Cue the scene: The neighborhood post office with my toddler daughter and we are annoyingly in love. We giggle, we think buying stamps is an adventure, and we hold each other even though Luci is perfectly capable of walking and standing upright.
“Up, up!” she tells me when I put her down, so I pick her up because how much longer will she ask to be held? This moment of daughterly want, I know, is fleeting. My arms are strong. Why not use them?
I am also the mother who when people asked me shortly after Luci’s birth if I remembered my life before her, I replied unequivocally, “Yes. Yes, I do.” I found it odd that some thought I would forget the full and often happy 38 years of my life pre-child, as if becoming a mother somehow made the years before Luci irrelevant.
Which is to say, I love my child and I love the interests and the life I knew before and after my daughter’s arrival. They are not mutually exclusive.
Meanwhile, at the small post office, a beautiful brunette in her late 50s or early 60s flashes us a look that says “puh-lease!”
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” she cautions. “Just wait until she won’t talk to you.”
This spurned mother, I assume, peeks over her sunglasses as I stuff stamps into my floral purse while holding my chatty, waving-at-strangers babe.
As quick as we meet, the woman-of-unsolicited-advice walks out the door, perhaps a Ghost of Motherhood Yet to Come?
I squeeze Luci and tell her, “Whatever happens, even if you one day hate me, I will always love you. I will always keep trying.” And I mean it, but I also have no crystal ball. I have no idea what specific wrongs I might initiate as my child’s mother. We are both new and very much in the honeymoon stage of our relationship. I will, of course, make mistakes, have made mistakes. This much is guaranteed.
Motherhood is complicated. We not only hold mothers to a higher standard of care than fathers, no matter how enlightened, committed, or progressive those men may be, but we also tend to romanticize and mythologize mothers and motherhood. In our culture still, mothers are often depicted as saints or sinners, when in actuality most of us reside somewhere in the realm of imperfect and doing the best we can.
Mothers, of course, are human, just as fathers or parents in general who do not wish to play into the binary of gendered parenting. When I take my daughter to the grocery store, I am not congratulated or commended like her father is. I am never asked if I am “babysitting” Luci. If she begins to throw a tantrum because she cannot push the drug-store cart right now, I am much more likely to be given dirty looks instead of an encouraging nod of hang-in-there.
If women give voice to the challenges of motherhood and some of the sexist practices and cultural norms still in effect, we are often chastised for not being grateful, or we are lectured about how we will miss insert-whatever-legitimate complaint about parenting we might have.
And I understand intimately the gratitude argument. As someone who did not know if she would become a mother after years of infertility and loss, I still remember being on the other side.
The side where you begin to realize you may never celebrate Mother’s Day as a parent. The side where you slowly reconcile what was hoped for with what will likely not happen. The side where it was easy to judge the parents who had no idea how hard it was to hear them complain about problems you would kill for.
Motherhood has not made my life easier, but it has filled me with more strength, joy, resolve, and love than I thought possible. My daughter’s life reminds me every single day sometimes the side you are on is not where you end up. That if Mother’s Day is a painful reminder now, I hope someday it may not be.