Monday, June 14, 2010

Wish I Could Keep You Much Longer

One of my larger neuroses that I've carried with me like a hump on a dowager's back since I gave birth to Julia almost twenty years ago is that I am not really a "real mother."

Perhaps it has something to do with me working, part- and full-time, since before they all were born. Or maybe it's because real mothers don't fall dead asleep in their own beds hours before their 16-year old son returns home. They prop themselves up on the edge of the couch and wait, in fitful dozing. Or real mothers don't flinch when they hear Andrea Westley say that her favorite time of day is that 3.30 hour when the door slams and the children pour through to eat the freshly baked cookies. And a real mother certainly wouldn't say to her child, who, also having heard Andrea Westley say said statement, asks, "Why don't you do that for us, Mom?", "Well, make friends with Danny Westley and go home with him."

Whatever the reason, I have always felt a little deficient when it's come to mothering. I enjoy my kids; I actually enjoy being with them, talking to them, watching them. But, just this afternoon, during a third- and fourth-grade Little League game, Adam stood with the bat on his shoulder while the umpire called an inside ball his third strike. And, mother-of-the-year-me, shouts from the bleachers, where I am sitting with my sister, "That's why you just swing on the third strike." Never mind he's catching for the second time in his life and hit a two RBI double during his last at-bat and then stole home, and the pitch was so inside, it would have hit the edge of his cup, if he were wearing one.

Just before that, Laura had just confessed to me, as we talk about adjusting to the hours of summer that sometimes she thinks that just a little baby would be quite fun (She's just turned 41, and her youngest is 7). I think about that same prospect of "just a little baby" (while I shout at Adam), "Just take me out behind the shed and shoot me." (I'm 44 and my youngest will turn 11 in a few months, but every few months I panic because I think my IUD is about worn out and my eggs are obviously not).

So, there are times when I just think I'm not quite into it enough. I feel that other women feel so much more deeply about motherhood than I do. I'm sure they are overcome with paroxysms of joy and delight at the sheer contemplation of motherhood, in theory and in actuality. They dream of babies, theirs and others, and feel to fly to Haiti to adopt, legally or otherwise, all motherless children. I'm surrounded by professional mothers. Sometimes I feel like I'm the one who got hired for the night-shift at 7-11.

Nevertheless, there are four people who call me mother, and sometimes "Tessa" or "Tess-dog," if Christian is so inclined. My first and most fabulous recipient of my mothering faux pas (what is the plural of pas?), Julia Rose, moved out just before Mother's Day. Yes, it's only to an apartment three blocks away and she still comes grocery shopping at Julia's Mother's Pantry after her mother has gone grocery shopping at Costco. But, she is not here when I wake in the morning, and the molecules in the house don't vibrate as much without her presence.

However, I hadn't actually cried about her absence. I hadn't pined for her, gone off my food. Life went on. Sometimes, when I would drive up the driveway and her car wouldn't be there, I would think, "Oh, Jules isn't home yet." Then I would correct myself, almost like Goldilocks, and say, ". . . and she's not coming home." But no tears. No heart torn from my breast by her absence. I had wandered at my rather measured reaction to her departure. Was this, yet again, another small sign in a series of small signs, that I didn't have that pure, Vitamin D enriched, mother's love running through my veins?

The first Sunday after she moved out was Mother's Day. My first Mother's Day without her on the bench. Understand, she is my bookend, the warm body that sits to my left and does up the hook-and-eye that is invariably left undone as my dress is thrown on at 10. 45, 15 minutes before the opening hymn. She's the wet finger that wipes away the mascara flecks that come to rest on my cheekbones after having been applied in the parking lot at 10. 57. She's the other girl in the family, part of the female bulwark against which all the maleness comes to crash. Yes, she had called me earlier that morning from Texas where she was playing softball for her university to wish me "Happy Mother's Day." But, it was at that particular moment, halfway through the opening hymn, I noticed, in my marrow, she wasn't there next to me. For this first time, on this geranium day, Julia Rose wasn't next to me.

I started thinking about her, about the Julia that has filled our lives, that we have watched and wondered at for nineteen years. I thought about the things I did to her that I have never done to any of my other children, because I learned, through her, that they did not work and never would. The reading I forced her to do before she knew the words, the cries I told her to swallow so I wouldn't have to hear them, the soccer camp I signed her up for at which she made no friends and sat, alone for two hours each dinner time, waiting for the next sessions to begin. These are just a few of the more flagrant fouls I have committed.

I thought of all these things. Then I thought of the conversation that we had had just a few days before talking about her studies. She told me she wanted to major in Business, with an emphasis in Entrepreneurial Studies--just like her father. Then she said something which dazzled me: "Mom, I just really want to be a mom. I think that would be so much fun. I can't wait."

Can I admit that I looked at her with wonder? That I let go of the breath I seemed to have been holding since she entered the world, the deep breath that I took at the beginning of the venture and forgot to exhale. My worst efforts notwithstanding, this young woman, this first child of mine, actually wanted to be a mother. Now perhaps it was to provide her children with all the things I haven't, like baby books, and cute outfits (none of which will, she swears, involve overalls) and coordinated frames for school pictures, and make-up and hair-styling lessons, and mixers and Kitchen Aid appliances in cherry red that actually get used. Even so, that she wanted to mother, having experienced my mothering of her and her brothers, was the sweetest benediction.

So, I sat on the pew, thinking these things, marveling at the munificence of that child's heart. I thought of my efforts: fierce, flippant, short-tempered, wide-armed and tolerant, analytical, generous, sharp, always with some kind of distance, to allow them to almost-fall on their own first. And yet, despite all this, she was not scarred or scared. I felt my being fill with longing for her. I would not have kept her back. Yet I missed her, missed her, missed her. Was that really all we got with her? Just those short few years? We talk of fibers of being. That day I knew what that phrase meant. The longing welled up from I don't know where, but came swelling through my gut, breaking out through my shoulders, and, if I had looked with capable eyes, was flowing through every row to fill the chapel. A church filled with my mother-longing for my child whom I cannot keep with me any longer.

Title: from "Keep You Much Longer," by Akon.


  1. Funny--I have that "I'm not a real mother hump" too! If I was in your ward, I would probably make you feel like an inferior mom--I homeschool, I make homemade bread, I had my babies at home (on purpose). AND you would make me (in my secret heart of hearts) feel jealous, insecure, and like an inferior mom-- you support them in their sports (I always took a book to read during games, and I was incredibly relieved when they decided not to play anymore!)you travel with your kids, and,(probably thanks to Julia, but how would I ever know that?) when I sat on the bench behind you with 1 child who sleeps through Sacrament Meeting, one who draws puppies, and one who is pathologically unable to sit still or be quiet--you would look so calm and put together that I would envy you.

    I sometimes look around and wonder who let the people my age be in charge? Because I know for a fact that we are just pretending our way through! And then I realize that is what mortal life is.

  2. You would be sitting behind the bishop's family, all three boys of which are either playing on their iTouch, or reading Wizard Heir, or drawing pictures of themselves and their brothers doing various things like farting, belching and bending over mooning. And their mother, who actually walked into church last Sunday with her zipper halfway down the back of her dress, is trying to finish her Sunday School lesson with her hair dripping wet. Yes, so composed.

  3. Julia looks so beautiful in that picture. It's funny because I still think she's 10 years old and am shocked when I see that she's grown up! I loved reading this post. Gives me hope that I won't completely screw up my own three girls- especially my oldest. Thanks for writing this!

  4. I was the oldest (of 11!) and was the guinea pig for EVERYTHING! My mom apologized to me till the day she died for all of the things she experimented on me! I think it is both the curse and the blessing of being the oldest.

    About Julia going away--I am very casual about my children traveling. Last year my eldest went clear across the country to stay with my sister for 2 months.

    Her absence left a large, quiet hole, but it was fine that she was doing good things.

    The other day, one of the neighbors had a going away party for her children because they would be gone to their dad's house for 3 weeks. It made me wonder (neurotically) if there was something wrong with my "motherhood" that I was so casual about it. Upon examination, I don't thinks so--I am just really laid back about a lot of things. Hmmm.

  5. I forgot to mention that when my youngest can't sit still--she also has a LARGE black Service Dog laying on the floor under the pew (taking up all the leg room, so movement is loud and awkward).

    I keep trying to get my artist boy to draw something "Sunday Appropriate" when he is not sleeping. He informed me that the skull in the spiky helmet was Captain Moroni!

    I didn't know you were the Bishop's wife, too. Whew!

    I can't say anything about dripping wet hair--especially since my last haircut has turned me into a hat wearer! I hardly ever wear makeup to church anymore (or anywhere else, for that matter!) because it is ONE MORE THING, and I just can't do it.

    My personal paranoia's are frequent, illogical and the source of quite a bit of entertainment for my sisters! Aren't we silly things, we mortals? (ah, what fools these mortals be--at least this one!)

  6. rest assured- julia always told me you were, and i quote, "the best mom ever". i've always been envious to be a mom like you myself.

    so there.

  7. It's not so much about being the best mom ever, it's about living with the tension that in this very important endeavor, I haven't always been as could as I could have been. I haven't always had the purest motives, I haven't always wanted to play with my children, I haven't always been happy to see them, I haven't always waited up or been on time. And I haven't missed them much when they've been gone. They have to be gone for a long time--days--for me to actually notice the absence, in ways other than the house is cleaner or quieter. It's carving out the space for the mother in me amidst all the other things I am or want to be. And letting that space become as big as it needs to be.

    So, knowing this, and then getting to experience that surge of longing for Julia is reassuring.

  8. As good as I could have been . . . I meant.

    But then, how many of us actually are, all the time.

  9. You know, I had to re-read it 4 times to actually SEE "could as I could have been". I'm sure that means something, but I don't have a clue what! I am on the countdown to leaving for the West--a week from Tues. Idaho first, then Utah.

  10. wow, my son is coming home from being in Costa Rica for 2 years....I know how you feel. When he comes home he won't resemble the little boy who left. He has been a branch president, he has been rejected, spit at, chased and loved...and he did it without me. I miss him, but I miss the little boy more.