The Many Gifts Of Motherhood

With Mother’s Day being tomorrow, I felt compelled to write about the life altering, personality changing, ever-teaching, extraordinary experience it is to be a mother. We as a society celebrate Mother’s Day by thanking our caregivers, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, or special women in our lives who have made a difference or have shaped us in one way or another. I’m taking a bit of a different approach today, feeling immense gratitude toward my two sons and celebrating the many gifts and wisdom they bring to me daily as their mom.

Before diving into the wonder of momming, I want to first say that I realize there are many women out there who have tried, craved, and hoped for children, but whose bodies had other plans. While motherhood ended up not being their path biologically, something tells me their nurturing ways and calling to be a caregiver will lead them to that in one way or another, even if not in the way they had anticipated. In my experience, I’ve found the universe has ways of bringing what we crave into existence, even if not in the way we exactly envisioned. In the end, no matter how it manifests in our lives, it’s part of each of our unique human experience.

Some women are born nurturing, motherly, caring, loving, and then some. We all know women like this, they are all the things it means to be a mother. When I had my first son, impostor syndrome crept in for a little while. I wondered, like many other first-time moms do, if I was going to be capable of giving this tiny human everything I had hoped to give him. I made a promise to myself that I would do everything in my power to try to be the best mom for him and my future children. Both the exhilaration and terror of this new responsibility felt overwhelming. I consider the amount of gray hair that sprouted in that first year of motherhood to be my body’s way of validating all that excitement and stress , almost like silver exclamation marks that erupted from my brain and out through my scalp.

The first year with my baby boy was filled with snuggles, coos, a new-found kind of love I’d never known, an overwhelming feeling of wanting to protect, co-sleeping, breast-feeding, diaper changes, and ten months of sleeplessness. It was a jumbled mess of zombified work days met with gleeful kisses at home. Juggling a rare breastfeeding condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (DMER), overproduction, as well as four bouts of mastitis, had me feeling elated at month 6 when I would nurse him for the last time. Freedom like that never felt so good!

It was beyond that first year of difficulty and stress, where I found a certain kind of fulfillment in motherhood that connected me wholly with my toddler. The first year we are so stressed! We put one foot in front of the other, clutching our coffee like it’s pure gold. We chant: “Must-keep-this-tiny-human-alive” in our minds as we leave car doors open and pour orange juice in our cereal. Every phase after that first year has been my favorite. Actually, let’s pause on that because I have a teenager who will be turning 14 in less than two months, and there may be a shift happening in terms of how much I’m enjoying this phase.

We all hear moms hearken back fondly to a certain time with their children they treasure. Everyone has those favorite moments they cherish and they love to reminisce about.

“I loved the phase where my daughter couldn’t pronounce words correctly!”

“It was the absolute cutest when my son would climb into bed with me every morning to cuddle and I’d listen to him ponder the world!”

“Ages 7–10 are the best, they still like you, and aren’t grouchy with hormones taking over yet.”

“There’s nothing like walking in the door and having someone jumping up and down, running toward you full speed and squealing with delight for a good ten years.”

“I could never be away from my baby when she was small, I’d miss those squishy snuggles too much.”

While we all think back at the blur that is parenthood when our children are small, there are always the special moments that particularly stand out: the highs, the lows, the milestones, the unexpected, the memories. My personal favorite are the traditions created by each of us, etching our way with our own unique family habits. This is the significant imprint we leave stamped on our children’s hearts to look back fondly on when we’re no longer around.

One of our traditions was to read every single night with both of our sons starting from when they were babies. This tradition is still going strong give or take nights when they sleep over at friends and vice versa. That time has not only made a positive impact on their reading skills over the years, but it’s proven to be a time in their day to open up with questions about relationships, problems they’re facing, wins from their day, and sometimes curiosities about our youth and their relatives lives. I often wonder if this time was never set aside as a bedtime ritual, would these musings ever find their way to our ears?

Children teach us so much about not only life, but ourselves. How many of us are winging it, trying to build in a life lesson during moments when we’re not sure what the right answer is? My thirteen year old told me the way he was planning to talk to girls was online rather than in person because “it’s way easier mom”. Insert my horrified face and rebuttal of, “going up to a girl and striking up a conversation is far easier than surfing the web trying to talk to strangers! Trust me! If online, they may live out of state, be cat fishing you or much older than you, or live in another country! There are girls in your town — real people you can talk to in the flesh!”

Greeted with eye roll and exasperated exhale from teen.

While the teen years are supposed to be the most difficult, I’m trying to keep an open mind and a peaceful heart about it. This is a dawn of a new age coming out of the pandemic, not to mention social media melding their growing minds and personalities.

It’s rare I’m alone with my teen, but the other day we were in the car and had a lovely conversation. I appreciated that moment, we hadn’t had a nice long chat like that in quite sometime in spite of our now dwindling reading time at night. His life, like most teens, is made up of friends, video games, Tik Tok, and two physical activities- parkour and weightlifting. Being his mom is the best feeling in the world. He’s a serious go-getter and he’s so comfortable in his own skin. This year I received a letter from one of his teachers expressing what an exceptional human he is and I’m planning to print it out and put it in his baby book to save forever. I’m so proud of the man he’s becoming.

These are the positive life nuggets I’m trying to focus on, instead of worrying about him being corrupted by Tik Tok and that in 2 short years he’ll be driving.

My younger son, now ten years old, was the absolute opposite experience as a newborn. He was an angel with naps, eating, and sleep. He slept through the night by week 3 and was hardly fussy. His tough times as an infant revolved around driving in the car. We had a few trips where both our boys cried almost the entire drive to New Jersey, where my in-laws lived at the time. One time, we pulled over multiple times on the side of the highway, each of us trying to console with pacifiers, plushies, and fresh air. We couldn’t figure out why drives were so difficult until he began to vocalize that it made him feel sick, often vomiting on car rides. His brother struggled with this too, but not nearly as bad.

Nursing was still hell the second time around, but I held on tight for five months and then threw in the towel, ready again for that sweet freedom. But the second time around as a mom I had an “I got this” mentality and the added sleep really helped. There was a one month stint where he was colicky, and then we discovered simethicone drops, which saved the day. That month felt like a year… to all of you parents out there who dealt with colic for months, there’s a special place in heaven for you.

Once again, also with our second child, after that first year the veil of stress lifted, and I have adored every age since. Some moms will tell you they love and miss those infant years with a passion-I am not that mom! For me, the golden years of momhood have been every age over the age of one. But it sure did help when baby number two was much easier as an infant!

The mind bending thing about siblings is how different they can be. It forces you to bring your A-game to the parenting arena and keeps you on your toes. Did something work great for your first born? Great, well prepare for a curve ball from your second child. Over time, you come to parent each child differently because they are so entirely their own people.

My younger son has always been much more affectionate than his brother. And his brother is certainly affectionate, but not to this level. He still, even at ten years old, squeals when I walk in the door from work, albeit from his computer chair in his bedroom. I’m accosted with hugs from him randomly and often. He is one of the most observant kids I’ve come across and I don’t hold back in letting him know how surprised and impressed I am at the level of detail he takes in and recounts in his stories about his day, someone’s facial features, not to mention conversations he recalls from years ago.

While he expresses his love with hugs and cuddles, he does not say “I love you” often. I am one of the only people lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this phrase, possibly the only person he says it to. It’s a reminder for me every time he decides to say it that when someone says those words to us, it’s a gift. It isn’t owed us, we can’t demand someone say it, and it’s not something we can ever force someone to feel. I learn so much from my youngest son.

Just the other day, my sweet ten year old asked me earnestly, “Mom, do you think you’re fat?”

I had just been looking at a photo of myself and as per usual was ripping myself to shreds. Thankfully, I had not said anything about my weight, but I was talking more about the fine lines and wrinkles that now grace my face.

“Why do you ask?”

“Because you’re more down on yourself than I even am about myself. So I was wondering if you think you’re fat.”

Holy hell! Note to Self- the kids are always listening. And, insert dagger in the heart when he said he was down on himself!

“I have become soft, which I’m not thrilled about, but I’ll exercise and eat right and try to improve it. That’s all I can do, and I’m working not to beat myself up about it. It’s basically what happens as we age. BUT, why in the world are you saying you’re down on yourself? You are perfect in every way, I mean no one has eyes in that shade of blue like you.”

I spent the next few minutes smothering him in compliments to try to understand whatever it was that he’s been feeling insecure about with regard to his physical appearance. It turned out he was getting teased about his new hairdo, a buzz. He had grown his hair sort of long and had decided to buzz it all off. While all of us at home loved his new ‘do, some of his friends at school felt differently and were smacking him upside the head and making annoying comments.

“ I wish I never cut my hair, I have a weird forehead.”

We are never prepared for those bombshells our kids randomly drop! However, this was a connecting moment. One where he’s allowed me to see into his mind, showing me that he’s trying to understand the inner-workings of why I think the way I do about myself and also sharing something he’s going through that’s similar. By asking me that question, it says that he’s paying attention while showing empathy. I had also realized that foolishly I was criticizing myself within earshot of my kids.

This is pure education for me as his mom. I’m learning not to say bad things about myself in front of my kids, and at the same time, I’m realizing they may learn to say bad things or think poorly of their own physical appearance based on modeling my behavior.

One thing is for sure- kids and people are always going to say unkind things or express unwanted opinions. It’s so important for us not to be the ones pouring gasoline on ourselves in those situations. We should be fireproofing mentally by building ourselves up internally.

This is exactly what I mean when I say motherhood is the gift that basically keeps on giving. My kids and your kids teach us things like this all the time, spurring us on, unknowingly, to be better moms and humans overall.

In four years from now, my oldest will leave the nest to go to college or trade school, and in eight years my youngest will do the same. The years in between will bring new and precious revelations and wisdom, which will give me the opportunity to flourish and grow even more as a human and mother. And in the meantime, I will anxiously and excitedly await the next group of phases my kids will experience, when I will undoubtedly sprout new silver exclamation marks from my scalp. This will be a real life reminder of the exhilarating and wonderful feeling it is to be their mother.

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