Motherhood is the only role I've ever had where I simultaneously feel I am doing pretty well at it and am sure that I know nothing. You'd think that after more than 16 years as a mom I would be able to write a book on parenting. The sad truth is I may have a blog in me. Something that rings true one day - never tell your child more than she asks you, for example - flies out the window the next day when you realize that she needs to know about statistics on teen car crashes.
In honor of Mother's Day - and my menopausal memory losses - I decided to write down the few things about motherhood I know for sure. I dedicate them to my mom, Joan, who said upon hearing I was pregnant, "I hope you have a child just like you were," and which I still haven't figured out if it was a curse or a blessing. I also dedicate this to Hannah Lily, without whom I would currently be living on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific, attended to by several houseboys and living off the savings from 15 years of increasingly lucrative corporate work. And finally, this is for all my fellow single moms out there who have the double bliss of serving as both mother and father to their children - your love must never waver even when your children are acting unlovable.
What I know about motherhood:
1. You know that tense feeling of anxiety you have from the day your child is old enough to walk into traffic or out a door alone until he can safely remember his own phone number and to scream, "Stranger danger?" Well, it all returns the day your child gets a driver's permit or joins Facebook. Enjoy that year or two in between.
2. Remember in kindergarten when your daughter made you a big red Valentine heart with glitter and stars and runny magic marker that proclaimed undying love for you? Keep it, memorize it, laminate it. One Valentine's Day ten years later all you'll get is a sneer or a "whatever" and that heart is all that stands between you and a controlled substance.
3. As you're toting your adorable, portable, delectable bundle of joy around in the first year of his birth, many older parents reeking of desperation will say something along the lines of, "Remember every moment. It goes by so quickly." They are sincere and they know whereof they speak. Your baby's childhood will rush by in a blur of well child checkups, trips to the park and endless paperwork for schools, camps, sports and clubs. Before you've put the crib in the attic, you'll be thinking about state universities vs. private colleges. Memorize the smell of your child's neck, the way his hair curls around his ears, the way she struggles to write her own name, the day the Tooth Fairy first comes to call. These will become the jewels that adorn your life.
4. Don't wait until you're ready to let go. You want to do it while your child is still in his teens. So pry your fingers one by one from around her waist and allow her to begin the journey on her own. Be prepared to cry a lot. Prayer helps too.
5. Never let your teenager see you sweat. Or cry. Or swear. As your little one evolves into The Defiant One, strive to serve by example - become saintly. Amidst the teen drama and angst, keep your arms and ears open. Eavesdrop, smile, bake cookies, join Facebook and Myspace and Twitter. Shop at the Gap or Forever 21 or Papaya. Be aware of his every move. Never stop loving your hormonal child, even when she tells you she never loved you. Recite this mantra every day: "He doesn't mean it." One day he'll realize it too.
6. The rules you establish for your toddler hold true throughout her life. Mine were: Be kind. Tell the truth. Don't use swear words. (Okay, that last one never took.)
7. Stop and reflect on your life as a mother once a year. Mother's Day is a good time to do that. Recall all the wonderful, rich memories of life with your child or children. Laugh, cry, take stock of how it's going. If it's possible, spend time that day with your offspring. Share in this relationship that has bonded you for life. Throughout our lives, we will let go of jobs, money, dreams, our own youth...but, hopefully, you will be a mother until your final breath. And the greatest joy is in knowing that our own children will someday know what it's like to be parents and will truly understand what they've put us through. That alone is worth it. Happy Mother's Day!