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Friday, May 6, 2011

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, I Am My Mother After All...(I Hope!)

    The most challenging thing I've ever done was to become a mother. I don't remember the exact moment that it happened, but I'll never forget the day I found out. It was the last thing I expected to see, that little pink cross in the window. I took another test the next day because I was sure that the first one was wrong. Even though my biology background told me that there couldn't be a false negative, I was in such shock. I remember the terror. I just stood there in front of Mr. Jones. We stood there with tears in our eyes in disbelief. As the reality sunk in, I told him- and myself- that this was a good thing. We were married. We had health insurance. We both had jobs. There was no reason why we should worry. I thought of my sister. She had just given birth to her second son. She was (is) a great mom. She had a system for everything- I could just do whatever she did. And her boys (MY boys) were healthy and happy and developing into beautiful children. There is no reason why I couldn't do it. After all, I had her to ask for help.
     Slowly, over the next nine months I got used to idea of being Mommy instead of the favorite aunt. I went to birthing classes, practiced pre-natal yoga, read books on nursing...I was going to do it all the right way. My amazing family and friends bought me everything I needed. And then one day, in the bathroom of Macy's, my water broke.  And it really began. 12 hours later I was holding the most perfect, beautiful little angel God had ever created. I remember initially feeling like I was trapped in a Dali painting. How could this be real? Who is this little person? Shouldn't I feel like I know her? I was responsible for this tiny soul. Her life depended on me not screwing up. She could die if I did something wrong. Forget about the 12 hours of natural childbirth. That was the easy part. For the rest of my life I had to take care of this child and somehow not f--- her up. So I bought some books. Books that told me that everything I was feeling was normal. Books that told me how to be successful at nursing (something American culture makes very difficult). Books that told me when to worry, and when to call a doctor. And then there was the Internet. There is no shortage of information to teach you how to have a healthy baby. And day by day, week by week my Angel-baby and I became so emotionally connected that sometimes I wasn't sure where she began and I ended. Her every joy was my joy. Her every pain was my pain. I was no longer just Melissa any more. I was Angel-babie's mom. For the rest of my life I would be introducing myself with her name first..."It's so nice to meet you, I'm Angel's mom." I had joined the club. The mom club. Where everything in your life shifts. The focal point of the world's orbit shifted from Mr. Jones and me, to my Angel-baby. And I joined billions of other women who had all had the same experience and were travelling in orbits around their own angel-babies.
     At some point I remember marvelling at the love I felt for this perfect child. I remember thinking, Is this how my mother feels about me? All these years, I've always know she loves me, but I never realized how much because up until this point I was incapable of understanding. And suddenly it made sense. I understood how she could give up her career to take care of my sisters' and my children so that we could continue to eat. I understood how she could manage to work a full day and still make cupcakes at 11 pm becase I needed them for school. I understood how she could sacrifice buying things she wanted so that we could go to dancing school or acting classes. I understood why she was with me on every school trip, every class party, every single performance of every concert or show that my sister and I performed in. I understood why it devastated her that when I studied abroad I could only call once a week. She has given me everything. Everything I have, everything I am, I am because of the woman who she is. I felt so humbled. So lucky. So in love with my mother. I decided at that moment that there was nothing that I could ever do to repay her for her sacrifices. The only thing I could do was to never refuse her anything she needed from me. And I never do. Anything she needs, anything I can ever do for her, I do.
     It was with this revelation that I also realized how blessed I was to have her as a model. If I just did everything the way my mom did. If I am half as good as she is, my kids will be okay. I realized that it doesn't matter what the books say, I was going to model myself after the best mother I knew. Just like the generations of mothers before me. As humans this is how we learn. We don't even realize it, and unless we make a conscious effort to be different from our parents, we will have the same successes and the same failures. I think about this as a mother. I learned everything I know from my mother. I sing the same lullaby, tell the same bedtime stories, cook the same dinners. I can't tell you how many times I've said, "Don't you dare!" and I hear her voice echoing in my own. With this in mind, I realize, that like it or not, my little cherubs will someday echo me. If I speak with prejudice, they will speak with prejudice. If I act with violence, they will act with violence. If I abuse drugs or alcohol, I doom them to a life of abuse. And likewise, If I treat people kindly, they will learn kindness. If I pray, they will pray. And if I treat myself with respect-if I choose a healthy lifestyle-if I manage my stress-if I take care of myself as a woman, they will do the same as adults. And if I show gratitude and take care of my family when they need me, then they will someday do the same. As mothers, we are living models for our children. I was fortunate to have such a model whose example I can only pray that live up to. Motherhood is challenging. It comes with great responsibility. But when my 5 year old insists on hugging me until she counts to 100, or my 2 year old begs me for one more kiss goodnight, I know what is meant by the expresion "a labor of love."
      I hope you can find time this weekend to celebrate the love your mother gave you. Even if she wasn't perfect, she did the best she could. She may not have had a great model. If you are a mother, celebrate the life you've made for yourself and your family. In the end, all we can really do is our best to support out children and show them in every way possible that we love them and hope it's enough. That's all my mother did. And still does!

Happy Mother's Day!

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