Bah Humbug Mother’s Day

Yup, that time of the year to avoid social media, retail, and brunch hotspots. Sticking to my version of GTL–yoga, groceries and laundry.

Yoga was a room full of the usual suspects, single folks.

Supermarket was luxuriously empty. The cash registrar rang me up.

“Do you want the receipt?”

“Yes, in the bag, please.”

“Here you go. Happy Mother’s Day, to you and yours.”

Sigh!

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The sweetest thing I’ll never know

They were playing Lauryn Hill’s “The Sweetest Thing” at brunch today.

The sweetest thing I’ve ever known

Was like the kiss on the collar bone

As I recall, the song was inspired by her newborn son. He nuzzled his face as she held him–and it was a love song.

 

I was flipping through an old childhood album. Apparently, when I was five, I invited my mother to come to my house (in the future when I myself was a mother) to enjoy a meal instead of slaving away in the kitchen. For most of my life I assumed I’d be a mother. My friends and I would guess what our bodies would look like when we’d get pregnant–“You’d totally blow up,” “Emma’s gonna be those annoying cute compact preggo women”–I envisioned wearing a maxi dress while pregnant, feeling feminine and powerful (and I would magically have the compact pea pod belly, despite DNA). As for delivery, water birth was the only way to go. My parenting style would be firm but loving, and my children kind, creative, confident and grounded. And yes, my mother would visit often, and we would have a large sit-down meal once a week.

It’s not that I’m strongly attached to these thoughts. It’s more about the length of these assumptions. For 99% of my life, I thought I’d be a mother.

And here we are…let’s just say I confound expectations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality Check

There’s that moment–when everything in your life is rendered irrelevant faster than you can say “holy shit.”

It happened to me today in the form of a photo. A good friend visited my mother with her parents, husband and kids, and sent over the pics from the family friend gathering. There was my mother, the cool, understanding mom who said “go for it!” when I mentioned the crazy idea of becoming a documentary filmmaker, the original feminist of our family, the only mom I know who has not pulled a passive-aggressive stunt about her daughter not having kids–there she was with the widest ear to ear smile holding my friend’s nine-month-old. I cannot remember when she last smiled like that, or if she has ever.

I felt small. I felt guilty. I felt bad she lived alone. She could have been like my friend’s parents–two grandkids, daughter happily married to a good man. Like a normal person. I mean, what are the odds? My mother had three kids, and it’s yielded only one grandkid. The math doesn’t seem right. What’s wrong with this picture? Oh, me, right. Me. At least my younger sister gave her one, my older one is trying with her husband. Me, I’m not even trying to date, completely happy with being single. The Michelin chef’s special tasting menu dinner, the five-mile run along the river, afterwork drinks at the secret tequila bar, the power lunch with a journalist, the artwork I’m preparing for next week’s group show…is this a description of a rich, fulfilling lifestyle of a New York single gal, or the self-indulgent, shallow days of an ingrate of a daughter?

I’m sorry mom. I didn’t know you smiled like that. And my heart clenches because I don’t know if I can ever make you.

Uterine Dogmas (Why Mom and Not Teacher)

I was recently told by two separate people–quite emphatically–that I would make a great mother. (I don’t know what kind of mushrooms they were consuming.) For the sake of argument, let’s say I possess skills conducive to child development. Why did they suggest mother? Why didn’t they tell me to leave my corporate job and become a school teacher? Isn’t that a far more efficient use of my talent? If I became a mom, I’d be mother to maximum two kids in this country, three, if I believe in the local public school system, and maybe eight if I’m Mormon, but if I were a teacher, I could touch possibly hundreds of children’s lives. And if I worked with one hundred kids, chances are that the top quintile will go on to do something amazing with their lives. If I have two kids, chances are none, maybe one, will go on to do something amazing with their lives. If my long-lasting gift is to cultivate the minds of the next generation, why does it need to take the form of motherhood?

Last weekend I volunteered at a community center to work with a bright group of kids ages five through nine (Surprise! I like kids. And the feelings of liking kids but not wanting them can co-exist.) While I played dodgeball and made cards decorated with pipecleaners with kids with the widest smiles, I received a message from a married-with-child friend who complained her son had made zero progress despite his umpteenth ski lesson. This whole ski business was nothing the poor kid ever wanted, and now his mother was annoyed she was throwing away money. While I know there are intangible positive outcomes from the process of learning, like character development, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other kids would be better skiiers by now, or what other classes her son could have taken–and actually enjoyed.

The mismatch of resources and a child’s response got me thinking about the why-mom-and-not-teacher question again. Why insist on having your own? Is it the sense of complete ownership? (I created this person, from start to finish, and everything this young person represents is a part of me?) Or, is it that irrational biological connection that is impossible for me to relate to? But then, there are those who adopt if it doesn’t work out biologically, so what is that need about?

Does it boil down to property? Create wealth, keep it in the bloodline kind of thing? Didn’t Grandpa Hilton cut off Paris from his inheritance? What about all these billionaires taking pledges to donate it all away during their lifetimes? I’m inclined to believe that the bright, successful people have arrived at a conclusion similar to my observation–that money is more efficiently used by a bigger pool of non-family members who are smarter and more effective than mediocre kin.

But this talk of efficiency may be besides the point. Having kids has nothing to do with statistics, logic, productivity, and everything to do with irrational emotions–and that’s something I continue to truly struggle with understanding, because I seem to completely lack that human instinct to leave an imprint, DNA or otherwise. Who knew, that I, child of capitalist systems with plenty of consumerist tendencies, related most to the ideaologies of an Orwellian socialist state where babies are given up and raised by the country?

Who knew, that Joseph Stalin occupied my uterus?