Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Journey from Daughter to Mama

"Nala, you're going to be a good mommy."
"Thanks mommy."

Soft kiss on the check good night as she curls under the blanket with a shabby baby doll bug.  Blue hue of the night light shining her pecan colored skin, dark straggly curls covering her eyes.

The calm blue and the utter silence, surrounded by a nest of two cuddle munchkins.  I linger in the moment petting their hair back, petting their faces, rubbing their backs.  It's hard to leave but I know that I need to cut out before one of them thinks of something to say, possibly igniting a sound off of imagination, ideas and excitement.  Friday night, another week with the kids passed and it seems like things are just getting better and better.

When I was working and first switched my schedule to have two days home with the kids, my mom fought me constantly. "Why don't you just put them in daycare so they can play with friends.  They need structure and a break from you.  You keep them here so that you can yell at them?!"

I did yell sometimes.  I felt overwhelmed because I was trying to do way too much.  I wanted so badly to pack quality time and learning into every millisecond.  I needed to prove to myself that I was teaching them valuable lessons and on par with daycare.  Trips in the morning to a park or museum and then home to nap.  In the afternoon we'd leave again to the farmers market or to visit grandma at the assisted living home.  Sometimes I had work meetings on the phone while trying to scurry the kids to the next stop.  The'd cry for attention and I'd shhh them, holding the phone to my ear with shoulder while trying to buckle them in the car seat belt.

Looking back now, how naive to think that doing more activities meant I was doing a good job as a mom.  I realize now that, with kids, productivity can't be measured by a status report of accomplishments for the week.  Quality time with them means being present and being responsive to their questions and curiosities.  The kids eventually began to protest the afternoon outings and when I learned to listen to them and slow down, the quality of our time together improved.  Less fights, less stress, less dragging them around.

That's been a huge lesson for me: slow down.  I'm so driven and such an over-achiever, the fear of inadequacy tugs me to act irrationally hyped.  But, as if proving how far I've come, today we spent the morning in the house drawing and sewing.  It felt so lazy, but so calm.

For the weeks leading up to my layoff, I began hinting to mom that I might get RIF'd.  Testing the waters, admitting that I wasn't pursuing new work.  She'd say things like, "You can't just stay home with the kids.  You have to work.  You wont do anything if you stay home.  You need to work so that you can meet goals and get recognition.  Life would be boring without accomplishments at work."
She's continued saying these things until about two weeks ago.

Mom's family immigrated to the US when she was 17 and lived without any relatives in the country for well over 15 years.  She had her first baby (me) at 27.

As many mothers do, her mother came to help with the new baby.  Except she left after only two days.   I'll never understand what really happened or what kind of family feud could have been so strong as to tear a grandmother from a little button nose and the soft cues of her first grandchild.  It just seems odd, but mom said she was upset because she sent her cousin a birth announcement.

So then mom had no clue what to do with a baby, nor dad.  This in the days before the internet, before you could find solace in a community of like minded fanatics!

Mom always explains the story of how she found Mrs.B like this:

Mom's all about networking and she heard of a lady down the street who cared for foster children.  One mildly cold late autumn day, she walked over to the lady's house to meet her.  Baby wailing, as was typical M.O.

Mom knocks on the door of this lady's house with a screaming baby in her arms.  Mrs. B opens the door to the screaming baby, "Awe.... come here little darling...."

Reaches out and mom must have felt comfortable enough with her voice to hand the baby over without hesitation.

Mrs. B walks into the house with the little crying baby, "oh my you must be so hot."

She starts peeling back layer after layer of clothing until baby is wearing nothing but a onsie and socks.  The baby's cries begin to deflate like a balloon.  Mom had me dressed like a chubby cotton Russian doll, in six layers of clothing.  Mrs.B pulls me up to her chest and sits in the rocking chair by their fireplace, "That feel good?"

Cries totally stop.

Mom was like, "ok, you're hired."  


I can say that the relationship I have with my mom now is 100x better than when I was a kid.  She always had such great intentions and tried very hard to be a good parent.  She even got a second job working at a department store so that they could afford to send my brother on a cultural exchange in Norway for the summer.   But we never communicated well.  Like, she was president of my school PTA, but she never took me bra shopping or explained what a tampon was.  I did not feel comfortable telling her when I got my period.  It seemed like she preferred the administrative work of parenting (picking a school, scheduling IQ tests, volunteering time with youth study abroad programs, networking with other parents) to actually spending time with me.  She never came on our Saturday bike rides to feed the ducks, she never took me out to the movies or to the gym.  All those great quality memories are with my dad, mom rarely participated or initiated those events.  At the time, I interpreted that she wanted to control me rather than to connect and befriend.  But I realize that was her personality, her shortcomings.  She didn't know how to be a friend type of mom.  

So all of my yearning to be present with my children, to care for them myself rather than outsource, well it definitely did not come from her.   She even says, "I don't know where you get this from, because you certainly did not get it from me."  

I think it came from Mrs. B.

Not really particularly liking babies at all, and not having any babysitting experience (well except for once when I was 12 and the baby cried all night long.  The parents never hired me again), I didn't know what to expect with the bump growing in the belly.  

When preggy with Kaio, occasionally Mari and I would have tifts about things that seemed new to him: me not wanting to take prenatal vitamins, not wanting a scheduled cesarean, not wanting a crib, etc.  He always came around 100% and even defended my choices when talking to his family.  But you know, when you're pregnant, sensitive, and uncertain about everything; it doesn't take much to get you balling.  I'd sit in the bathroom leafing through a pamphlet from the midwives office on fetal development week by week, bewildered and wondering how much I might be screwing up my child.

hmmm, i still wonder that.

One day a little white letter from Mrs.B came with a card, a short cute and corny Hallmark congratulations.  And this photo and inscription on the back:

I teared up in forceful waves of sniffles and goosebumps from the giant swelled belly to the back of the ears.  The photographic evidance that I might possess some droplet of mothering essence.  Proof that I once was sweet and caring and not completely self absorbed and hedonistic.  With all the insanity of being a teenager: getting kicked out of boarding school, dying my hair rainbow, running away from home, driving drunk and smoking cigarettes, hooking up with strangers, going to raves, and all kinds of other stuff I probably shouldn't mention.  Even through all that recent history, here was someone seeing me as innocent and someone believing I'd be a good mommy.   A message of wisdom that I could start a fresh and channel the little girl in the photo.

I just stood there choked up and flipping the photo back and forth, not recognizing the memory at all, but feeling like I'd been touched by a guardian angel.  She gave me strength in the moment to stand by every decision I'd made and planned to make about the little baby.  Strength to feel confident about the future and our decision to bring a baby into the world.
Mrs. B, Honey, and Me a few weeks ago
I placed the photo on our bookshelf in easy access to consult in tough moments.  


Holding and caring for baby Kaio actually came rather naturally.  Probably having to do with him being latched mouth to nipple 70% of the time!  But even when needed, I could place him softly in the bed after nursing, if he began to wake, pass my hand over his forehead, softly muttering, "tch tch tch tch tch" and he'd drift back to sleep.

Into the toddler years this innate sense of what to do slipped away completely.  We fought in power struggles non stop, fighting and then hugging like a dysfunctional teenage couple.  Lately though, I don't feel so lost.  I learned to explain why I'm asking him to do something instead of hollering directions.  I give him time to transition and make decisions.  I like to think I'm experiencing some motherly intuition relapse.

End of the month, means Mari works super late every day, it also happens to be the time of the month for my cycle.  So usually a very unhappy time around here.  This week however, passed without trauma, without mommy eruptions.


I think my mom is finally starting to come around, finally starting to accept that I want to be with the kids.  She now says things like, "..., when you decide to go back to work."  instead of nagging me to put the kids in daycare.










And back to the children in bed, settling down preparing for night kisses.  Kaio attached a noodle floaty to the end of the bunk bed, and called it a plane tail fin.  He faced outward from the other side, holding his hands up around an imaginary steering wheel, "I'm a pilot."

"Kaio, you're going to be a great pilot."

Nala lay curled with her little arms around her baby doll bug.  I looked at her and draped the purple baby quilt around her knees and back, tucking in the sides like my dad used to do.

"and Nala, you're going to be a good mommy."

Then she spoke softly, each word lingering on her tongue, exhaling appreciation, "Thanks mommy."




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