Monday, May 3, 2010

Other Mothers

I was one of the last of my friends to have children. If you have not had a child yet, wait. Be the last one. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks: Closets full of hand-me-down clothes, a basement full of hand-me-down toys, shelves full of hand-me-down books; motherhood mentors who, when you are freaking out because your child won’t eat/contracts her first really bad illness/gets on your last nerve, will tell you 1) it’s perfectly normal and 2) exactly what to do; instant playmates/peer leaders/role models for your child (i.e., if your friends’ apples haven’t fallen far from their trees)

It’s not like I waited on purpose. I met Kevin a little later in life. We were both in grad school and had yet to establish our careers. He was younger than I was and needed a little more time to be ready. And then there were the miscarriages, all three of them. Suddenly, I looked around and 90% of my friends were already on their second when I had yet to bear my first. It was hard in that they were immersed in the world of parenting, and I was not. I loved their kids as I would a niece or nephew…but I did not yet understand the vital importance of hour-long conversations about diaper quality. I was sympathetic to their struggles…but I did not feel their pain. When I asked one friend what it was like to have a child of your own, she couldn’t explain it. “Its crazy love,” she said. “There isn’t anything like it.” I felt Sophia’s absence, but I didn’t yet know it was Sophia I was missing. It was a generalized sense of childless malaise.

When I finally became pregnant—lastingly round, persistently growing—to my great joy, so did one of the last of my childless friends. It was a miraculous conception, through which not one, but two deeply desired children would be born. We went through our pregnancies, side by side, dreaming, anticipating, worrying, confiding, always in awe of the great gift finally bestowed upon us. I can’t imagine this time without her. It was a twinship born of an identical internal experience.

And then when the time came for Sophia to make her debut, another of my dearest friends, full of calm and poise, who had brought two children of her own into the world, assisted at her birth. Afterwards, when I was whisked away for emergency surgery, Kevin at my side, it was my friend who took Sophia, looked after her, made sure those early hours were spent ignorant of my dire situation.

It still takes a community in this age of alienation to raise a mother. In Philadelphia, I tried to find such a community in mom’s clubs, libraries, online, and though I met some wonderful women…I couldn’t replicate the tight knit network of friends I had cultivated over the last thirty years. The ones who, despite living one state away, always manage to be there when you need them.

What I love about the moms with whom I have longstanding friendships…those who predate my status as mother…is that the common denominator is NOT our children. I love each of these women for who they are…not who they’ve born. We’re very different as people, so we’re very different as parents. But I have found something valuable in observing each and every one of them:

You can take your child anywhere; having a child doesn’t have to limit your experience….Any moment can be a teachable moment….Speak softly. Listen carefully. Respond empathically….Children are remarkably resilient. They will survive an hour, a day, a week without you….Play. All the time. And sing a lot….Perfect is the enemy of the good.

I carry their voices in my head; I call them in the midst of struggle; I am so very fortunate to have these other mothers in my life.

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