The Mother-Thing

I never expected to be a mother.

I won’t say I never wanted to be a mother, because that isn’t true – precisely.  I wasn’t opposed to motherhood and at various times in my life had sort of distant dreams of having kids one day.  But here’s the thing, mostly I saw myself adopting kids.

You see, I never expected to get married.  Okay, so it went well beyond logic, but I thought of myself as the world’s most unattractive woman.  In retrospect, I wasn’t – not physically, not by a long shot – but I was “awkwardly in the world.”

One of the ways in which I am stupid is this tendency to forget I have a body.  What I mean by that is rather literal.  I’ll get involved with pursuing some line of research, or get thoroughly ensconced in some imaginary world I just created and other than the obvious necessities and routines – which I do more or less by rote, from eating to showering – I forget I’m present physically (or I used to, before I was responsible for other people’s physical existence.  More on that later.)

Anyway, it might not be obvious, but this lack of attention to physicality can present issues when one hits what we’ll delicately call a romantic age.  As in, if you don’t much pay attention to how you dress, and periodically remember to style your hair but most of the time don’t (Recently – two years ago – I had hair I could sit on.  Not on purpose.  I forgot to make an appointment to cut it.  For five years) guys aren’t likely to notice you’re there.

Add to that that most young men (and many older ones) bored me out of my gourd, and you’ll understand why I never expected to be a mother in the natural way.  Besides, the whole thing seemed very awkwardly put together, as a physical process.  I mean, kissing was bad enough with one never knowing what to do with one’s nose, but that?  You’d got to be kidding.

Then interest in boys – real interest, not the pretend-romantic one that inspired hundreds of sonnets to a young man who never knew I existed – hit suddenly and devastatingly at eighteen.  And I realized my inadequacies.  I’m a quick study.  I observed other young women and what they did to attract men.  It worked.  I started to have a dating life.

None of which made me think of motherhood in more than a theoretical way.

You see, I didn’t want to get married.  Most men still bored me – particularly long term – and good gravy marriage was SO final.  Between 18 and 22 I rejected six marriage proposals that I remember/got I was being asked (I suspect there were others, because I had a tendency not to get “subtle.”  My idea of subtle is a two by four to the skull.)

Then Dan asked me.  Let me right now assure you I intended to say “no.”  Yeah, I loved him.  Yeah, I wanted to live in the US.  BUT my degree was not valid here (being a teaching degree.)  And besides, one travels lighter.  And besides…

I can’t really explain it.  This has happened a dozen times in my life, at crucial points.  I just couldn’t say no.  The option didn’t exist.

So I got married.  And suddenly, like the boy thing had hit, the motherhood-thing hit.  I wanted children.

In retrospect this is vaguely puzzling.  Look, guys, I was always awkward around babies, vaguely puzzled by toddlers and often outright scared of school age mons– er… children.  So why the heck did I want kids?  Who knows?  Perhaps biological imperative.  Perhaps insanity.  I wanted eleven children.

We waited a year then started trying and…  Nothing happened for almost six years.  Of course, infertility made me more determined than ever to have children.  I don’t like failing at things.

What I never paused to think about is why I’d want to have a child, or what in heaven’s name I intended to do to him/her.

So, when I had Robert – actually had him – it shocked me out of my gourd.

To begin with, pregnancy shocked me.  Why?  Well…  I don’t know how I imagined it before.  Like Alien, I think.  BUT … well…  Would you believe me if I told you I knew I was pregnant two hours after Robert was conceived?  And I knew he was a boy?  And I could SENSE him, clearly?

It is very WEIRD.  The idea that there’s a human inside you is one of the weirdest things you can experience, I think.

It gets weirder when they’re born.  There’s not only a sense of crushing responsibility – you brought him into the world.  What are you going to do about it? – but a sense of being “divided.”  Your soul – for lack of a better word – is riding along in two bodies…  Three, when Marshall came along.  (And, for sheer confusion, with Marshall I not only didn’t sense him from the beginning.  I couldn’t sense him even after I’d SEEN him on ultrasound.  I thought to the end something horrible would happen and he’d die before being born.  Turns out, no, he’s just very reserved.  That sense you have of someone else there when someone is in the room with you?  Yeah, he turns that off often enough, seemingly on purpose.)

I don’t know how to explain this without sounding new agey, though I think it’s more a matter of “attuning” your senses to the kids, but the “link,” the sense of being a soul in several bodies, grows fainter as they grow up, but I don’t think it ever goes away completely.  Right now, a part of me is listening for their movements, in their rooms, the sound of typing.  It’s not that I want to pry on them – it’s just a vestigial mother-thing.  Even when they’re out of town and too far away for me to hear/feel/sense, my mind tries to follow them.

I used to think, as a kid, that mothers had this special power.  I wanted to impress my mother.  I wanted her to be in awe of my achievements.  (Yes, there is a story there, but mom is mom and she did the best she could, and I love her.) To me, she was a figure of power, the center of the family.

Being a mother, it feels completely different.  I feel small and humble, dwarfed by the task and always aware I’ll never be good enough for it.  No matter what I do, I’ll always do/have done something spectacularly wrong.

And yet… and yet…

Despite my claims – loud and frequent – that I should have stuck to raising cats, things are not that simple.   They never are.  The truth is now that they are young adults we are ALMOST equals (no, not quite equals.  I’ll claim the rights of experience and knowledge.  And yes, I AM one of those sticks in the mud that insists in a difference in how they treat me, and how they treat their friends.) And I find I enjoy their company.  I enjoy their minds.  I enjoy going for walks with them, and woodworking, and those late night discussions where we unhook the universe and spin it around just for fun.

And in retrospect, I enjoyed the process, too.  They never scared me – except with the fear that I was raising them wrong – they never had a “feral” phase.  And even as toddlers, they interested me – perhaps instinct over brain.

I miss the sticky kisses, the odd collections of pebbles, the children’s books, the stories.  I enjoy the rational discussions, the stories about college, the sharing of esoteric scientific knowledge.

And I look forward to the future – scared and confused, happy and terrified, confident and humble – glad I got to be a mom, even if I was the least likely person to be so.

To my mom, whom at various times growing up I judged far too harshly but who did an amazing job, given that she never wanted to be a mother and that she had no happy childhood on which to model mine, I wish a happy mother’s day and I hope we still share many years among the living and have time, now and then, over those years, to share the joys and fears of motherhood.

To my (paternal) grandmother who was very much my secondary mother, and whom I lost nineteen years ago, wherever she is (keep your opinions to yourself, okay?  I might or might not have an afterlife, but I’m sure grandma did/does) I hope she’s not shaking her head too much at my efforts at being a mother.  In many ways, now as when I was a little toddler, following around in her wake, reaching up my hand for hers, I’m still following in her footsteps – and I’ll never be big enough to fill her shadow.

And to all the mothers, fathers and children out there: Happy Mother’s Day.

UPDATE: the free short story is up.

31 thoughts on “The Mother-Thing

  1. Happy Mother’s Day, entirely to many people these days are in such a hurry to get married, that they don’t wait until the right person comes along, be glad you turned down the other proposals and waited for Dan.

      1. I understand that one very well. That and the necessity of both parties of being stubbornly committed to bulling through. And yeah, with anyone else I would have either been dead or, well, dead by virtue of a legal penalty.

  2. Happy Mothers’ Day Sarah. From what I’ve read about and seen of your boys, you’ve done a fine job. If we as a species to survive, must bring little monsters into the world, then at least we can bring them up right and make sure they grow up to be just as intelligent, creative, imaginative and inquisitive as their parents.

  3. Happy Momday! (I remember when I “met” my kid. It was distinctly after conception (about 6 months…), but it was extremely… vivid. “Oh, hi there. So that’s what your personality is going to be like.”)

  4. To all you mothers, happy day – where we would be without mothers I cannot imagine (and I can imagine quite a lot.)

  5. I knew my daughter had been born within minutes of it happening. That’s unusual because my wife was in Denver, and I was in Panama City, Panama (then the Canal Zone). We now have four: one of our own, two adopted, and a third that’s currently our ward. The last one is a great kid, but it’s hard to be a parent when you’re 65 (my wife is 69!) and disabled. We manage somehow. Only 12 more years until he graduates from high school and can go out on his own… Happy Mother’s Day to you, Sarah, and to all the mothers that read/comment on your weblog.

    1. If we can figure out how to navigate it and if the boat doesn’t rock TOO hard in the next year (health and a few more things hanging in the balance) we’re considering the adoption thing. We always wanted more kids — just only managed two, both miracles in different ways. But I figure there’s kids out there who need parents, and we’re not wonderful, but… we seem to do okay at raising them and… well… there’s work to be done and we’re here. We’ll see. If we can (health wise and money wise) I mean, we’re not doing anything else with our time/money.

      1. Look into foster parenting. There are a lot of volunteers for the “easy” kids– healthy infants to young children– but abused kids and older kids with problems* often have a heck of a time finding anyone. I’ve got a cousin who has… I think it’s six kids by fostering, all as small children with “problems.” It wasn’t spoken of, I only know about it because one of the girls had her toes burnt off by her female progenitor on a kitchen stove, over a long period of time, and mom wanted to make sure we NEVER said anything wrong about her moving moving funny.

        (*Older kids without any problem at all are usually snapped up by the folks who foster as a source of income. I’m not judging, since I don’t know any of the kids myself– I can see it as taking basically abandoned kids into their home, and people using teens as a money maker. I suspect both are true in different situations.)

        1. in co apparently it’s hard to place sibling groups all together and kids of “different races” — neither of which would be a problem. The downside, of course is intense scrutiny from SS into your life, opinions, etc, which does bother me and is what has kept me from it, to be honest. BUT depending on the next year and how we feel health/money wise, it’s something we MIGHT do. We… like kids. Not in a “AW, baby” way, but you know what I mean.

          1. We originally were special-needs foster-parents, and adopted one of the kids in our care. We’d have taken more, but there just wasn’t money enough to do it, and even a subsidized adoption isn’t free. One thing to look into is non-governmental foster care. There are groups — Lutheran children’s groups, Catholic care, etc. You’re still scrutinized, but the private agencies are a bit more understanding than “Social Services”. There’s a huge need. If Jean and I were even ten years younger, we’d probably go that route. Our current ward is a minor miracle. If you want to talk about it, I’m in the local phone book.

            1. Mike,
              I very well might. Let me get past the “health issues” and a couple other issues hanging over my head, and I’ll probably give you a call.

          2. Not in a “AW, baby” way, but you know what I mean.

            I have known people who have become parents because they are so enamored of infants. Problem is children do not stay babies for long. You need to be in there for the long haul.

            SO — good on ya’.

            1. IF we decide to do it — and we’ve not fully yet, because well… there’s health, money and, yes, our work, too to take into account — we’ll do it because it needs done. We also happen to enjoy growing minds, if that makes sense? I love infants, in a way, but not… how do I put this? They’re cute and all, but I love them for what they BECOME.

              1. Yes, it does need to be done. Yes you have to decide if you are in a position to do the parenting. AND yes there is something about watching what they BECOME.

    1. Incidentally: I never had the same “sense” for my girls, other than Knowing that the Duchess had been conceived within days of the fact, but I believe it– I’ve always Known when a sibling was going to need saving, and my sister and brother displayed a similar awareness; more broadly, my dad’s favorite aunt was a water witch, and his mom only stopped doing fortune telling with cards as a parlor trick when it kept being accurate, ending in a case she couldn’t waive away. (nobody in either family will dream about someone having problems and fail to call, to my knowledge; most common phone message is “I feel silly about this, but I had a really horrible nightmare, are you alright?” Sounds like hooey, yes? The nightmares about my sister ended when she moved out from her abusive husband’s house. I was states away, had no clue.)
      I’ve “just happened” to waste time or be delayed far too many times when not doing so would mean being in the middle of a big car accident for me to think it’s pure happenstance.
      There’s more than we know, and we try to make things uniform at great risk– to ourselves and to the advantage those “happenings” can offer.

  6. I got a “crazy mind”. When I saw Sarah’s title, I thought of two “things”. One was “The Mother Thing” in RAH’s _Have Space Suit Will Travel_ (which I don’t think Sarah would mind). But the other was “The Father-Thing” by Philip K. Dick. See:

    I hope Sarah forgives me. [Wink]

  7. Happy mother’s day to you Sarah. (Am having trouble with either my computer or the platform, so I regretfully am out of the loop, hopefully this will post.)

  8. My mother was racing in Sports Car Club of America right up ’til I came along; she was also helping to refurbish a Bellanca while carrying me. She could have been the model for “Rosie the Riveter”, except she was a pre-teen during The Second Unpleasantness….

    Contrariwise: The SO has expressed as how she is “best equipped to be someone’s Eccentric Aunt” (which makes me The Uncle No One Likes To Talk About…); and with the veritable litany of physical and psychological genetic defects between the two of us — well, unless it becomes Federal Law to have children, forget about it.

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