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Some reflections on motherhood

Being a mother is so much more than I thought it would be.

When I first learned I was pregnant, I thought, “Wonderful,” but a bit anxious about the process. Like women before me advised, childbirth is a pain quickly replaced by what they put in your arms. That bundle – and the one that followed a few years later – became the most important of all my odysseys … a lifelong journey of 99% happiness. As I type that, truthfully, maybe more like the low 90s.

Thinking of their early years, my children’s days emerge like an album of snapshots or an old carousel slideshow. I picture them with gap-toothed smiles, and school pictures of pathetic self-inflicted haircuts. I think of struggles into one-piece snowsuits and boots they’d almost outgrown. And our eternal search for mittens.

My daughter was the perfect firstborn. As she grew, she was sweet, agreeable, and easy. Emphasis on the easy.

Well, yes, there was that one temper tantrum at 2¢, when she hurled herself kicking and screaming onto the kitchen floor. I believe the impetus for this nasty turn of events was: “No cookies until AFTER your nap.”

I remember standing at the sink, watching the huge lobster pot slowly fill with cold water while she continued the shrieking at 80 decibels. When the water was a few inches from the top, I struggled that monster out of the sink, turned it upside down over the flailing noisemaker, and left the kitchen for the porch. The noise stopped. Eventually, a very quiet, soggy, little girl toddled out to my seat, buried her face in my lap and said, “I sowwy, Mommy.” We cleaned up the water together. Her next tantrum, if I remember correctly, wasn’t until age 15.

As first-time parents, thoroughly tickled with success, we thought, “We’re so good at this, we need to have another one.” God gets even for arrogance.

By contrast, during my son’s early years, we spent many hours in the emergency room. “It’s just us again. Doesn’t look too bad this time.”

I picture my knob-kneed boy standing on the end of the diving board, working up the courage to dive into the pool. His many terrifying attempts at swimming lessons hadn’t overcome fear of the head-first entry. He would cannonball, once again, when his bravery didn’t show up. Day after day, I kept hoping, but understanding that there’s a tomorrow.

He gathered up all his courage at once. From age 10 on, his life became a high wire act by pushing the margins of the rules as often as the laws of physics. I occasionally said, “If he had been the first-born, he’d have been an only child.” When he survived a daredevil youth to eventually pilot a Marine Cobra attack gunship and be a leader of men, my mother’s worries broadened and deepened. But by then, all you’re allowed to say is “Stay safe.” or “Be careful out there.” When the bulletin’s zipper across the evening news reads: “Two-man helicopter down in Fallujah…” mothers don’t sleep. Motherhood doesn’t fade with age.

I watch my daughter today, silver hair framing her pretty middle-aged face, and know that she has left me in the dust in the Motherhood Arena. I couldn’t do what she does now with my two grandchildren, nor could I have. Parenting teens today isn’t just the age-old liquor challenge and dangerous drug scene.

The ready accessibility of ALL the world’s electronics, messages, and monitoring are a frightening reality of what today’s kids are exposed to. My Howdy Doody, and my children’s Sesame Street bear no relationship to the predatory monsters of cyber space.

The “Me first” syndrome that surrounds them, and the increased hard-drug culture have made me realize what strong guides today’s parents must be. My smart girl luckily chose the perfect partner with whom to parent their boy and girl. They spend immense amounts of time, the most important gift, with both children, solidifying their family. My daughter earns her Mother’s Day breakfasts in bed.

Someone asked me once how we raised such nice kids. I answered, “Lots of love, luck, and guilt. It worked for my mother!” That flip answer wasn’t really how I felt. The heavy emphasis was on the first two.

Some of that luck today comes from choosing a life partner whose feelings about child rearing are simpatico. I think we spent our first years of marriage learning about each other, but also finishing our growing up process – maturing and blending our ideas and traditions.

Motherhood is a tough job. The Peace corps’ motto, “The toughest job you’ll ever love,” is a perfect description for me. They also dictate that “a good back, strong stomach, level head and a big heart,” are prerequisites. Sounds just like motherhood to me.

Emphasis on the big heart.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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