#31Mothers: Cindy and Saralyn

For Mother’s Day, I interviewed my own mom. Asking her about motherhood now, as a mom myself, was so profound and enlightened me in ways I never imagined. If you’ve never asked your own mom about what motherhood has meant to her, do it. You will see her through different eyes.

Cindy

“I think I became a mom because everyone said it should happen. You get married and you have kids and you know… I think I got pregnant not because I was truly ready or because I wanted to, but more because everyone was expecting it. I was so young… and then after having you it was like suddenly I had to care for this other person, but I didn’t feel like I had ever cared for myself.

Sometimes in hindsight I wish I had been older, that I had been more mature. I wish that I had found myself before I was responsible for another human being, because I think it would have been different. I was growing up the same time you were growing up, which changes motherhood. And because I was working full-time and single-parenting, it all went too fast. I think there were good times, but I don’t always remember them…

My earliest memories of motherhood are of being scared. I had terrible postpartum depression. It was just frightening. It magnified my fears, so I was literally afraid of the dark. Dark windows would scare me – thinking that somebody was out there and I wasn’t safe, that I couldn’t protect you.

I think I felt a connection to you… I look at some of the pictures and I think I felt a connection, but it was a lot. To be so young, it was a lot. Nobody tells you about postpartum depression. Nobody talks to you about the struggles with breastfeeding. Nobody mentions what it will feel like when your 13-year-old says they hate you. Nobody tells you what it will feel like when you drop your child off at college and you come home to an empty nest. None of it. My experience with postpartum depression was the first time I remember feeling inadequate. I think that’s what I felt most of motherhood: filled with guilt, and that I wasn’t enough.”

Saralyn

When I was a teenager, I remember you saying to me – usually in the middle of an argument – “Someday when you’re a mom you will understand.”

I hated when you said that.

I would retreat to my room, fuming, frustrated and indignant. It seemed like such a low blow. Unable to convince me that I was wrong, you pulled the “someday-you’ll-know-that-I-was-always-right” card. In the storied match between mother and teenage daughter, this is the trump card: the one argument that has no rebuttal.

Today I have two feisty daughters of my own, and though they aren’t yet teenagers, I already get it: now that I’m a mother, I understand. I understand all of it- the rules, the fear, the guilt, the worry, the pride, the love… that deep, fiery love that turns any woman into a mama bear upon the smallest threat to her child’s safety. It’s a love that will not back down; especially, I imagine, when it comes up against boastful teenage arrogance.

Yes, now I understand. I understand that motherhood takes so much out of you. That it makes you question everything you’ve known to be true, that it challenges you in unimaginable ways, that it can bring the most confident women to their knees. I understand now that our children are souls sent to teach us something about ourselves, delivered to us in tiny, helpless bodies – the insurance that we will make good on the contract we inked with the stars.

I understand that motherhood makes even the most revered woman feel inadequate, several times a day. And I understand that, for you, looking back on motherhood is like wading through a sea of “if onlys” and “did I do enough?” I understand your sadness; that for you, reflecting on motherhood is coming face to face with dreams unrealized and youth gone too soon.

When we sat down at the dining room table and I asked you about what it was like for you, as a mom, I felt something I’ve never felt before. I connected with your story, not as your daughter, but as a mother. From woman to woman, both of us learning to embrace who we are at this point in our respective journeys. The lens of motherhood has the power to magnify the questions we all face as we walk this earth: Why am I here? What is my mark? What legacy will I leave?

After the last sips of wine were gone and our conversation was finished, I could think of only one thing I hadn’t said.

You were enough.

I know, as a young, single, working mom climbing the corporate ladder, you were stretched thin. You were tired. You were obligated. You were sometimes distracted. But you were enough.

I know the days must have gone so fast. You commuted an hour each way to the job that put food on our table, and paid for my dance classes and every yearbook since first grade. You built me a village of aunts and uncles and teachers and neighbors to care for me while you worked, people that I still cherish to this day. You somehow made it to every classroom party, you signed up to be Room Mother and Stage Mom and Chaperone, and never once did I feel like I didn’t have enough.

You may not remember the good times, but I do. I remember singing You Are My Sunshine and sitting on the counter eating raw cookie dough. I remember Sunday nights watching America’s Funniest Home Videos and painting our toenails. I remember taking your step aerobics class, watching the joy on your face as you chatted up your students. I remember watching you in Community Chorus rehearsals, in the blue auditorium chairs, waiting for the day that I could join you onstage. I remember Sunday ice cream, days on the lake and trips to the beach. I remember you telling me to always take the back roads, whenever I could. I remember you cursing at my dance costumes, stapling them when you couldn’t sew the sequined beasts, and learning to French braid hair even though you’d rather be lacing up cleats. I remember you always proving how badass you were: catching sharks, learning how to bow-hunt (much to my disgust), and losing so much weight that you were a SHAPE magazine success story.

You were my champion. You never hesitated to defend me – adamantly – to teachers, doctors or even family members.You were just as adamant when demanding I work my hardest, express my thanks, and fulfill my responsibilities. I may have rolled my eyes and slammed a few doors, but you gave me the opportunity to develop character and authentic pride.

And yet, perhaps the most profound gift you’ve given me is the one you never gave yourself. You gave me courage to live my truth. You made it clear that there was nothing I could do or say that would dampen your love for me. You’ve believed in my wildest dreams, and in my darkest hours you’ve reminded me that there are many paths to any goal. You told me I was capable of anything, but what’s more, you made me believe it. You made me believe that I was more than enough. And this Mother’s Day, I want the same for you.

You, Mom, are more than enough.

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