Last Mother’s Day, I was massively pregnant, and although Honeydew took me out to dinner with my own mother and father to mark the day, I felt like I had snuck into a bar with a fake ID – an imposter at a party I wasn’t yet ready to attend.
Oh, sure, pregnancy can require a little sacrifice – I gave up champagne, deli meat, and alpine skiing while incubating Maggie Rose. Big whoop. But it’s not mothering. In this last year I’ve learned that mothering is also not defined by the moments when your baby gifts you with a toothy grin or wants to hug your neck.
Mothering is the endless days, some with a rhythm, some — harder — without, of keeping a baby warm, clean, fed, entertained, comforted, learning, loved.
Mothering is the newfound well of patience that comes from deep within the spinal cord, tapped for the first time in the delivery of a child.
Mothering is the constant tears of joy and fear that mark the moments. The Hallmark cards go on and on about how becoming a mother will give you the greatest joy you’ve ever known, but they fail to mention that this is so because becoming a mother scares you down in the darkest corners of your soul. Everything in nature has a flip side, a counter point, a perfect opposite, and mothering has taught me that joy’s is fear.
This spring, while we were in California, I walked almost daily on the Sacramento River Trail, pushing Maggie Rose’s stroller for miles and miles, alone with my thoughts, drinking in the goodness of the great outdoors. One afternoon, I returned to my car after a particularly long walk, at a deserted trailhead I hadn’t used before. I found the back window to my car smashed in, shards of tinted glass filling every nook and cranny of Maggie’s car seat. The trailhead was deserted, dusk was falling, cell phone service was minimal. Before Maggie, I’d have been outraged over the destruction of my personal property — and the theft of my purse, which I was fond of, but which contained only dirty diapers, a can of bear spray, and coupons. But I would have simply called the Sheriff to make the report, brushed the glass off my seat, and turned the key in the ignition to go home.
With Maggie Rose in my shaking arms, I turned my X Ray Mother Vision to the shadows of the surrounding manzanita, looking for thieves lying in wait for me. I palmed the rock used to break the window and wondered about the accuracy of my aim, as I slowly circled the car, balancing Maggie on one hip. I took out my cell phone and willed it to have service, turning in careful circles as I contacted the Sheriff, who was not helpful, and Jackie, who was, and immediately tracked Honeydew down and sent him my way. I armed myself with a large piece of jagged glass and pictured myself defending Maggie to the death, drawing blood without regret.
I knew I would do anything to protect the greatest joy in my life, although I was about as afraid as I have ever been. I realized in those long, forbidding shadows that Hallmark is also right about how the delivery a child is the simultaneous delivery of your heart, wandering around, dreadfully exposed, outside of your body until the day that you die.
One year in, I think that mothering is to live in joyful fear. I don’t mean that negatively. Looking at my Maggie’s face, I’d say this life of joyful fear can be a state of near nirvana.
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