to save their life, or like the way so many parents say they'd gladly take a bullet or lay down and die for their child.

So compelling an idea was it to be mother to someone that I gave birth to another baby a short 19 months after the first. By then, the rhythm and speed of life was accelerating at a quickened pace, and I began to understand a bit more of that old idiom. Life does goes too fast.

Before I had a child, there was nothing in this world that I would kill or die for (or for that matter, get a black eye for).

All these years later, motherhood has me tight in its grip, still. I desperately want to slow down the time, for I know that tomorrow, today will be just a speck among lots of different moving parts.

And though my nest is now empty, my heart is still full. Though moments with my two favorite people are precious and few, a part of me -- the mother part -- holds tight to the memories of yesterday.