In my late 20s and early 30s, I felt like an outcast when Mother’s Day rolled around. I’d married unfashionably young yet managed, despite pressure from dentists and cabbies alike, to remain childfree. My friends, on the other hand, seemed to have met, dated, married and reproduced in less time then I’d spent picking a college major.
True, a baby was the latest"must-have” accessory but, when faced with such an irrevocable decision, it seemed irresponsible not to dedicate at least a decade of study to the pros and cons of motherhood like I’d done. You’d never find me aimlessly wandering around Target whimpering,"No one told me having a baby would be like this.” Like Harry, in"When Harry Met Sally,” who always read the last page of a book first, I wanted to be prepared.
I had to be ready. There was just too much at stake. Becoming a mother meant losing things and not just seemingly superficial stuff like an urban zip code and the common sense not to take a toddler fine dining but vital things like brain cells."My brain has turned to mush” was the unfortunate cliché I’d heard from countless mothers. I had goals to achieve. My brain would be needed.
So would my identity. I’d finally developed one and couldn’t afford to let it go. I’d seen mothers so eager to exchange their kids’ height and weight stats, they’d never even bother to introduce themselves much less mention their own hopes and dreams. With everyone always calling them"mommy,” they probably didn’t even remember their names. Yup, they were disappearing. How else to explain the absence of their images from the holiday photos they sent?
What you gained with motherhood was equally troubling. Not just an eye-rolling adolescent but a truckload of responsibility. While growing up my mother not only became an attorney, she—in the course of a single day—went to work, helped with homework, sewed ballet costumes, volunteered for community organizations, counseled us, cooked a full dinner (with side dishes), made brownies for bake sales (of which she was notified at bedtime) and kept my dad’s life in order. Scary as it sounds, I never once saw her watching TV.
I once heard someone say that kids take mental and lasting Polaroids of their mom’s behavior. I did. Beleaguered mother hustling a relentlessly needy crew out the door in the morning, driving carpool, hair uncombed, make-up missing. Click. Harried mother rushing home from work, flying into the kitchen to prepare dinner, besieged by griping and demanding daughters, never shifting into neutral to remove her suit jacket, slip off her shoes or have a snack. Click. Distressed mother running tearfully away from a dinner table"discussion” gone bad. Click.
As children, my two sisters and I created endless"to do” lists for our mom. We cried and complained, whined and whimpered—and those were the post-college years. As I got older, I wondered if my mom had any fun. Would she have had a more high-powered job and time for a professional manicure if it weren’t for us? Was she resentful of the sacrifices she’d made, the burnt toast she’d eaten? If the answer to these questions was yes, I would be insane to follow in her footsteps. When I summoned up the courage to ask her, she said,"Don’t be silly. Things weren’t always easy but having kids is the part of my life I most cherish.” Was she telling the truth or trying to promote grandchildren?
Despite the images in my mind and unrelenting ambivalence and fear, I finally took the plunge and my husband Larry and I were lucky enough to have twin girls. Fortunately, all my looking before I leapt paid off. I was prepared when many of my fears did, in fact, come true. Like my mom, I’ve come home and made dinner without removing my coat. My nails are often raggedy and I’ve been known to burst into tears (and a tantrum or two) when my daughters won’t listen to me. Even worse, Larry sometimes calls me"mommy.”
What I didn’t realize was that the less-than-pleasant images were just one tiny snapshot of motherhood. There are many others. Snuggling daughter saying,"Mommy you’re the best part of my life.” Click. Daughter waking me up pre-dawn to announce,"Mommy, it’s time for love.” Click. Pink leotard clad daughters twirling around the house saying,"Mommy, when we grow up, we want to marry you.” Click. I still have plenty of worries about raising children—navel-baring, $250-jean-demanding, back-talking teenage girls are a particular dread—and I’m still concerned about fulfilling all of my goals.
But, as Mother’s Day rolls around this year, I’m happy to report that my brain cells, zip code and identity are intact. But one thing has changed. Unlike Harry, I don’t want to skip to the end of the story. For better or worse, prepared or not, I want to experience every last bit.
Hyla Sabesin Finn is a writer who lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, Larry, and twin daughters, Willow and Chloe. She is currently completing a memoir about her adventures in infertility.