Something strange and insidious happens when you become a mother. And no, I’m not talking about stretch marks, although those suckers are truly strange and insidious.
The moment a woman becomes a mom — as soon as that screaming, slippery, wonderful, miraculous baby is pushed from her loins — her world suddenly shrinks down to those things that involve her child.
When I was younger, before I had kids, if people asked me about myself, I would tell them all the fantastic things I enjoyed doing, or had done, like singing in clubs around New York City, or jumping out of airplanes from 14,000 feet, or going on national tours with off-Broadway shows.
Now, when people ask me about myself, I talk about my kids. Not that they aren’t worthy of conversation. They are amazing and gorgeous and great and terrific and funny and bright and — oops. See? I did it again.
But sometimes I wonder, what happened to me? The me before kids who parasailed in Florida and closed a club called Tattinger’s in Atlantic City at 7AM, and chased owls and assorted oddly colored bugs in Joshua Tree, and walked on the ruins of the Acropolis.
Not that being a mom is a bad thing. It’s great — except for those moments when you want to rip out all your hair or scream until your vocal chords bleed or drown yourself in a bathtub full of vodka. Motherhood is rewarding and the best job in the world and all of those other clichés you hear. And it’s only natural to talk about your kids and sing their praises to strangers in line at the market or telephone operators calling to sell you something. How can you not be defined by the little hobbit-people who have overtaken your life?
From the birth of our first child, our lives become about feeding and diapering and potty training and fevers and boo-boos, playdates and sports activities and Girl Scouts and crushes, laundry and tantrums and the challenge of avoiding sugar-highs at all costs.
Am I doing it right? we often ask ourselves. Am I completely screwing up my children? Will they need a lifetime of therapy because I forgot to make their lunches today? We measure our personal success by our mothering skills. Was Junior’s Elmo cake as good as his friend Johnny’s Cookie Monster cake? Did I buy the right size sneakers for Bethany? Am I making the proper nutritional choices? Should I cut down their tv/tablet/computer time? Did I miss the t-ball registration deadline? I did? I suck! I’ve damaged little Lucy forever!
This last year, I lost my own mom. She was my best friend and an amazing woman. And her loss made me rethink the definition of motherhood.
As I was writing a eulogy for her, which I later read at her memorial, I realized that the things I spoke of, the things for which I remembered her, had nothing to do with the endless lunches she made for me, nor the stacks of laundry she washed and folded and laid neatly upon my bed, nor the fact that she carted me around to every single activity I took part in. She did all of those things, and for that I am grateful.
But in looking back upon her life, I celebrated my mom for who she was: the avid world traveler, the woman who could reupholster anything, who sang like Julie Andrews, who flew in a fighter jet, who stood on the Great Wall of China, laughed with her entire body, loved martinis and dancing and seared fois gras, who did pull-ups on moving subway trains, and looked like a million bucks — always.
I celebrated her for the lessons she taught me and the emotional support she gave me and the strength and compassion she displayed and her joie de vivre, which were characteristics of who she was as a person, not just as a mother, but as the woman she was before the kids came along.
She was the best mom in the world because she was such a well-rounded individual. She never lost sight of herself. She nurtured her own interests, even while raising four (high maintenance) kids.
Which brings me to the greatest lesson I learned from my mom, which I will share with you:
We should never lose sight of the women we are, the me in all of us. We should keep growing within ourselves, nurture our own interests, strive to reach goals that have nothing to do with our kids. Because our kids won’t remember the times we were ten minutes late to pick-up or failed to wash their jerseys or helped them with their homework or made them chocolate chip pancakes.
They’ll remember the way we smiled and laughed and embraced life. They’ll talk about how their mother had the courage to jump out of a perfectly good airplane — three times. And maybe that will inspire them to have the courage to take risks and live their own lives with passion and enthusiasm.
And if my kids do that, then I will have succeeded in motherhood after all, just by being me.