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.