I’m a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to motherhood. I was never one of those women who felt called to be a mother; for whom child-rearing was a natural desire and instinct. Kind of the opposite, really. Sure, I wanted to have kids in the general sense but I also felt I would have been fine without them-I wanted to see the world and do epic things and go on spontaneous trips to Bora Bora with my husband and I never could (and still can’t, not really) reconcile those two worlds-it was one or the other. So when I was found out I pregnant with Saurus, my first reaction was fear-I think I literally said “oh dear, what have we done?” Of course there was lots of excitement, too! I was thrilled that our family was growing and I felt so blessed that we were chosen to parent a perfect and healthy little boy but I didn’t feel motherly. I loved him intensely and cared for him carefully. But nothing about childcare was instinctual for me.
I always said that I was a good mother, but not a natural one. It took work. Lots and lots and lots of work.
Not saying that it doesn’t take work if you’re a natural mom-of course it does!-just that it was as foreign to me as if someone told me one day that actually I wasn’t a human at all but was a fish instead and I had to immediately go and live the rest of my life in the ocean. Sure, I could do it, I’d learn how to swim, and maybe overcome my fear of seaweed, but it wasn’t like I was born with gills or anything. (And even though I think I’m starting to get my mothering gills, it will always take work!) And while I loved holding my sweet baby, and reading stories, and getting sloppy kisses, Saurus and I never really bonded like I expected. Or like everyone around me seemed to be doing. Or, let’s be honest, like the Internet led me to believe that I should. It’s not that I solely checked parenting boxes, there was definite love, just not understanding. Just not the deep, motherly feeling I was expecting. I was often the last person he chose for comfort and I never felt it was I who needed to be the one to provide it. Being a mother was something I did, not something I was.
Perhaps it’s just us growing up together over the last three years. Perhaps it’s been there all along and I’ve just never noticed. Most likely it’s the sneaky mama-hormones. But for the first time in my life, I truly feel like a mom. I feel hopeful, and content, and protective, and joyful, and important, and just downright awesome, simply because a small human calls me “mama”. For the first time, I feel complete in just being a mom, not in the stamps on my passport or the accomplishments at my job or if my home is ready for a magazine or if dinner is perfect or a myriad of other things. Those things are still ambitions I have, and things I long to do, but being a mama is pretty cool too.
This realization has not made me a better mother, technically speaking.
Last week, I forgot to feed Saurus dinner, panicked when I realized it at 11pm, and woke him up from a perfectly wonderful sleep to practically force-feed him peanut butter and bananas, like some odd penance for my child-caring failure.
I get incredibly frustrated when I have to clean applesauce up for the 9000th time or hear “oops – spilled it” from the backseat of the car or have to operate on toddler speed in the grocery store (or pretty much anywhere) and I still feel at a loss about many aspects of motherhood (tantrums?! potty training?! eating vegetables?!). But now, when people ask what I do, I feel proud to start with “I’m a mama”, rather than “I’m a ____, a ____, a ____. Oh, and I have a small human”. I feel like a mama, not just a child-raiser. I feel like, 3 years later and more than halfway to baby boy number two (oh yeah, we’re having another one and this one was even more of a surprise than the first), I finally get what all those women and parenting books told me I “should be feeling” from the moment my first baby was born. I look forward to the minutes spent with my child-I’m finally understanding that they are precious and too short and more important than I could have ever imagined.
Saurus gets it too-Mama is now his preferred person to cuddle on the couch, to hug when he wakes up, to play endless games of Hungry, Hungry Hippos with, to hold his hand when he crosses the street, to put the bandaid on his skinned knees. Maybe it’s just a phase, maybe it’s just the pregnancy, but he sees me as a mama now too, not just as the person who cuts his pb&j into dinosaur shapes and sings songs at bedtime. It’s pretty awesome.
Being a mama has become something I am, not just something I do, and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.
[photos courtesy of the absolutely amazing Erin Kaye Photography who somehow managed do get so many amazing family shots of us in 20 minutes, in freezing weather, and with a toddler who was sooo not into it]