My first child was born in New York City in the middle of a heat wave. After a week of being stuck in a stale, air-conditioned apartment, we ventured out for our first walk with our son. About a block away from our apartment, we were approached by a particularly sweaty and frenzied man who was muttering obscenities and pointing at the bassinet containing our one-week-old. My husband, who was steering the stroller, quickened his pace and veered sharply out of the man’s way, putting himself between the deranged man and our baby. My husband is a kind and generous man, always sympathetic to the plights of those less fortunate or suffering from affliction of any kind, but in that moment the instinct to protect his newborn overcame any other feeling.
I had a very distinct reaction to the event from my husband’s. As the man, dirty and disheveled, muttering and “crazy,” walked toward our newborn son, the first thought that entered my mind was – My God, this man is someone’s son. A mother gave birth to this man, held him when he was a baby, changed his diapers, tickled his feet and kissed his fingertips. I wanted to imagine he had experienced the love of a mother at some point in his life, before whatever happened led him to his current state. Yes, my first thought was that this man was somebody’s son- somebody that could be out there worrying about him. And that’s when I knew I had truly become a mother.
There’s an actual moment when we all became mothers. For some people it happened the first time they saw a pink strip on a pregnancy test, for some it was when their baby was handed to them in the delivery room, and for others it happened when they least expected it – when the weight of equal parts love and responsibility pressed down on them, and their hearts were irrevocably and irretrievably full.
When it does happen, the change is abrupt. All of a sudden, the world primarily exists through the lens of your children’s wellbeing and happiness, health and sadness.
You will never feel as sick as you do when you comfort your child after he has thrown up for hours; you will never feel as much pride as you do for your child’s small daily achievements, like when she finally writes her first recognizable letter; you would be alone forever rather than watch your child not be picked for a playground game; you will never want to throttle anyone more than your son’s classmate who made fun of him at school; your biggest celebrations will be for your child’s small victories, like overcoming her fear of the big slide; nothing will hurt more than seeing your child’s lip quiver and tears spill out of his eyes; and nothing will bring you greater joy than watching your child laugh from deep down in her gut. We are mothers – our children are our worlds.
We now understand our own mothers. We understand why they wouldn’t let us have the ice cream before we ate our broccoli – and why they sometimes would; why they lectured us for hours about the importance of using good judgment; why they cried when we came home from school broken from the big fourth grade fight; why they rushed out for ginger ale and saltines when we weren’t feeling well; why they didn’t belittle our broken hearts after our first boyfriend dumped us, even though they knew we were better off; why they cheered the hardest at every sports match, especially when we were losing; why they told anyone who would listen about the academic award we won; why they arrived at our first apartment with boxes of cleaning supplies; why even still it seems like they are always worrying about us. Because they are mothers, and that is what they do.
We are mothers. These are now the things we will do.
Being a mother is not an easy job. It is back-break and heartache, it is prayer, it is meditation, it is exhaustion, it is sacrifice and deprivation. But it is also the best job in the world. It is reward, it is fulfillment, it is achievement, it is satisfaction, and it is the most profound and unconditional love. Happy Mother’s Day to all of you Mothers. Keep doing what you do.