Those particular hands that could
When I chose to be a mother, it was with the understanding that motherhood is forever. It’s forever in a way nothing else is; even marriage is something you choose every day, something that can be dissolved if things go awry. The choice to be a mother is final, and binding. You get to choose it once, essentially, when you find out it's happening, and then that choice carries its way down and down along the line of the rest of your life.
In the Netflix show Sex Education, there's a scene where a character is arguing with his mother about her use of him in a story. He shouts, "you act like you think I'm part of you!" and, bewildered, she replies, "well, you are part of me." He doesn't know that this means something different than "you belong to me" or "I have the right to do what I did even if it hurt you"; this isn't what she means, but in his adolescent mind there's no context to understand it. For her, he is part of her because she is his mother, and that's forever. Meanwhile, his entire existence is about becoming something separate and his own.
I harbour no illusions that my relationship with Rowan will always be sunny. I think that if we never have conflicts, never push against one another and pick at each other's tender places a bit, then I'm probably doing the mom thing wrong. “After all," Catherynne M. Valente wrote in The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two, "growing up is nothing but an argument with your parents on the topic of whether or not you are grown. You scream am so am so am so from the moment you're born, and they fire back are not are not are not from the moment they've got you, and on it goes until you can say it loudest.” It's her job to push me. It's my job to be reliable, to respond with boundaries and care and to push back when it's necessary. Our children push at us because we are trustworthy; they depend on us to respond to overstep with guidance and without overreaction. My dad sometimes laments good-naturedly that when he told us he hoped we'd be strong-willed he didn't mean with him; I know he's joking, and that's the trust I mean. He and I have had our disagreements, but I've never felt like I couldn't stand up for what I thought was right, whether in an ideological sense or for myself.
My mother, on the other hand, hasn't been around for...well, for a while. Our relationship was rocky for years, but sometime shortly after my brother got married, she stopped answering the phone, stopped returning my calls, stopped showing up for me or them or any of us. She met my oldest niece a time or two, but barely acknowledged Rowan and hasn't said a word about the newest addition to my brother's little family, either. This hurts me, and all of us, deeply. I've avoided writing about it, still avoid writing about it, because god it's hard, but it's also something that involves enough other people, and their hurt, that I have to be careful about it. My mom is alive, but she's not here, and I very much doubt she'll ever be willing to do the work to come back around. It's a story that doesn't belong to just me, but more and more, as I come into myself as a mother, it's part of everything I do and say, every choice I make. Like my own motherhood, I can't really talk about my life in any honest way without revealing my motherlessness. I've waited for the anger to fade, in any case, and while it's still a tender place, it's no longer raw. It's just true.
Mother's Day is understandably a complicated holiday for me, and this year is no different. Before Rowan, I could pretty much ignore it: turn off the TV and avoid the commercials, let other people's celebrations of motherhood wash over me and float away. My mom, for reasons I'm coming to suspect had a lot more to do with her discomfort with the idea of motherhood than anything else, never really "did" Mother's Day herself, even when we were young. But now I'm a mom, and trying to figure out what that means for me, and for the little duo that I have with Rowan, a duo I'll never share with anybody else. I try, always, to be careful not to throw things away wholesale just because they make me uncomfortable. I want Rowan to have a mother she wants to celebrate, and I want her to know I like being celebrated as her mom. Not that I demand it or think it's owed to me, but that I revel in being her mother and want to take these moments to celebrate it joyfully.
There's not a tidy conclusion to this story. We're feeling our way through it. But I am, now and forever, Rowan's mama. As I've written before, everything I do, everything I am, will be tied up in the entire concept of "mother" for her, for her whole life. Nothing I can do will ever make untrue the fact that I was her mother. I intend "mother" to always mean "someone who shows up." I intend to always be someone who chose her.
I am proud you're my daughter.
I am, joyfully, your mama.
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