Donning My Mom Genes


I’m convinced I was born without the “mom gene.” My hypothesis is confirmed repeatedly whenever I am engaged in activities with my kids. For starters, I’ve never been one of those moms who comes prepared with Mary Poppins’ purse filled with everything but the kitchen sink. Instead, I’m the mom who shows up at a sporting event forgetting to bring sunscreen, snacks or drinks. Yep, you know who I am. I’m the one who lets my kids leave the house in the spring or fall without a sweatshirt and you see them shivering in the fetal position under my jacket as they sit on the sidelines or are at a gathering with friends. I’m also the mom whose eyes start rolling towards the back of her head when around other moms as they talk about recipes and sure-fire remedies for sore throats, poison ivy or engage in the popular topic of identifying lice. My brain cannot process information and I quickly fade away, taking cover in a safe mental space where children do not exist.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids tremendously and could not possibly be more grateful that I was blessed with my two boys. However, I have had to learn to accept that I did all this while suffering from a significant deficiency. Without question, I am typically an epic failure when it comes to the hard-core mom stuff. Sure, I can clip nails (although one of my early attempts landed my then 5-month old firstborn in the ER for stitches), clean wax out of the ears and dispense medicine. I have a first aid kit to tend to minor scrapes and cuts and can navigate my way around Neosporin. But, that’s all folks. That’s the end of the road. I don’t cook meals, I loathe the field trips and I am doomed if left to create a costume. Halloween gives me hives.

Over the years, after packing for more than my share of guilt trips, I have come to accept my lack of mad mom skills and have tried to stop beating myself up. Every trip to the playground used to leave me penitent when the other moms would pull ziplock bags out of their designer diaper bags filled with pretzels or goldfish crackers. I’ve now moved beyond the shame of each and every time I needed to borrow a wipe or a bandaid when one of my children skinned a knee or had ice cream dripping down their face, shirt, hands and legs. It was a quickly learned lesson that I would just never be that person. I’m not that mom. And, frankly, I am in awe of those women who can pull a stick of gum, a tissue, a tweezer or an assortment of other devices out of their bag and turn themselves into MacGyver. I just watch in wonder.

Of course, this does leave me with just a wee bit of insecurity. I can’t help but wonder if I’m not that mom, then what kind of mom am I? Am I just the one who spends all her time working and has missed out on all the milestones and accomplishments? How many more times will I rely upon Facebook to see photos of concerts, field trips or games? I’ve battled these questions for the past 14 years and cringe every time I hear another parent say when they meet me for the first time: “Oh, you’re _____’s mom!!  I wondered if he had one…” Really?

When my children were born, I didn’t really give much thought to what kind of mother I would be. The excitement of my first born’s arrival was surely coupled with typical first-parent worries but I simply assumed I would figure it out. I wasn’t the expectant mom with a birth plan (just get him out as painlessly as possible was my mantra) and I never wrote a manifesto for myself outlining the type of parent – or more specifically, the type of mom – I wanted to be. My main objective was always very clear – to love my kids and send them out into the world feeling confident and secure. If I was being truly honest with myself, I couldn’t guarantee that I had much more than that to offer. I had no real mommy role models because my own mother was deficient in her own ways and all the other moms I knew were glorified from afar and I didn’t get to see the true inner workings of how they pulled off what they did. I was never even sure that all those moms who were ever-present and running the PTA were, in fact, the best moms. The true test, of course, was how their kids turned out in the end and how the kids felt about their moms when all was said and done. Ultimately, while I hated when my own mother said this, I now know she was spot on  – you do the best that you can.

I joke about my obvious shortcomings with friends and they kindly remind me of all the good things I do for my kids. I talk with more seasoned moms who have seen the fruits of their labors with grown children and they reassure me that my children will be ok. And, there is no doubt for me that I am an incredibly loving and supportive parent and play a critical role in my sons’ lives. I just don’t fit the traditional Carol Brady or Harriet Nelson or whomever the most current ideal mom role model is. I don’t fit into any of those archetypes. Someone recently made a comment to me that my children follow the course I set for them and I thought long and hard about that because it seems unreal to me that I have set any course. Every morning I wake up and feel like I am winging in. I have no idea where the day will take me when it comes to my kids and I hope and I pray that I will have the right answers and the wisdom to guide them as they blaze their own trails. I have never dictated (nor has my husband) their journeys and have only encouraged the interests they have demonstrated a passion for. We set ground rules for behavior and have laid out our expectations as it relates to respect, hard work and honesty but, beyond that, the road has always been theirs to explore. I have loved my children with every ounce of my being and remind them frequently how much they are loved and supported. And I also remind them that if the requisite ingredients are not in the house, I might not be able to procure cookies, cupcakes or a last-minute cake. I simply don’t have those skills. I have taught them about responsibility and how to respect women. My very existence is evidence of what is possible for women who seek fulfillment both professionally and personally.

My sons are now a teenager and a tween and neither of them think those mad MacGyver skills are all that necessary any longer. My ability to drive and withdraw cash from my bank account ensure my superhero status in their lives. After all, my younger son proclaimed that MOM stands for Made Of Money. For me, however, I am still working on my cloak of invisibility during those recipe swap, illness remedy and homework discussions. I long for a day when I can feel equally proud of missing those games (because of what amazing things I might be doing when I am not there) as I feel when I manage to whip up a batch of brownies without having to make three trips to the grocery store. A girl can dream…

Becoming a Mother

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“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.”
― Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm

It’s been nearly 15 years since my first child burst from my loins. I believed, at that moment, at 6:48am on October 25, 2000, I was officially a mother. I had passed through the hallowed hallways into the secret passageway, through the magical door. I knew the password, had the special knock memorized and was allowed entry into this strange and foreign place. Foolishly, I believed, that 9 months of pregnancy, gallons of water retention, stretch marks, hemorrhoids, 15 hours of labor and an emergency c-section were the rites of passage required to officially the don the label of MOTHER.

I was young. I was drugged. I was naive. I was foolish. When they handed my first born child to me (after I awoke from my sedated state that mercifully was provided after not quite enough epidural and far too much pain during that sudden cesarean), I was madly in love. Never before had I experienced such pure and endless love. I had heard that some women instantly fall in love with their babies and I feared for months that I would be one of the mothers who stared into their child’s eyes but would not be able to summon that magical adoration. Thankfully, I fell into my baby’s trance and I was consumed with emotion, sobbing when they presented to him in the delivery room (probably a combination of delirium and exhaustion, at that point) and then stared endlessly at him once we were transported to our private sanctuary in the maternity ward. I didn’t want to put him down or let him go. My eyes were fixed on his tiny body, studying every element of his being and trying to connect his pieces to my own. I studied his face looking for my DNA, making sure that, in fact, this precious gem was actually mine to keep. It seemed almost too good to be true. How could I have been so fortunate to have been given this incredible gift? What had I done so right to be granted this state of euphoria that chemically could never be replicated? The world around us stopped and, for the 3 1/2 days that we were nestled away in my hospital bed, working through our introductions and getting all the formalities out of the way (he refused to breast feed; I had no idea how to handle that mutilated little penis; I feared I would break him by pulling his legs up too hard when I changed his diapers) it was all about us and falling in love. It was our own special honeymoon where we were waited on hand and foot and, occasionally, I would allow others to breathe in the special tonic that was created uniquely for me.

I went through the whole process again three years later and, while there was a little less drama in the delivery, the outcome was just the same. The second boy was a bit more accommodating and latched on immediately. He had me wrapped around his tiny, chubby little finger from his first howl. Unlike his older sibling, he acquiesced, nuzzling me and seemingly attempting to climb back into the womb until he was about 8 or 9 years old. He could not get close enough to his mama. Through all of this, despite how much I adored my boys and regardless of my commitment to love and support them through the days of their lives, I became increasingly aware that motherhood is not a one-step process. There is not a doorway that you pass through and, upon entry, you earn your stripes. Motherhood is a long, harrowing process that requires continued focus, passion and effort in order to achieve any level of mastery. You will be required to take tests, be re-certified (on a fairly regular basis) and, just when you think you have cracked the code, you will be reminded that you have not even scratched the surface of what you need to learn.

I never really wanted to be a mother. It was not on my bucket list of endeavors. Frankly, I never thought much about it one way or the other. I was far more focused on the elements of my life that I could grasp – education, career, maybe love. If it was not in my line of sight, it was really not on my mind. But then, after several years of marriage, that proverbial biological clock started to tick so loudly that it was deafening. Suddenly, everywhere I turned, my friends were having babies.  And I would hold these babies and feel this warmth wash over me and I was left feeling empty when I had to return these bundles of joy to their respective mothers. I started finding myself envious of my exhausted and disheveled friends while I sat put-together and carefree. I was no longer interested in my easy life of going to work, going out to dinner, hopping in the car for a weekend getaway or vacations that required a few pairs of underwear (or maybe none at all!). There was no longer a question or debate about whether or not I wanted to have children. Now the conversation turned to when we would start a family. I feared, rightfully so, that I would have trouble conceiving and, I suppose, I might have been avoiding the hard truth by not seriously beginning my effort to become pregnant. Alas, after lots of intervention and a medical device resembling a turkey baster, baby number one arrived – despite the doctor’s admonitions that I should not get my hopes up for a pregnancy the first time around. Ha! He had no idea what an overachiever I am! Pregnancy number two was easy and came way faster than we had expected and ended far more horribly than we could have imagined. 5 weeks along, something was very wrong. My doctors assumed it was a miscarriage but I was certain it was worse. The pain was intolerable. Two emergency room visits later and I was in emergency surgery to deal with a ruptured fallopian tube that left me with just one that was blocked by scar tissue from the cesarean. I left the hospital a day later bewildered and depressed. No second baby and even more infertility. It was time to take this effort to the next level and so began the injections and every other day visits to the fertility clinic. We had thirteen fertilized embryos and two of them were gingerly placed into my uterus, in hopes that one (just one, please) would be welcomed into our world 9 months later. Laser focused on my goal, I was fortunate enough to see one little heartbeat 8 weeks later. Before we got the news that we had successfully conceived our second child, we had to make the decision whether or not we wanted to freeze the 11 remaining embryos as an insurance policy (or for our future family expansion). We were pretty confident that we were set with the two kids and, frankly, we were out of money. We had spent a fortune on the drugs and treatments and simply couldn’t bear another cent – and the cryogenics were not cheap. We rolled the dice and were blessed with our little test tube boy.

This morning, I sat with my husband and my two boys – who are now a long way from those pink 8 lb. bundles that I swaddled so tenderly so many years ago – and thought about the gift that I was given in the form of both of my children. They are each so different from the other and, yet, they are a perfect combination of my husband and me. Their wit and their determination are decidedly mine (although my husband will say the humor is all him). They are boys that I am proud of and, when I think about why I wanted to have children, it is for moments like today when I can look at their now adolescent faces and feel the sheer amazement that these people are a pure part of me. I work hard to be a good mother to my children and make every effort to create an environment for them to feel loved and secure. And, I set boundaries that are difficult and continue to grow as I make one mistake after another. I don’t compare myself to other mothers because that is a foolish endeavor. We are all different but we share one commonality. We all have that secret handshake knowing that we love our children more than ourselves. We would die for them. Regardless of how old they are or how difficult they might be, whether their skin is covered in acne or their hair has started to grey, we still see those tiny faces, all pink and chubby, and we remember that they are a part of us. And even for those whose children came to them from other mothers, that moment when your child becomes yours or calls you “mommy” or holds your hand or hugs you tight, you are whisked away to the island of motherhood. It is the hardest job we will ever have – one where there is no proper training to provide you with the skills you will need – and it is the most rewarding and gratifying experience you will ever have. No matter how difficult my life gets, no matter how many bumps I need to endure, my children always ground me and help me find reality. For, because of them, I am in a constant state of growth and evolution and will continue to strive to be a better person. I am a mother and, therefore, I am blessed.

IMG_0075tom and matt sleeping at hotel