Friday, April 1, 2011

In Her Element.

I remember being in high school and thinking my mom was tragically out of touch. I couldn't imagine how we would ever be more than mother and daughter with a contentious relationship. I didn't know how to talk to her, and she to me. I'm sure we were like most other mother and daughter pairs in our battles of wills and fights over my friends and what I wanted to do with my free time. But it was EPIC, the divide between us then.

When Luca was born, so was her Grandma. I always knew she'd be good to my kids, but I had no idea just how much I'd need her. She was a great Grandma and support to us from the start, but there was one particular night that was a turning point.

Luca was almost 6 weeks old, and I was staring down the calendar begging it not to turn to Monday. I had only 6 weeks of maternity leave, and I was sick over the idea of leaving my baby. I was madly in love and maybe a little overly emotional, and that was compounded by the enormous struggles we had to do the one thing I had told myself was essential to Being A Good Mother: breastfeeding. I'd heard stories of my mom nursing all 4 of her kids for anywhere from 9 months (her eldest) to 15 months (her youngest - me), and I'd expected that the same would happen for me. Take postpartum hormones, expectations that weren't being realized quite so easily, and the impending doom of returning to work and mix them all together, and you had me: one hot mess.

So when she called me one night a few short days before my return to work, I collapsed into a sobbing mess on the phone. I couldn't pull myself together enough to explain all the horrible thoughts I had about myself that were floating through my head and threatening to capsize me. She knew what I needed: her. And so she came over, and in a darkened room while my baby slept nearby in her glider, we sat on the couch and I cried. Big, hot, fat tears of hurt and exhaustion and frustration and pure, deep sadness. She asked if I was depressed, but I didn't FEEL depressed. I felt worthless. I felt like less than a Mom, and then I felt hopeless because I didn't know how we'd go on with any semblence of a breastfeeding relationship once I was back at work 5 days a week.

She told me that night what I needed to hear: That I was doing my best. That it was hard, SO hard, and that was ok and normal. That I wasn't failing my daughter. That I needed to let myself off the hook. That it was admirable to go on fighting to breastfeed my baby but if I decided to stop it would be ok. That she, the woman I thought to be some sort of breastfeeding guru in her baby-rearing days, had struggled as well.

That changed everything. Literally. Everything.

It didn't make the problems Luca and I faced disappear. It didn't make me decide to throw in the towel. It didn't make my milk supply copious and my baby able to latch and effectively nurse in 10 minutes so I could get some decent sleep. No, in fact, we struggled with one aspect or another of breastfeeding our entire (almost 12 month long) nursing relationship. But what my mom did for me that night I will never, ever forget: she gave me permission to not be perfect while assuring me I was everything my daughter needed. She had faith in me and love for my daughter, and she gave me the gift of unconditional support.

My mom could fairly be described as opinionated, outspoken, and even sometimes a bit overbearing. I think she'd agree, in fact, that these adjectives describe her at various points in her life. But when I needed it most she was this: supportive, nonjudgmental, and trusting. Her trust of me and the way my husband and I had decided to raise our kids made all the difference in the world. She restored my faith in myself as a mom, and assured me that she not only knew I would do a bang-up job being a mother, but also that my husband was an amazing dad. She sat back and withheld advice she most likely wanted to give (after all, not only did she mother 4 kids, she also is an RN who has worked with kids for years). She listened without judgment and didn't correct our parenting. She deferred to us and listened to us and respected us.

Darrick and I sat her down once and thanked her for being the mom and grandma she has been. But I wish I could sit her down every day and remind her how much it has meant to have her support and love and help for the nearly 4 years we've been parents.


The summer after Rohan was born, my mom retired from her job as school nurse. She toyed with finding another job for a few years so she could max out her state retirement and not have to worry about money anymore. But then she spent a summer helping us out with the kids. And while she'd always been in love with Luca, I watched her fall deeply in love with her first Grandson. I saw her beam when he reached out for her. I saw his golden smile when she held him loveingly. I heard him try to say 'Grandma' shortly after he had mastered other first words like 'Mama', 'Dada', 'dog', and 'up'. And I've watched my kids trust and love her implicitly.

She gave up the job search and started to watch Rohan twice a week. She called us one Friday and told us she was kicking us out of the house so she could spend time with her grandkids. She heard me complain about how quickly Rohan was outgrowing all his clothes and sent him home one day with 2 bags full of new threads, knowing at the time we couldn't afford to buy him that much new stuff. She still rocks my son to sleep (at the age of 2, 3 feet tall, and 33 pounds) every time he needs a nap at her house just because she can. She swims 4 days a week and has lost weight and feels younger than she did 2 years ago. She is in her element, and I couldn't be happier for her. I couldn't be more proud.


My work, and my heart, is in social justice. My mom has always supported my work, and in the 6 years I've worked in non-profit we've developed a bond over these issues. This mom who I always saw as strict and uncool and so conservative is really a liberal at heart. Our relationship has gained so much breadth and depth now that I am an adult. And so, it meant the world to me when she asked to join me this week at a rally at our state's Capitol. I have been involved with the group hosting the rally since I interned with them while getting my Masters degree, but this was the first rally of theirs I've attended. It happened to fall on the morning Rohan had his 2 year appointment, so I took the morning off work and planned to bring him with me (because of the political nature of the rally I couldn't be 'on the clock' while attending). A few days before, my mom sheepishly asked if she could come along.

And come along she did. There was my mom, mixed in among advocates and lobbyists, among people I worked with and people I consider friends. Holding a sign. Holding my son's hand. Doing something that matters to her and to me, and that matters for my daughter and son. Doing it because she means it, but also because of what it means to me.

It was awesome to share that with her. To come full circle and listen to my mom chant "No more cuts!" and "Yes we can!" with a crowd of several hundred people, waving her sign in the air and handing Rohan little snacks at the same time. It made me so proud. I can only hope that the pride I felt in my mom is what she feels for me.

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