Saturday, May 12, 2012

Happy Mother's Day, Mothers

Feelings have a shady way of sneaking up on you unexpectedly.

My somewhat recent 30th birthday wasn't quite the epic life-changing terror I imagined it being. My first Mother's Day as a 30-year-old woman who is married and childless, however, is turning out to be surprisingly emotional.

I've never regretted my decision to wait to have kids… in fact, Mr. W and I took our sweet time deciding if we even wanted them.  Once we decided we did, we devised a secret plan. But like most of the plans Mr. W and I have made since meeting, it changed. And I'm glad it did, because the last two years of our lives have been an insane roller coaster ride a baby would've had no place on. In fact, even now as I sit here not getting any younger, I don't feel any sense of urgency. I'd go drink my face off at the wine bar up the street right now if I didn't have so much unpacking to do.

But I always thought with the waiting would come knowledge. I figured by the time I was 29 or 30 I'd have my life together. I would be that mom who had a killer career with a fat salary and time for a lengthy maternity leave, a perfect body, a focused mind, and a stock portfolio or something. But now that I'm there and nothing is as I thought it would be, I think I understand why people tell me you're never really ready to be a parent.

Then I think of my own mother. My mother, the one who went to a responsible college, got a responsible degree and a responsible and respected adult job at the ripe old age of 22. My mother, who settled down in the town where she attended high school and focused on her job, marriage and family. My mother, who worried about every single thing I did, who once pulled me into the cab of a truck through a tiny back window when she spotted a bear a mile away (and running away from us to boot).

I chose a different path, marrying young but not settling down, and not returning to my hometown after college (which still remains one of my worst nightmares). I worked for tips, then for commission, for myself and then finally for something related to my degree. I've traveled. I've socialized. I've enjoyed the man that I love without worrying about babysitters and diapers and late night feedings.

I used to think I was the brave one. I'm the one who once got lost in the ghettos of Mazatlan and just grinned, made eye contact, spoke Spanglish and strutted my way to safety like I owned the place even though I was peeing my pants on the inside. I'm the one who has taken personal and professional risks. I'm the one who has chosen a passion that's about as easy to master as winning the Powerball.

In fact, my mom recently told me she's proud of how strong I am. And I wore those words like a badge of honor. Because the more I think about it, it's my overly concerned, ferociously paranoid, anxiety-ridden "safety first" mother who is the strong one.

My mom took on this job of parenthood, the one I've been avoiding my entire adult life, willingly when she was only 23 years old. I can't even fathom doing something that ballsy.

And not only did she take it on, she excelled at it. My mom is one of the most stressed out people on the planet, to the point where she has one glass of wine and she pretty much falls head first into a coma. But when I was little, she was patient with my incessant babbling and 90 million questions about everything and my bullshit stories that made no sense. 

 And do you know how I remember that my mom was that patient? Because she did everything she could to make sure my brain developed properly. I was fed mostly healthy foods, even telling the doctor that my favorite food was broccoli when I was four. I've made nutrition a hobby as an adult, and now I know my mom's knowledge was advanced far beyond her time because she researched and she cared. My TV time was also limited, but my access to books wasn't.

My dad's job took him out of town sometimes, leaving my mom to juggle two kids and a demanding full-time job for weeks or months at a time. And she did it. That's braver than anything I can imagine. Mr. W's latest job has left me doing it all on my own at times recently. I barely manage, and all I have to worry about is a neurotic dog with separation anxiety. Two neurotic children who constantly beat the crap out of each other? I can't even imagine.

I am sitting here tonight in my nice new apartment in one of the most coveted neighborhoods in the city of my dreams. But I am sitting here alone. And my mom is at our house, no doubt frantically preparing for the end of her school year, with pictures of her grown children and a lifetime of memories. Our life paths diverted early on, and the results are showing.

 Instead of wondering who has had the better life, who made the better choice, I'm thinking that we've both been very blessed and pretty damn fulfilled in our different adventures. And while my mom never flew to Vegas and did over-priced tequila shots before dancing at a swanky nightclub in uncomfortable heels in her twenties, the fact is, there's a chance I may never experience motherhood which seems to be quite an adventure. I think she and I would both agree that we've had a pretty sweet go at life without dwelling on what could have been.

Though I admit, it's something I do hope life has in store for me. The other day I was on a bus and looked over to see the most beautiful baby girl staring at me with giant hazel eyes. She looked out the window with so much curiosity and every time I smiled at her, she smiled. I want that, I thought. Then another mom boarded the bus with a bratty three-year-old boy who just would not shut up. There was a fit, followed my tears. The mom looked exhausted.

"Let me off this bus, mother!" he shrieked. "You've hurt my arm and I have to poop!"

I laughed. I could live with that too, I thought.

Happy Mother's Day, mothers. You are all so much braver and luckier than you know.


Lyn said...

Wonderful, Jessica. You nailed it. I'm sitting here wondering how DID I do it, but admiring the beautiful roses from my most difficult daughter-all my gray hairs are from her, and that's a story I'll NEVER write. Her path diverged from mine, too, for many years, but now we're sort of in the same place, except I am alone and she's married for the 3rd time--we are both folk singers, and grandmothers: 6 for me, 5 for her! You have time, my dear, for several more lives if you choose.

JessicaLee said...

Thank you so much, Lyn. Your daughter is a lucky lady indeed. :)

Paulina Tuy said...


Paulina Tuy said...


Paulina Tuy said...

"Which is fair enough. But for many of us, purpose is happiness—particularly those of us who find moment-to-moment happiness a bit elusive to begin with. Martin Seligman, the positive-psychology pioneer who is, famously, not a natural optimist, has always taken the view that happiness is best defined in the ancient Greek sense: leading a productive, purposeful life. And the way we take stock of that life, in the end, isn’t by how much fun we had, but what we did with it. (Seligman has seven children.)

About twenty years ago, Tom Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell, made a striking contribution to the field of psychology, showing that people are far more apt to regret things they haven’t done than things they have. In one instance, he followed up on the men and women from the Terman study, the famous collection of high-IQ students from California who were singled out in 1921 for a life of greatness. Not one told him of regretting having children, but ten told him they regretted not having a family.

“I think this boils down to a philosophical question, rather than a psychological one,” says Gilovich. “Should you value moment-to-moment happiness more than retrospective evaluations of your life?” He says he has no answer for this, but the example he offers suggests a bias. He recalls watching TV with his children at three in the morning when they were sick. “I wouldn’t have said it was too fun at the time,” he says. “But now I look back on it and say, ‘Ah, remember the time we used to wake up and watch cartoons?’ ” The very things that in the moment dampen our moods can later be sources of intense gratification, nostalgia, delight.

It’s a lovely magic trick of the memory, this gilding of hard times. Perhaps it’s just the necessary alchemy we need to keep the species going. But for parents, this sleight of the mind and spell on the heart is the very definition of enchantment."


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