Mother’s Day is coming up and hopefully your spouse and kids have been emotionally blackmailed enough by TV commercials (or you) to buy you supermarket flowers. Or a diamond or two.
It’s a happy day for mommies by and large. It is the one day we are recognized for the aches and pains of bringing human life into the world and then hauling it around. Our kids make us burnt toast for breakfast and we gleam like the sad saps we are.
But while TV commercials celebrate motherhood, they also simplify it. Motherhood is a spectrum, a weighing scale, where the needle is never at the same spot.
Your mother at various points of your life is your food supply, your personal shopper, your guidance counselor, your biggest fan and your worst critic. She is the person you love the most and like the least. The one you share every trivial detail with, and the one you keep your biggest secrets from. She has been your chauffeur, your chef, your medical practitioner, your best friend, your arch nemesis. Motherhood is the most complex idea to explain, yet also the simplest because it’s so universal.
And motherhood never feels the same way throughout your life. I am my mother’s first born, the one she’d lay her life for, yet I am certain she has wanted to take mine on more than a few occasions. And I certainly have not felt the same way about my daughter in the three years of her life.
This is a story of the complexity of motherhood.
My daughter is two months old and I’ve been stuck in a well since her birth. I cry inconsolably over everything. And it’s more sinister than a mild case of the baby blues. I am deeply unhappy. Everything is grey. I have no appetite. I can’t process simple information and make small decisions, like what to wear or what to eat. I have no will to leave the house. I know it’s sleep exhaustion but even when I am given an opportunity to sleep, I stress over another sleepless night and lay there awake, stuck in a horrible cycle. And as the night falls and it gets dark outside, my depression gets worse. My daughter’s name means ‘joy’ but I have felt none of it since she has come into my life.
My husband is at a complete loss of how to deal with this crazy lady who has replaced his normally sane wife.
I hate myself for being so weak. However, a part of me also understands that my hormones have taken over the switchboard. And so instead I feel angry. For being cheated out of the joy of being a first time mother. For not feeling the awe and adoration that I should feel for my child. People come over with gifts and I smile. No one’s figured out the storm brewing inside me.
One day, my mom (who I am living with temporarily) says she’ll be out all day. I feel panic-stricken, a feeling that overcomes me every time I am left alone with the baby. And I burst into tears. She takes me into her arms. “What’s wrong? Tell me”.
So I say very simply: “I don’t think I love her”.
I cannot put into words the grief, shame and guilt behind that phrase.
And to her credit, she doesn’t wince, doesn’t react at all. A traditional woman who has never understood post-partum depression somehow understands what her child needs.
So she says, “You wake up at her slightest movement. You barely sleep, barely eat. You are driving yourself crazy over how she is fed and how much. You constantly worry about whether she is too warm or too cold. You put her needs ahead of your own. If that isn’t love, then what is?”
And so the first person who taught me love, taught me love all over again.
My daughter is five months old now. I am feeling better. A lot of self-therapy and support from my family has gotten me out of my well. My child is bright and beautiful, and I love watching her grow and discover the world around her. The other day, I lay her down on the grass in our backyard, and she seemed awestruck. I realized that it’s the first time she has felt the sensation of grass, and looked up at a clear blue sky. What a gift it is to see the world for the very first time! And as a mother, you are right there to see it with them each time, to rediscover the beauty that surrounds you.
The spawn has hit the “terrible twos”. Only, she started early, at like a year and half. She’s got this whole “Sasha Fierce” thing going on and I can’t wait till she returns to being Beyoncé. She’s driving me insane. She is temperamental, has breakdowns about everything, tries to exert her influence in every situation possible, and is an all around boorish rogue right now. She has a strong personality, one that makes me want to disown her before she hits the teens. Having a child is so confusing. Sometimes you love them so much you can’t bear to be separated from them. Other times you want to take them outside, put them on the curb, come back inside, paint your toenails and pretend like you don’t have one.
The spawn is two years old. I am cooking in the kitchen and I feel a tap on my knee. She’s standing there holding my house slippers in her tiny chubby hands. She noticed that I was standing on cold tiles without my slippers, went looking for them and brought them to me. I pat her head and give her a hug. Your heart somehow grows in size when your child shows you kindness.
Spring is here and my parents and I are walking through a park. The spawn’s wearing a yellow top with little yellow sandals and picking up petals off the ground underneath a magnificent tree, abloom with pink flowers. The sun is about to set. My mom lifts her off the floor and plants a kiss on her chubby cheek. My mom with my child. The circle of life.
My daughter is three now. She’s sitting next to me on the couch eating an apple and playing with a toy. She’s absent-mindedly stroking my bare arm up and down, down and up. Then she looks up at me, smiles and says, “So softy”. I smile back.
And I realize that I was her first introduction to the feel of human skin. Her first idea of tenderness, of warmth, of sustenance. Her first inkling of kindness and of sacrifice. Her first introduction to love.
And what a complicated idea that is. To be someone’s world till they find their little feet and spread their wings. To be their roots, and to be their sky.
I can’t wait to find out what other flavors of motherhood I yet have to taste. Burnt toast will likely be one of them.
So here’s to the complexity of motherhood and all the ways it enriches our lives. Including but not limited to, supermarket flowers.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you old saps.