Shortly after giving birth to our first daughter, my husband looked deep into my bloodshot eyes (the whites of which were now red from the hemorrhaging that had occurred while pushing like a crazy woman to eject a tiny human), and proclaimed, “You are my hero!”
In the moments-you-will-never-forget category, this ranks high for me. And not because my honey doesn’t say touching things very often, because he does. Just last week, after close to twenty-three years of marriage, he said, “thank you” and “I’m sorry.” On the same day. But at the start of this parenting journey, he was truly amazed by my labor and delivery experience – as a man, a husband, and from that day forward, as a father.
Now, for the sake of this article, I’m going to put everyone in two buckets. Bucket one is for people who always wanted to be parents. When these folks were young, they had a list of one-day baby names for boys and girls. They delighted in babysitting. They wrote letters to their future kids. I’m in bucket two. When I was a kid, I named my dogs: Teak and Keenah were the Doberman Pinschers I just knew I would own one day.
I can almost pinpoint when my attitude on this began to shift, and it had everything to do with finding the right person to share the load – or I guess I should say, “share the amazing journey of parenthood.” After just a few weeks of watching my future husband play the role of Best Dad Ever to his lab shepherd puppy, I could feel myself buying into the concept of parenthood.
Whether I was ready or not back then (or confident in my own abilities) to be a mother, the truth is, over the years being a mom has helped me become a better human.
I have learned the importance of being honest – with myself and with my children. I started drinking beer early enough in my life to give it up for Lent during my junior year of high school. My daughters know this, and when we talk about drinking, substance use, and the possibility of abuse, I can speak from a place of candor. Interestingly, it was drinking (and smoking cigarettes) that almost kept me from becoming a mother in the first place. Decades ago, it was difficult for me to imagine not drinking during nine months of pregnancy or becoming a non-smoker. I knew I would need to find a way to do both before I became a mother.
Being a mother has blessed me with a profound sense of empathy. Truth be told, I have fairly typical children. They’re brilliant (of course!), but for the most part, my job thus far has been relatively easy. In two important ways, however, motherhood has helped me see the world through the window of my children’s eyes. The first example is a personal one – the time one daughter came home from school and told me about a friend whose parents were having a difficult time working through the revelation that their daughter was gay. The second is broader. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, I didn’t care about property damage or tourism. My heart went out to all the mothers trying desperately to care for their children in a ravaged city.
I have learned I need to take care of myself. When my father died in 2009, the grief was the most difficult emotional weight I’ve ever had to bear. When someone dies, people often wonder, How old was he? Well, he was seventy-six, which, to my family especially, felt very young. As heart-wrenching as the pain of losing a parent is, I know how fortunate I am to have had a wonderful father in my life for so long, and to still have my mom. That said, I would give anything to hear one of his jokes (even the ones he was famous for repeating), or be on the receiving end of one more hug. As a mother, I owe it to my children to eat right, exercise, and God-willing, stick around as long as I possibly can. To borrow from my dad, I want to be older than dirt when I die!
And motherhood has taught me humility. More than twenty years later, I’m still selfish, I’m far from perfect, and I have much to learn about motherhood. I do know parenting is hard, and everyone who gives it her best effort (with or without a partner) is worthy of respect, kindness, and support.
And this Mother’s Day, there is one more thing I’ve figured out: We are all heroes!