Monday, June 14, 2010

The Motherhood Learning Curve (3.19.08)

Mia says, “Mommy, I want to go to the library that’s the one next to the place that has the stickers with no pictures on them.”

I think for a minute. We’ve visited at least nine local libraries.

“Mia! Do you mean the library across the street from the park?”


Translation: When Mia said stickers with no pictures, she meant the circle stickers at the Paper Source on Central . . . . the specifics don't matter. What's exciting to me is that we just experienced a flash of our personal shorthand, or as I like to think of it, mother-daughter telepathy.

(When it happens, I always think of that moment in Broadcast News when Albert Brooks tells his close friend Holly Hunter over the phone, “Ok, I'll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time.” And she knows exactly what he means.)

My occasional mind-reading is a kind of mothering competency that snuck up on me. When Mia was born, the forearms I tried to wrap around her seemed too stiff and straight for the job - how do you hold a soft infant with these two sticks? The grandparents and their advice were hundreds of miles away; the doctor may as well have handed me a baby Martian. Now, five years of on-the-job training and a second daughter later, I'm still fumbling with how to be a good mom, but I've learned a little bit about how to be their good mom.

Now I know when my two girls are hungry, I should demand very little of them, get food in their bellies ASAP and NEVER leave them alone in the same room together. I know when I catch Mia in a lie, her shame can be so painful that she may collapse. I know to make the correction matter-of-factly, and let her save face. I know to put out the bowl of broccoli and carrots first. I know the power of distraction and the power of a hug. Today, when Nora stopped in the middle of a foosball game and looked at me, I knew instantly she had wet her pants.

My girls and I had lunch with two mom-friends and their kids the other day. I held my friend's nine-month old while she took her toddler to the bathroom. With a grabbing, curious little monkey in my arms, I was still able to eat my lunch and help my two girls with their noodles and drinks. And enjoy it all. When did this ease sneak up on me?

There's an old joke we used to tell in the teachers’ lounge:

New Teacher: Where did you get your good judgment?
Veteran Teacher: Lots of experience.
New Teacher: And where does your experience come from?
Veteran Teacher: A lot of bad judgment.

Of course I still have questions, doubts. I am happy that my children are not transparent to me - they need the private corners in their heads where they can go to be their own mysterious, wonderful selves. So nearly every day I find myself playing a game called Loving? Or Spoiling?

Round One. By request, I hold Nora's nose while she washes her hands after a big poop. Loving or indulging?

Round Two: While I'm reprimanding her, Mia pulls a Mary Catherine Gallager, flopping around and crashing into some conveniently nearby furniture. She bursts into tears and holds up the injured limb. My stern voice morphs into comforting murmurs. Indulgent? Or empathetic?

It's a doubting game I may never finish. So be it. Perhaps what I'm calling mothering competency is actually, simply, a form of intimacy. An imperfect and precious intimacy born of hours, days, years spent close together, learning my children as they learn the world.

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