Thursday, February 9, 2012

Essays on Motherhood {pt. 2 Other mothers}

The boys and I go to Costco a lot when we're home alone, for one main reason: their carts have seats for two babies, and I have two babies.
We were there recently, standing in line behind another woman and her two kids - a baby and a two or three year old- to check out.  Because the carts are so big, and the purchases are often huge (like a 50lb bag of flour or a 800 pack of canned tomatoes), the checkout is arranged so that you walk on one side of the cashier, and your cart goes behind him, where he can scan your large items, instead making you heft them up on to the belt.
The woman ahead of me pushed her cart (baby still in the seat) on to the other side of the counter.  She was less than two feet from her baby, and her daughters could both still see her, but after the cashier finished ringing the woman's items up, he stepped behind the cart and pushed it out to the end of the counter, where the mom could grab it again.
And the baby panicked.
The person pushing the cart was not her mother.
WHERE WAS HER MOTHER?! She was instantly hysterical. Screaming. Hyperventilating. Whipping her head back and forth as she searched for her mother, her sister, someone she recognized.
The mom stepped into her line of  vision. She scooped her up, and the girl wrapped her arms around her mother's neck so tightly! She just held her mother, whimpering, shaking a little.  The baby probably cried for less than 30 seconds.  It was just the surprise of seeing someone unexpected that frightened her.

The cashier chuckled warmly and said, "Who is this man? I need my mother." And smiled apologetically at the woman.  The three year old, wanting in on the whole business, reached out and grabbed a handful of her mother's shirt and pressed herself against her mom's side from inside the cart.
And they just stood there for a minute before moving on.

It was...
Completely normal, really.
Just a moment in the day.
Unmemorable, I suppose. How many times a day does a baby become frightened or cry out, and her mother comforts her? Dozens. Every day. This was no different than every other time that morning, probably.

And yet it struck me. I probably got teary-eyed (but you know me, everything in the world brings me to my knees sobbing). She was that baby's mother. The same way that I am Grey's mother. That baby was her baby. The same way that Micah is MY baby. They are mine. She was hers.

I don't know why, but even though my children are my body, my soul, my self - even though they are on my mind every single moment of the day and every decision that I make is based around them, every prayer is pleading and thanking for them... I forget. I forget that other women love their children as much as I do.
Part of me seemed to think that if I stepped over and picked that little girl up, she would cling to me. I could comfort her. She would calm herself. She would be happy.
I am the baby-comforter in our home, but not the world.

It's dangerous to forget that, and yet I do all the time. I see women with babies and for some reason I assume that they love that baby the same way that an aunt or affectionate nanny might. Sure, they love that baby, they may even love her more than any other baby, but she couldn't love her as much as I love my baby.
We have a special bond, my baby and I.  You can't even imagine.

And what's so bad about thinking that, you wonder? Well, it makes us judge.
I know, because I am on the giving and receiving end of motherly judgement almost every day.

I saw a baby at the store, younger than my boys - and he was eating a candy necklace. A CANDY NECKLACE. A. Candy. Necklace.
Being eaten by a baby.
You guys, I wanted to freak out on that mother. It was so irresponsible. It's so bad for him. It's kind of a dangerous thing to give a child (I mean, an elastic circle of string that you wrap around your neck and shove into your mouth?), and hasn't she heard about type two diabetes? I can understand giving it to a child, who might request such a thing, but a baby doesn't ask for candy.
It went on and on and on.
It turned into: I would be a way better mother for that baby, and I already have two kids to take care of.
And then into: She doesn't love her baby the way that I love my baby.

And then... I caught a mental breath, and I shoved it aside and I tried to freaking grow up. Not your business, Becky.

Sometimes I let Travis give our kids a spoonful of brownie batter, and haven't I heard of type two diabetes? And how about salmonella? And how about possible chocolate allergies?

And sometimes a woman at the doctor's office lectures me until I cry about how I should have breast fed longer, and about how the pain and exhaustion are worth it for my children's well being.
And haven't I heard of asthma? What's that? My baby has a cough? It's probably because I supplement with formula.

We've all been the woman at the grocery store, judging another mom for feeding her baby candy.
And we've all been the woman at the doctor's office, sobbing while a lactation specialist rails into you.

And it sucks.

Why do we do this? Why do we band against each other? The world spends so much time trying to make motherhood look foolish, unimportant, something to do when your career is no longer important, why can't we at least stick together?

Working moms. That's another one that I have to try really hard to not judge. Because I really, really don't think that there's anything wrong with women who want to work. Goodness knows, it must feel good to get some sort of recognition for everything you do, instead of just being exhausted and slightly sticky at the end of the day.
A paycheck. Colleagues. Maybe someone saying "good job," instead of "But you said that you had a really productive day, if that's the case, why is our house a mess, and dinner not started, and why are the babies crying?"
But it's something that I can't understand wanting, because all I want and all I've ever wanted, is to stay home with my kids. All. Day. Long.
So I just have to tell myself, "They love their kids just as much as I love mine. People can make different choices, without their choices being wrong. Breast feeding is not proof of loving your baby more, and neither is wanting to work. "

But no matter how many times I repeat this, I still forget. In response to a post I wrote a few months ago, I got an email from another mother of twins: "I am on the exact opposite end of the mother-options spectrum as you. I am 31 years old, I work full-time at a pretty intense career in New York City, and I have a college and a graduate degree. And to top it off, my nanny is exactly 22 years old, so, uh, yup, you and I have completely different lives, despite having twin boys almost the same age."

Even though we aren't members of the same religion, even though we're almost ten years apart in age, even though we live on opposite ends of the country and spend our days in completely different ways... she reads my blog, and feels a connection to it.  We emailed a bit, and I would like to think that we are friends.
Friends with almost nothing in common.
Except that we are mothers.

What better connection can there be between two women, than to understand how how her soul and heart react to that tiny little person that is her child?

And yet, for some reason - we take that knowledge and hurt each other with it.
We say things like, "I just want to help educate mothers about the dangers of cosleeping" and what we mean is, "I care more about my baby than you do, because I took precautions and let him sleep in his own bed and you put yours at risk."
We say, "I just want mothers to know what an important bond will be formed from properly cosleeping," and what we mean is, "I love my baby more than you because he's always with me and you put your baby in a cage in his room."

I know that some people actually want to help us learn about the benefits or dangers of cosleeping (or anything, cosleeping is just an example), but really... most of us that approach other women and start "teaching" don't do it with actual love in our hearts, but malice. Competition. Pride.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, stop being mean to other moms; stop thinking you know best; stop assuming that you understand her circumstances.
Because the only thing that you really understand is that she loves her baby, and she's doing everything that she can to be the best mother to him (probably).

Oh, and that admonition goes for me, too. I need to be better.
More essays on Motherhood coming soon, including perhaps a guest post on my lovely friend Melissa's blog.

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Unknown said...

Great post. After I became a mother, I finally got it. I used to think I knew the perfect way to be a parent, or that I would do x,y or z in a situation. We're all just trying to do the best we can.

Brittany said...

I love this.

Krystle said...

So much of this is stuff running through my head.
The competition some dumb mom made up...and how we have to feel validated.
Good stuff here!

Kristin said...

I love these, Becky. Seriously. My favorite part of your blog, hands down...well, my favorite posts without pictures. :) These are so good for me to read as I *try* to prepare for the adventure headed my way. One of my biggest fears is being judged by other mothers, because yeah I DON"T know what I'm doing! But I'm trying dang hard to make the best decisions for US, OUR FAMILY. I have to remember that my decisions are not the best for every family, they are what's right for us.

Samantha said...

Nice post.

I recently traveled with my 13 month old twins to Florida. The 3 hour flight from Toronto to Tampa was a disaster, they screamed the entire flight. So for the flight home I gave them lollipops. I hated giving them candy and I was worried other moms might be giving me the side eye, but I had to do it to keep them happy. You just never know what people are coping with and why they make the decisions they do. My kids never eat candy but on that day other moms may have wondered why my toddlers were sucking on lollipops!

Tammy said...

I liked this post a lot. Thanks.
I have no idea how you feel about co-sleeping but I am a co-sleeper and think we should never be scared into making certain decisions about our kids. I think often times people are scared into doing certain things by their doctors, families and friends even if it doesn't feel right to them. Co-sleeping always felt right to me. I always thought "I have just spent 38 weeks carrying this baby where ever I go and she has heard my heart and breath everyday of her life and now I expect her to sleep all alone and be ok with it and same goes for me". So I thought you might find this recent study interesting or maybe people who read you blog might as well.

Claire said...

These essays resonate with me so much. I'm preparing myself for the lactation specialist who lays into me somewhere in the future. She already tried once and I don't even have a baby yet. I stood my ground that time, but I worry about the future time.

These are all good reminders. So thanks. Essays on Motherhood are my new favorite.

comparatively said...

This is a FANTASTIC post. I want to show it to everyone I know.

Unknown said...

I loved every single word on this blog. I love the honesty, I love the brutality, I love the truth. And you had it all. We find out SATURDAY if we have a little one on the way and I hope I can change too. God knows I judge people now and it's terrible! I am not a mother and here I am JUDGING mothers!! What the heck is wrong with me? Like I said, this post put it into perspective. Wow. Nice work, Becky.

Look forward to a potential guest post someday!! : )

Sarah said...

Good essay. That lactation specialist needs a reality slap - I have triplets and BF didn't work. I tried and it didn't work. And you know what? My kids are fine. There are worse things in life.

I work and I hate being judged for it. As much as I would love to stay at home, the bills won't pay themselves. Strangers assume that I want to work - that's not always the case.

As for judging others - I admit that I had to bite my tongue when I saw a nana fill up a sippy cup with root beer and hand it over to a 18 month old.

Unknown said...

I laugh whenever I hear about those Nazi lactation consultants in Utah! I have friends and family in Pleasant Grove and they all got hounded when BFing didn't work out for them. Here in Tennessee nobody really cares what you're doing as long as your baby is healthy!! ;)

amber said...

I cannot believe a lactation nurse gave you grief for "only" lasting seven-eight months nursing TWINS. That is totally out of line. That is an amazing effort and sacrifice on your part and she should have congratulated you, not reprimanded you. I only lasted eight weeks bf-ing my twins and there is nothing wrong with them that wouldn't be wrong with them just for being part of this mortal experience. THey are smart, cute, funny and healthy. Anyway, I love this post (and the first essay too)! I constantly remind myself that nobody is just like me, with my want or needs, so nobody else needs to mother the same way I do. Most people are just trying to do what works best for them and their families. I have been harshly criticized by my in-laws for how differently I raise my kids compared to the way they do it. It is hurtful, to say the least. This essay is a wonderful message for all of us. Thanks so much.

Maria said...

Really enjoyed this post. I completely agree and hope to always become a little better at this. After reading this I thought about Facebook. If you ever ask a question or opinion about baby or mothering issues it is the fastest way to get a ton of comments. We all love to give our expert opinion :)