Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Looking back on my first year of motherhood

In putting together a slideshow for his first birthday, I find myself frustrated at the fact there are far fewer photos of Lucas with me, his mother. There's no way to really show the hours and hours he spent at my breast, the time he spent attached to me in one carrier or another, the way he clings to me now, one hand on me as his attention is elsewhere just to make sure I'm there. Not enough photos to bear witness to this past year.

Someone recently asked me about how my maternity leave year, and I said to them - if I told you, I would sound like a bunch of cliches. It really is the hardest job in the world, and the hardest work I've ever done. It is so full of paradoxes - joy and pain, intimacy and bondage, love like nothing you've ever felt and fear like nothing you could ever imagine. It makes you stronger than you ever knew you could be. It makes you put yourself second, happily and naturally. It challenges you to give them all you can give and at the same time, to let them go. It demands you to be present in every moment, to put other priorities aside for an unknown amount of time, and to focus here and now. At times, it takes away your sleep, your relationships with others, your vocabulary, and pieces of you that you will never get back, but every second of it is worth it, worth more than anything on this earth or beyond. For whatever else may be going on, one look from those big blue eyes, and I melt into a mush of mommy ready to give him anything he wants and everything I can. Lest I forget this - how much motherhood asked of me this year, and how I rose to the challenge.

And now as I plan my return to work, I talk to a colleague who can't possibly understand what I've been through this past year. He bugs me "you have to go back to work soon" he says in a singsongy voice. I respond, "I've been working harder than I've ever had to work, dear." Then he taunts me, "you won't get to mommy anymore" and I laugh at him, "I'm a full-time mommy for the rest of my life." He didn't have any more to tease me with. Honestly, six months ago I was dreading going back to work, certain I could never leave my baby, certain I would not be able to do it again. And now that it's less than a month away, I have absolutely no fear of it. Work used to suck me in, stress me out, and work me up. I know it has no power of me any more. It can't when I already know I don't take myself or anyone else so seriously anymore. I've learned to roll with the punches, that the best laid plans pretty much never happen, to be flexible, to take risks, and to enjoy the moments when you get them. More than anything this year I've learned to trust myself.

That's why I look back at those few pictures of Lucas and I when he was an infant, and I cringe. I cringe because I am remembering a time when I didn't trust myself, I wasn't in tune with my mother's intuition. I looked to other people, read books and the internet, looking for the answers. Eventually I realized Lucas and I had the answers - we only had to get in tune with each other and listen for our rhythm. When I see our slings, I remember that rhythm we got into, how it was just me and him for many days and nights. That time seemed to exist out of the normal space-time continuum. It would drag on forever and yet speed quickly by. We would follow the endless - eat, awake, sleep - cycle over and over and over. Days blended together and time flew by, as my little baby grew and grew.

And looking back on my first year of motherhood, I see how much I have grown too. I don't feel ready to leave him, but I trust myself enough to know I will continue to do what's best for him, and I continue to be awed at the way he adjusts to whatever life throws at him. Of course, it helps believing that that his experiences with his Daddy and others will add to the fullness of his life. I know I won't be able to control things with him as I have been, as he becomes a toddler and as I give up my primary caretakership of him. But in giving that up, I know I am not giving up being his mother. I will be his mother until the end of time, in this life and the next. Our bond is deeper than anything I could have imagined and than any picture can show.

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