I don’t have any cute pictures of my mom and I to post on Facebook for Mother’s Day. To me, that is one of the cornerstones of motherhood: being in the shadows, watching from the sidelines, and maintaining that nearly invisible, yet so palpably indispensible presence. In her time there was no Facebook to post sweet statuses, no Instagram to post cute pictures, no Twitter to tweet nice motherly things, no venue to garner community support and camraderie. There was only today, and there was only tomorrow. There was only trying your very best to do your very best, without the applause, without the laugh tracks, and without the “likes.”
You give up your own life in order to breathe that life into a tiny, brand-new, fluttering set of baby lungs. You do it for the soft rising and falling of the tiny, soft chest of a little pink thing, curled up in a bassinet, sucking its own tiny, soft, pink thumb. Rising and falling. Silent and mewling.
My mom put on hold her cherished dreams of that higher education to learn how to become a wife and mother. She left behind her country and her family to start a new family, to give them things she’d never had in her own life– to give us those things. My brother and I.
And after all of those sacrifices, go ask my mother what it is she regrets about those years. I can already tell you what she will say. She regrets not doing enough for my brother and I, not searching enough, not caring enough, not learning soon enough.
That’s a mother for you.
Call me biased, but I think she did okay. Not every mother does. And little wonder. Does anyone have a more daunting task in mind? More intimidating than raising a human being, than being there from start to finish? I say this not to diminish the struggle of those mothers, but rather to give credit where credit is due. By simple virtue of giving birth to me, my mother didn’t have to rise to the occasion. She didn’t have to keep challenging her own beliefs, to keep striving for betterment. She could have easily and understandably thrown up her hands in frustration long ago. I was that difficult.
But she didn’t. She kept going. Another cornerstone of motherhood: reaching the bottom of the barrel, knowing with absolute certainty that you cannot possibly go on, cannot even fathom the thought of the idea of taking one more step, and then somehow, finding some way to reach into those untapped wells of strength within yourself that you were sure didn’t exist, and taking one more step, then ten more, until you’re giving fifty times what you thought you had. And even those times you screw up and lose it, not giving up then, but going to sleep, waking up to a new day, renewed and recommitted, trying harder than ever.
And for what? Someone like me?
The first time I learned about the process of giving birth was in my sixth grade health class, and the first thing I did after this lesson was to rush home and ask my mother: Was I worth it?
My mother was aghast that I could possibly think otherwise. Of course I was worth it, she said. She assured me with everything she had that she’d go through it again in a heartbeat.
A tiny, soft heartbeat.
All I knew then was the pain of labor and delivery as a vague and intangible idea. I didn’t even know about breastfeeding and diaper changing and toddlerhood and adolescence and adulthood.
I no longer ask if I’m worth it. Watching the steady breath of my sleeping daughter, so intimate and so sacred, I know. I don’t have to ask. Of course I was worth it. Of course I still am.
My questions now are more pratical in nature: what did you do when you wanted to throw me out of the window? What did you do instead of ripping all your hair out of your skull in fearful frustration that time that I turned blue from drinking Drain-O?
It’s Mother’s Day and from all the way across the country my mother found a way to buy me lunch today, celebrating my motherhood like it’s the greatest accomplishment in the modern day world while simultaneously brushing away hers as if it’s no big deal.
Twenty-three years of dealing with me? It’s a big deal. My husband is barely alive after four.
That’s a mother for you; comfortable in the shadows and sidelines.
Thanks, mom. For then, and now.