On Mother’s Day two years ago, my daughter sobbed.
We had just moved to a new house after my separation from my husband a month or so before. Lock-down had begun a mere two weeks after we moved in (remember when we thought it would last for, at most, a month?). I’d worked hard to get us settled in and ready for a housewarming party, but we were destined for isolation.
We both desperately needed the support of our village, and we’d just recently been isolated from everyone.
I tried to keep her busy and excited about our new life by painting murals outside, picking blackberries to eat outside, turning our new stove box into a little house, going on walks. But she wasn’t having it.
“I hate coronavirus!” she sobbed. “I want my daddy to be here!”
I cried with her.
This is the event that I think of when I think of Mother’s Day: my daughter’s raw pain, my guilt at not being able to give her what she wanted nor at having anything she’d consider a reasonable explanation for why we were suddenly very, very on our own. I don’t want to think about it, because it makes me sad. But if there are tricks for tuning out painful memories or reframing them, I sure haven’t figured them out yet.
Since I became a mother myself, Mother’s Day has been fraught for me. I have loved my daughter more than any other being since the day I found out she was growing inside of me, but motherhood has been anything but a smooth ride.
As a baby, she was almost never happy. We’ll never know why (doctors diagnose “colic” when babies cry all the time for not apparent reason), but it certainly felt as if it must have been all my fault. How was it possible that I couldn’t comfort her? Getting her to stop crying was a Herculean task, as was eliciting a smile. She’d try to Shamu-flip out of my arms. How could it be that my baby, who I loved more than anything, seemed to be repelled by me? And why did I seem to be the only mother around with that problem? We’re hardest on ourselves, I know, but even if I’d been on the outside, I’d have concluded that the problem had to have been the mother.
Mothers, of course, are the ones who get side-eyed when something’s not right. The buck doesn’t stop with anyone else but her.
And when you’re raising a baby in a different culture from you own and away from your own family, things get extra complicated, the explanations mostly being that a foreign mother is just not doing things the right way. It’s also possible that absolutely no one was judging my mothering skills badly, and that I was simply projecting my own insecurities about my abilities onto them.
Now, thing are better. She can talk, which was pretty much the only thing that replaced all that crying (thankfully, she began talking much earlier than I’d expected; all the books say bilingual kids stay silent for much longer, but she just had too much to say to keep observing, I guess). Once we’d finally exhausted all other possibilities and went to the dreaded sleep-training at 8 months, she finally slept through the night, which helped (it worked — within 3 days, she was sleeping 12-hour stretches). My woo-woo explanation of her unhappy infanthood is that she’s an old soul, sure that she was at the doors of Nirvana. She was born as a human again instead, and it pissed her off a lot.
Or maybe it really was just painful gas.
Having a kid, for me, has been way better than having a baby. She can talk, and argue cleverly, and show affection, and express herself in ways that are a mystery to me but that I nevertheless find fascinating. She loves little kids smaller than her. She wishes she had a twin sister. She likes to draw, and simultaneously perform her favorite musical scenes in movies, and challenge herself to do things that scare her like standing on a high ledge. I often do not understand her — she is so different than I was as a child, so much less concerned about gaining the approval of the adults around her. She likes to be in charge and feels no need to make it seem as if she doesn’t. She’s not a people-pleaser, something that makes me practically weep with gratitude since I know how much pain and wasted time it will save her.
Last Mother’s Day was better. She met my current partner for the first time and we had dinner at our house. He brought me flowers and her a chocolate egg with a toy inside, sugar being a direct line to her heart.
This Mother’s Day, we’ll have a meal together as well, out this time. I sheepishly admit that being celebrated when it’s time to be celebrated is important to me; I want attention, recognition, and maybe a present, even if it’s homemade. Really, I want to be told by the only person whose opinion on the topic matters, “Don’t worry, you are a good mom.”
So every year on this day, I’m weepy. It’s the day I most worry whether or not I’m doing it right. I still don’t always feel confident in my mothering skills, but I’m trying (both to be a good mother and be more confident). I miss my own mom, and the reassurances she would surely give me.