It’s Mother’s Day here in the U.S, and I am wishing myself, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
That is probably because no one in the house said anything to me about being a mother, or how wonderful and essential I am to their lives. It’s too early in the day. Husband grabbed coffee and went away to sit in front of the computer. My eldest is in California, probably sleeping at this moment. My youngest is sick. Just a while ago, he woke up to take a shower because he had fallen asleep in the middle of studying. (He usually takes showers before going to bed under the normal circumstances). In the early hours of today, I tiptoed to his room to see if he was still up studying. He was sleeping in his bed, glasses on his face, his room smelling like menthol cough drops. I took his glasses off, set them on the drawer next to his bed, turned off the light, feeling relieved to see him asleep.
These past few months, I’ve managed to wake myself up in the middle of the nights to look for the faint light that creeps under my bedroom door, a telltale sign that my son is up doing his homework. Junior year has been hell. He hasn’t had a full night sleep for months now. Many mornings I would wake up at 6 am to find him buried in the midst of papers and books. I worry about his lack of sleep. I worry about his lack of exercise. I worry about his brain cells functioning without enough rest. I worry about his lack of good nutrition. I worry that I am not doing what I am supposed to do, to safeguard his health, promote his growth, his potential.
Being a mother is the most vulnerable, most heartbreaking, most stress-filled thing I have done in my life. Me as an independent person with no one to think about except myself, died the day my first born was thrust into my arms, wailing with her little red face. I remember losing my breath as the blood pressure fell from having lost tons of blood during delivery. Her birth was brutal as the labor did not progress as it should have. Finally after 24 hour of labor, my daughter arrived, but not before being forcepped and vaccumed to pull her out of the birth canal. I remembered falling back onto the labor room pillow, and telling my husband to follow her because I had watched too many switch-at-birth episodes on TV. Leave me, and follow her! I told him as I gasped for air, feeling as if my heart was about to explode with joy and fear. (I do have a dramatic flare in my bones). Anyway, that was how motherhood started for me. An explosion of fear, uncertainty, worries (necessary and unnecessary), and then happiness that finally, I had brought a life, a thing of half-me, into this world. Something of my very own. Something I was supposed to raise to adulthood and see to her making it on her own. My family. My kin. My love.
The very act of seeing my children’s faces does something to my heart, to the center of my being. A burst of joy, followed by anxiety and fear. Always, that foreboding joy, as Brene Brown puts it, lurks in the shadow. All can be gone, and taken away, the voice whispers to me. Then the voice changes its tone, something meaner. “Who do you think you are, raising these perfectly flawed and perfectly perfect small people?” “You’re not good enough to raise a goldfish let alone these precious beings.”
Being a mother raises everything I’ve ever feared and felt insecure about myself, out of me, often times overwhelmingly. Whenever I examine how I have raised my kids, or how I am setting an example as a mother, all I could see is the things I should have done or should not have done. Yet I also know sometimes my mistakes could show them how “not to be” as opposed to how to be a parent or a human being. How many children of chain-smokers never pick up a cigarette in their lives? I rest my case.
Right now, I am feeling sorry for myself, unnecessarily. I don’t need anyone – husband, daughter, son – to tell me, “Happy Mother’s Day, mommy,” in order for me to know that I am, and will always be unmistakably, undeniably, a mother first and foremost, and some other role second. Some days, I will do the right things and be the right kind of mother. Most of the days, I will struggle to do even the most basic things to be qualified as a mother. I will yell at their mistakes or my version of their mistakes while I make my own mistakes. I will miss deadlines while I expect them to meet their deadlines. I will demand their respect while disrespecting their space. I will whimper while I scold them to dust off and get up again. I will guilt trip while I don’t give without expectation of returns. I will feel sorry for myself while I tell them to stop feeling sorry for themselves.
I will feel like a failure after all that. That stern voice will return to me telling me what a disappointment I am.
When that happens, I will go to my corner, which most of the times happens to be in the small bathroom in the house that desperately needs cleaning. And I will listen to Brene Brown, Oprah, and all the “You are enough” podcasts I could find on my phone, reassuring to myself that yes, I could get up again, and face the world and most of all face my most critical voice inside of me. Then, I will try again, to be a good mother, to be a good human, to be something better than this small scared selfish thing inside of me. I will think of my own mother and her failings and accomplishments. Her strength and determination will inspire me to rise up again. Her stern expectations of who and how I should be will remind me how not to project my own aspirations onto my kids.
I will say to myself then that I am here, doing the best I can for now, at this very moment. I will try my best to forgive myself, and to start over again.
Happy Mother’s Day, to me, from me because motherhood, even though I did not purposely set out to choose it, and even with its terrifying moments, is the best thing that has ever happened to me.