Gustafson: The most deserved Hallmark holiday

Britta Gustafson
Then Again

The day you meet someone who knows the way your heart sounds from the inside, is truly a life-altering day. When a baby is born, a mother is born.

It’s hard to even begin to atone for all that she gave up for you, and to appreciate all she did for you, perhaps until you are doing it all for someone else. A mere Happy Mother’s Day card feels almost trivial, now that I understand what my own mother did for me.

My mother was, and has always been, a constant, as reliable as the sun rising. She was the cool hand on my forehand when I was sick, the hug that comforted my tears and heartbreaks, the calming voice on the other end of a stressed-out phone call, and always ready to hold me through bad news and cheer for me in times of triumph. I love to hear my mother tell stories of her childhood. I guess in her stories I hear my own, the place where my story began.

As a rebellious teen, I certainly put my mother through it: frustration, fear, undeserved disrespect, but she never gave up on me. She held on tight as I pulled away. She kept me closer than I wanted to be kept, and it turns out I really needed to be held that close.

And now, with a little karmic retribution, I am on the same path. My children are presently very little, and their demands are though at times unreasonable, still quite innocent. But I can now see clearly what it truly requires to take on this often uncelebrated but also indispensable role.

Now I see some of myself in all the mothers that I know; both those who raised us and are now passing the torch to this new generation of moms. And this new generation, of which I am now a part, are all still struggling with feminism and family balance. Our roles are not defined, and the standards are increasingly raised.

We search for ways to forgive ourselves everyday for all of the little mistakes we make; recognizing that, like our mothers before us, the intentions behind our efforts mean more then the mishaps and misgivings.

I’m not that mom who appears to parent effortlessly — I sometimes feel frazzled and exhausted. I haven’t slept through more than one night consecutively in over 5 years. I rarely shower with the door fully closed or have an uninterrupted phone call, and I’m constantly finding energy reserves I didn’t know I had.

However, it can feel, at times, as if motherhood is so affectionately romanticized in our culture, that I could be shunned for admitting that there are moments in the day when children drive you crazy, and you find yourself fantasizing about your former life before children. We all have those moments whether we admit to it or not.

In fact, I recently engaged in a friendly debate about whether or not having children truly equates to happiness. There were some studies I was discussing with a friend of mine who has decided that she has no plans to have children. According to a CNN Gallup Poll, the childless are more satisfied with their overall lives and are disproportionately happier than those who have children.

We decided that undoubtedly there are more highs and lows that accompany parenting; and some of the stages of childhood are certainly challenging, i.e. labor, having babies, young children, or teenagers, or perhaps and more likely all of the above. But for me, it boils down to all the little moments of bliss that seep into the daily struggles that make motherhood so rewarding.

Satisfaction? Fulfillment? Happiness? These words cannot come close to describing the universal experiences of motherhood. There truly is nothing I can say to capture what it means to me, and why I now understand my own mother more than ever before.

I’m certain that without children, my time would be mine. I could engage in hobbies and take off on adventures, or at the very least my house would be cleaner and I would be more rested. But that place, deep in my heart that I never knew existed before motherhood, would atrophy and I would not have known this kind of love.

Please don’t get me wrong: Parenting these days is for the most part a choice in our culture. I would not encourage everyone to have children just because they feel a social obligation to do so. Nor do I think it is selfish to not have children, though it maybe selfish to have them in order to fill a void, or to fit in. And it isn’t a biological connection that makes a mother; rather, it is the undying devotion.

And for my thrill-seeking, adventure-loving friend, I would like to point out that for me personally, entering motherhood was much like finding myself abandoned on a wild island. I am bushwhacking my way through uncharted lands — part martyr, part explorer and part pioneer. I find myself in this strange place where I sometimes feel heroic and other times defeated, sometimes accepted by the wild inhabitants and other times exiled from the life I once knew. And I’ve experienced both culture shock and euphoria on this great adventure.

But because motherhood takes shape when someone else becomes the center of your universe, you can’t control very much once you begin this journey. Your feelings, your future, all the goals and visions you once had give way to a virtual unknown. Like a dream, unpredictable, uncontrollable, and at times flashing by before your eyes.

I caught a glimpse of myself in my rear view mirror the other day and stopped to admire my own smile lines, knowing that I am earning those future wrinkles because I have so many more reasons to smile now than ever before.

Just like my own mother and all the mothers out there, I will hang on tight for years to come, and try to enjoy the ride. Although each day may seem so long, the years, oh how they fly by.


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