By Kate Abbott
I was woefully unprepared for motherhood. For decades, I’d vowed to be childless, hadn’t wanted to step one iota of my being over that threshold. I wasn’t patient, had been a terrible babysitter, bored with playing games and reading stories. I couldn’t fathom why a person would dumb themselves down to the least common denominator. My friends and relatives had their children far too young, had turned into tired, impoverished shells of their former selves. The thought of giving up my body to this whole process made me break out in a cold sweat. Maybe it was vanity, plain and simple. Or perhaps I was afraid my life would just stop, would cease having independent meaning, that’d I’d lose my essence.
One morning, I woke up and decided I wanted a child. Just like that. And then, just like that, I was pregnant. And terrified.
I read the books and heard so many childbirth stories, all of them dreadful, that I had nightmares. The notion of breastfeeding made my stomach churn. I interviewed pediatricians. My single-minded mission became finding a pediatrician who told me that I wouldn’t be a terrible monster if I didn’t breastfeed. The third, or maybe it was the fourth, was a woman of my own advanced maternal age who’d just given birth to her second child. She told me that whatever makes mom happy will make baby happy. There was a break in the clouds. Babies might be smarter than I’d thought. I clung to this.
The day after we came home from the hospital I put my son in the middle of our bed and surrounded him with pillows. I watched him for some time, and he stared at me wide-eyed and calm until it dawned upon me that a three-day old infant was incapable of going anywhere on his own.
He was patient as first I convinced myself that I could carry him downstairs without dropping him. Then, he suffered through my attempts to load his car seat into the car. It was twenty minutes before I realized that there was already a base in the car, as well as one attached to the car seat. Next, he allowed himself to be stuffed into the Baby Bjorn with nary a complaint as I figured out that I could actually bring him along while walking the dogs. This was a major triumph. This motherhood thing was not so bad, not when the kid was cooperating with the stuff I needed to do to feel normal. And I admit to feeling a certain smug satisfaction when one of his daycare teachers commented that I must have breast fed him because he was so attached to me. My boob had never been near his mouth.
And that’s kind of how it went. I wove the kids, because soon there were two sons and a little while after that, a third, into the fabric of what made me myself.
At first, it was pure selfishness, a need to preserve those things that were mine, not lose myself in this abyss called motherhood. I never played kiddie music. They listened to old school rap instead. If they were teething, I plopped them into the baby jogger. I was never sure who needed it more, but it worked to stop our tears. There was no baby talk or shielding them from the raw truths of the world. It’s out there, the good, the bad and the ugly, and I’d rather they hear it from me than discover it in secret or shame.
I let them watch movies that were not “G” rated. I was embarrassed during more than one parent-teacher conference when it became crystal-clear that I was not checking their homework. I let them stay up too late so we could talk or watch something on Netflix that made us roar with laughter. They learned to sit quietly while I taught late-night yoga classes. My youngest slept in my arms as I walked around the room, guiding my students into final relaxation. I was never tempted to monitor their texts or have the passwords to their multiple social media profiles. There was no need.
Gradually, I came to realize that the things that were so important to me, the things I thought I would have to give up when I became a mother, were, if not already in my children’s DNA, an indelible part of who my boys were becoming. My biggest joy is the ongoing dialogue that canvases all the moving parts in our lives and embraces the unique in each of us.
These connections are not earth shattering and can be messy and imprecise. It’s noticing a flower has bloomed or getting an endorphin buzz from a run. It’s in my boys’ fierce defense of civil liberties and rejection of prejudice in the media and on the elementary school playground. It shines in the tenderness they show towards the smallest creatures. It shows in the pride that keeps them up late, studying for a test. It’s their quest to see the world in all its glory and at its worst. It’s my son who is nearly as tall as I am who holds my hand and kisses the dogs goodbye each morning. It’s in the light in their eyes when they craft a story or express a theory. It’s what makes my almost men now reach for me to share both the details of their days as well as their deepest sorrows and disappointments. It’s in this confidence that nothing we say to each other will be judged.
It’s whatever makes the child happy that make the mom happy.
About the Author
Kate Abbott is a mother, runner, yoga instructor and recovering attorney who delights in writing from the dark and bright side of the heart. Her first novel, Running Through the Wormhole, was published in 2015. Her second, Asana of Malevolence, will be published this spring. She has written several pieces for Mamalode.