Abby's Road: Feeling like a mom
When I was a new mother, I was asked when I first really “felt like a mom.”
I’m not sure if this is a common question for new mothers, or if I was uniquely targeted because those around me wanted to be sure I realized that I was, in fact, a mother. I have spent the past five years choosing to believe it’s a near-universal inquiry.
My first answer was usually delivered in a shallow whisper, so as to acknowledge the seriousness of the subject, and so as not to wake the baby. I described the euphoria of the positive pregnancy test, the awe of the first sonogram picture, the enormity of the first meet-and-greet. Each of those moments triggered a “good gracious me, I’m a mother” realization/celebration/big gulp.
Which begs the question: What does it mean to “feel like a mother”? As with all feelings, it’s complicated, multi-layered, and hard to describe when you’re an untrained writer who only contributes bimonthly to a local paper.
There is the heart component, which hurtles you to the outer limits of love with a supersonic boom. It’s as if your brain throws up its hands and declares itself incapable of processing this new relationship. It’s as if your body settles into a new operating system, one in which you proceed with a devotion that is immediately profound, uncompromisingly unconditional, and numbingly complete.
There is also the head component, which grants you permission to become the most primal, instinctual, heroic version of yourself. You sprout invisible antennae that inspect present and future environments for signs of danger, distress, and diaper-changing stations. You assume a mentality that, if represented three-dimensionally, would look like Usain Bolt waiting for the starting gun to go off, forever poised to sprint forward to protect, defend, or send to time-out.
These feelings evolve over the course of motherhood. Darwin failed to cover this one, so allow me to explain.
The Hallmark phase of mothering flows into the reality phase of mothering. In this phase, your title as mother is reconfirmed because you can be in, or just released from, a highly-frustrating, not-at-all enjoyable situation and either a) not mind the horror, or b) look forward to returning to the mayhem.
Let’s start with the first prong. This plays out when your child is expelling fluids of alarmingly bright hues from one or more orifices of his body, and you respond with a baby wipe, a shirt sleeve, and an approach involving at least a hug and maybe a kiss. Or when she spends 45 minutes outside playing in the mud wearing her brand new Crocs, only to curl up for a snuggle on the couch, and you praise her for entertaining herself so well and for so long. Or when he feeds himself a dinner that mostly ends up on the wall or the cat, and you clap when he stops running his fork through his hair.
In your normal life, you would wait for a professional or scream about the upholstery or reference a cave. But when you’re a mother, you find it endearing and/or laudable. At the very least you think, with sincerity, “At least you’re cute.”
The second prong springs up when drop-off ends with you sweating and swearing, only partly under your breath. It springs up when the bedtime routine involves a disinfectant or a pair of nail clippers. It springs up when you find yourself saying “NO!” for the 67th time in 43 seconds.
You separate yourself from the event, banish the offender to the stairs, or manage to get everyone tucked so tightly into their beds they’d need the fire department to find an exit. You sit down, breathing deeply, intent on discovering what “me time” is. Your mind wanders down one mental block, and there you are, thinking “she really is very cute.” Just like that, you can’t wait for pick-up, or for the morning, or for the next adventure in mealtime.
That’s when you feel like a mom. When you know you should feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope, only to find that you’re still enjoying a free-fall, with no end in sight and plenty left to give.