It wasn't that I failed to bond with my child, which was my biggest fear, but that I was so bonded.
The depth of this bond terrified me because, while biology had given me a strong drive to love and protect my son, my past had given me no idea how that would look. "We just aren't naturals," my mom would say, lumping me in with her, the least maternal person I have ever met.
That's when I started to divide moms into categories the way a basketball scout might look at prospective players. There are, as my mom might say, "naturals," moms who you know at a glance are like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Kobe Bryant: smooth, instinctive, joyful, every movement concise and confident. You have seen these moms at the park. They have clear skin and cozy scarves. They are the ones flipping their kids upside down over the sand as the little ones giggle.
There are also, of course, "big stiffs," players who make the team simply because they are freakishly tall, but who have no touch around the basket. These moms are awkward. They don't get much playing time -- or they shouldn't, anyway. They don't have a Wet Wipe when they need one, and they sound clunky using cute nicknames. You don't even want to see the robotic way they play "Ring Around the Rosie," if they play at all.
My mom, who lost custody of her kids when she moved across the country to take a better job, was someone who ended up in the game but never had a passion for it. She wasn't one for baby talk or games or making baby books or saving our craft projects or booties. It was all an effort, taxing, grating, grueling.
That is just how it was. And so that's how she saw me, maybe how she had to see me, when I became a mom. She would point out the naturals, and she would paint me as separate from them, and I bought it just as much as a child buys anything her mom says, even though I'm an adult.
"We aren't naturals," she would repeat.
I'd be on the bench watching the elite -- jealous, secretly sad -- plodding along until my son was ready to leave home and I could finally be free of the whole tiring affair. That is the only way I knew how to feel.
That's when I stopped talking to my mom for a while and started thinking about Jeremy Lin. Me and everyone else, I know, but maybe I'm the only one looking at the Harvard hero as my own personal mom role model -- not drafted, passed over, not looking how we expect star athletes to look and yet powerfully and undeniably present.
That he has become so popular is probably about many things, not the least of which may be that he represents the idea, the hope, that instead of being born a natural at something, we can be smart and dedicated and use the skills we have to compete. And it's not like Lin was a bumbling idiot before, or a stiff; it's just that circumstances weren't aligned for him to take flight.
Or in the words of Kobe Bryant, "If you go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning, but no one ever noticed."
For the first 18 months of my child's life, I was taking my mom's word for my skill level. However, while I may not have the highest hops or the fastest first step, I can work hard. I can observe the naturals at the park and at day care and at Mommy and Me. I can study their playbooks. I can put more focus and love and sweat into this than I have into anything.
Most of us aren't naturals. It's what we do with what we have that determines whether we can consider ourselves all-stars. I had the skills all along to be the mom I am becoming, but no one noticed. Least of all me.
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