Tugging at the Heartstrings (A Mother’s Day Post)
May 5, 2016 § 1 Comment
“Mommy, I wish this day would last forever,” my daughter said into my eyes last Saturday, in our third hour of watching street performers under a brilliant blue sky in Washington Square Park. It was our annual trip to New York City, something I’m lucky enough to do every fall with my son and every spring with my daughter. We had just spent an action-filled few days looking at art, making art, dining in style and dining at street vendors—but there was something about these unstructured hours in the park, the sun finally making itself felt, where I watched my daughter become totally and completely entranced by her surroundings.
There was a woman with hot pink hair on one side of her; a woman with a brilliant purple head wrap on the other. Emily sat on the rounded edge of a fountain that wasn’t in use, watching shirtless men in baggy blue sweatpants flip backwards and spin on their heads where the water would normally flow. In the distance, she could still keep her eyes on the creepy but fascinating human sculpture—a bald man (woman?) adorned in chalky gold body paint, who stood frozen atop a slim pedestal, waiting for someone to drop a dollar into his bucket, at which point he would slowly come out of the pose and strike another.
I was thoroughly enjoying myself as well, but the moment might not have stayed with me if Emily hadn’t called it out, and I was grateful that she did. It has been a tough few months for me. I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury, and the near constant physical pain of my body has meant that all too often my children’s voices have reverberated like nails on a chalkboard in my ears. It took a few days in a different environment (and a welcome shot of cortisone) to bring me back to myself and to remind me that motherhood brings with it the greatest joys, both big and small.
Maybe it’s because Emily is my second child—and will be my last—that I am continually fixated on her age. This is my favorite age, I think. I long to hold onto the age before me with desperate fervor. And then, without fail, the next age comes along and it’s even better. I may mourn her soft baby curls, or the bullish way she once used her stubby legs to propel her scooter down the sidewalk, but these memories have given way to a myriad of others that are equally poignant. I only hope I will continue to feel this way.
Still, right now, Emily is five and a half and, THIS, I’m convinced, really IS the best age. It was her fourth time in New York, but it was as if she was seeing the buildings and the subways and the people with fresh eyes—through the lens of this sweet spot of five and a half, where innocence meets knowledge, where outside stimulation is eagerly embraced and picked apart and digested right there on the face and in the eyes and in the voice for the whole world to see.
But especially for me to see. Because “I wish this day would last forever” wasn’t just about the sun and the sights; it was also about the bond we had nurtured so beautifully over the past few days. It was that push-pull dance that our children do with us, that not mutually exclusive desire for independence and closeness.
A few years ago, on these very pages, I swore to you my disdain for overt, sentimentalized, pastel displays of maternal love, books that feel like they are cooked up by publishers to prey on the hormones and generally unbalanced states of us mothers. Well, this is where I eat my words. Because I need you to make an exception for a new picture book, titled You Made Me a Mother (Ages 1-6), written by Laurenne Sala and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser (many of you will know her as the illustrator of the bestselling Fancy Nancy series). I need you to give this book to yourself and then to every mother of young children that you know. And then I need you to get your box of tissues ready. And, if you don’t believe me, you can watch this video, which was scripted by Sala for an ad campaign before she put down a version of it on paper—and before Glasser got involved and turned it into something lovely to share with young children.
My kids love hearing stories about themselves as babies. About where they were born, whether they cried, how long I held them and gazed into their eyes after they took their first breath. “Did you always know you would love me?” is a favorite question of my daughter. You Made Me a Mother facilitates these precious conversations. It also reminds us—as we sometimes need to hear—why we do what we do.
An homage to motherhood, the book reads as a mother’s monologue to her young child. It opens with a memory of the mother’s changing belly—“I felt you. You were a pea. Then a lemon. Then an eggplant.”—and goes on to mention some of the ways that the mother prepared for baby’s arrival, like eating spinach and reading books. “Can you tell I was nervous?” the mother asks. (“Yes!” my own daughter always responds at this part, basking in the revelation that grown-ups have vulnerabilities, too.)
And then there’s the baby’s birth—“Love. Big fat love.”—followed by sweet depictions of cuddling and rocking and, as the baby becomes a toddler, splashing and spinning.
No homage to motherhood would feel genuine without mention of the bumps in the road. Nervousness continues to surface: the mom is pictured hovering over an upset child, who might be sick (my children’s guess) or might be tantrumming (my guess). We also register exasperation on the mother’s face, when another time the child wanders (I’m guessing not for the first time) into her room in the middle of the night. (Personally, I think a bit of time could have been devoted to the drudgery of dishes and laundry that also accompanies the territory of parenthood.)
But then, a new day dawns, the sun comes up, mother and child are at the park, and:
…you smile. And you say my name. You grab my hand with those little fingers. And I remember that everything is magic.
PLEASE, Universe, don’t let my daughter ever stop holding my hand! Don’t let her deliciously soft skin develop even the tiniest roughness! Don’t let the light stop dancing in her eyes! Because these are the Band-aids that every mommy needs on her worn out body.
I’ve heard it said that having a child is like watching your heart run around outside your body. I might like this variation even better:
If I could, I would open my heart, and love would rain down all over you. And you would giggle. And I’d do it all over again.
Despite our hearts swelling to bursting inside our bodies, we all know that we cannot stave off the day—even if they can’t fathom it now—when our little ones won’t be so little anymore, when they will detach from our hands and seize the world with their own. When they won’t share every discovery, mourn every disappointment, with us. And we would walk, hand in hand. Until you let go.
I already see it in my eight and a half year old. The way he runs into school with scarcely a glance behind him. The way the other day, in response to my telling him that I loved him, he responded, “OK,” and glanced longingly at his friends. And yet, admittedly, this makes the moments when he does expose his vulnerability—when he seeks me out with his eyes or pours forth his emotions onto his dinner plate—even more special. Getting glimpses of the man he will someday become—and to think that I was there in the very beginning—is nothing short of astounding.
So maybe motherhood does get better with every age. Even when they let go. And maybe, by then, we’re better, too.
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Review copy provided by Harper Collins. All opinions are my own. Amazon.com affiliate links are provided mainly for ease and reference–although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!