Years later of course I became pregnant and became myself, a mother. And even now, there are so many moments in my everyday life where I feel like I am still a little kid just playing at being a grown up. So often I know I am guilty of "faking it until I make it:" as an adult, as a professional, as a wife, but ESPECIALLY as a mother. I am eternally grateful they don't require licensing to become a parent, because I likely would have failed the test. I am selfish, shortsighted, and I often react to stress by assuming the fetal position wrapped around a Burger King value meal and a family sized bottle of wine, so I still am understandably awestruck that God and the universe has entrusted me with the care of these little vulnerable lives. I have heard that in rehab programs they advise people to start out with a plant, and only if they don't kill it move onto an animal, and then if the animal thrives, they are cleared for a relationship with another ADULT. I have killed every plant I have ever come into contact with, so in all likelihood I never should have moved on past the first step, yet here I am, the proud mother of not one, not two, but (almost) FOUR small humans.
It's hard to not look back and remember my own mother, dressed to the nines and successful and working and cooking and cleaning and (always) vacuuming, and not wonder- did she feel like she was faking it too sometimes? Do we all? I know when I peed on the stick with my very first child, I felt that now-familiar underlying worry and self-doubt start to bubble up somewhere mixed in there with the gas and the baby kicks and the vomit, but I consoled myself with the assertion that as soon as I saw that baby, my maternal instincts would inevitably take over. And when I did see that baby for the first time, I DID feel such an intense rush of emotions: relief, love, awe, but also FEAR. SO. MUCH. FEAR. My maternal instincts, however, were nowhere to be found in those first few weeks. I struggled with breast-feeding and diaper changing and burping and sleeping and basically every aspect of co-existing with this new and totally foreign life. Our first night home from the hospital with the baby my husband took one long look at me, poured me a large glass of red wine, sat me in front of the television, and slept with his own head in the bassinet.
As the years and the babies have come and gone and grown, I have always been surprised and generally ashamed that I have never become completely selfless in my mothering. I still want to feed myself good food and good drink and take showers and wear make-up and lose the weight and be generally human, which I often assume is a parenting shortfall. I had always thought that as soon as I crossed the threshold into motherhood I would cease to be Liz and instead become Mommy, but instead I have always felt the need to find a way to be both. In countless wine-sodden conversations with the mothers of my life: my own mother, my mother in law, my dear friends (or "sister mothers"), and all of the maternal women in my life that I seek consolation and witness and absolution from, my common theme is often this goddam failure to achieve perfection. I am reminded of my teenage self and the epiphany that my own mother was a human being, and of course the irony that I am now here (decades later) struggling to accept the same thing about myself.
I have people in my life who have lost their mothers, some literally, some figuratively, and I have no doubt that on this day of days not a single one of them is consumed or even concerned with thoughts of their own mother's shortcomings or imperfections. In the end, we parent the best we can with the tools and the knowledge we have at the time, and yes, we make mistakes. Being a mother is our life's greatest joy and our life's hardest work, and we are ALL human. What's been amazing is that as I have grown and stumbled and fumbled my way through finding those maternal instincts, I have also started to come to this Earth shattering realization: its not being incredible DESPITE being human that is mothering. It's being incredible BECAUSE we are human.