It is 6:30 a.m., and my son has been up since 3. Exhaustion that is so deep it threatens to pull me under with each blink has become commonplace. And I realize with a start that I haven’t slept more than three hours at a time since before he was born. It is amazing to me that I can love someone who has basically been torturing me since I met him.
Not that I mind.
I know how lucky I am. I look at my sweet boy, so brave and loving, and I know how many people would trade places with me in a heartbeat, sleep deprivation notwithstanding. He is my sunshine baby, and I am honored to be his mommy.
But in taking the mantle of mother, some darkness from my past has arisen. A deep, vicious jealousy that I thought I had put to rest years ago.
My own mother died right after I turned 25. She was a brilliant, kind, and loving woman who was the light of my life. She was my best friend. I adored her. But cancer is the kind of guy you just can’t bargain with, no matter how much you put on the table. And so she died, leaving us to grieve her with every Carly Simon song and glint of snow on the mountains. She died and I thought, at the time, that I had made peace with all the things I would never tell her, all the adventures we would never have.
And then I got pregnant.
And I realized I had been fooling myself. I am not over losing her. I wept every day of my pregnancy to know that she would never meet my baby, that I could never call her for help or advice. Her picture was the only thing I took with me to the hospital, and I kept my eye on her when the pain of bringing him into the world began to melt my brain and made me question everything I thought I knew.
And still, I thought I had it covered. The missing her, although raw and bleeding in my soul, was expected. I knew it well. That grief and I had danced many times over the years, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I spun myself out of it and left the floor, breathless and gasping.
But now there is a whole new level of missing her — one I did not expect when that second blue line appeared and my life exploded.
For most of the other women in my social circle, their mothers are a large part of their children’s lives. I see Facebook posts of parents out on a date or having a weekend to themselves while their children gallivant with Grandma, smiling faces and happy memories abound. I hear tales of mothers coming in from out of town just to give their daughters a break and help with the baby. I see grandmothers at the grocery store, doing a little shopping for her baby and her grandbaby.
And even though I know I am not the first woman to lose her mother young.
And even though I am genuinely happy for my friends and this precious time with their mothers.
I am jealous.
So jealous I could cry.
And don’t get me wrong, I know that this is a first-world problem. We have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge, clean water to drink, and opportunities to work. We are lucky beyond measure to be where we are.
And yet, I cannot help but get misty-eyed when I see pictures of happy babies and their laughing grandmothers. I can’t help the twinge that eats at me when my mommy friends talk about the great advice they got from their moms. I can’t help it that my eyes will follow older women with curly hair and a school-teacher vibe, telling myself they aren’t her and hoping against hope that they would turn around, and it would be her and I could run to her and hug her and smell her perfume and pour out my heart to her and have her tell me the secret to making my son sleep through the night.
I tell myself how wrong I am to want more, when I am so lucky to have a beautiful boy and a man who loves me. My sister has been a giant in helping with the baby and my father and brothers adore him. Indeed, so many friends have come out of the woodwork to be kind to us that wanting more seems selfish.
Still, I would give anything for another chance to talk to my mother. To ask her if I am doing this whole “mommy” thing right. To laugh with her about the insanity of raising a child. To lay my head on her shoulder and have her tell me that she is proud of me.
When I was a teenager, I told my mother I would never have kids. I was young and angry and pretty sure that no man would ever want me, so I told everyone that I never wanted marriage or children. In my twisted teenage brain it seemed simple — why want what you can never have?
It broke my mother’s heart to hear me talk like that.
I never got a chance to tell her how wrong I was. How my son has enriched my life. Oh, how much I adore him. How his blue eyes remind me of her.
I would give anything, anything, for her to come back and do all the grandma things I know she would have loved doing.
In my fantasy, she comes over. We have lunch and talk and then she tells me to go take a nap while she takes my boy to the park. And I lie down in the afternoon sun and sleep a deep and dreamless sleep, knowing that my boy is safe in the hands of the best woman in the world.
It is my most precious daydream.
And I weep when it is over.
But even in these moments of dark and doubt, I can still hear her. Her voice calm and sweet, coming from somewhere in the back of my mind.
She tells me to get up.
She tells me to try harder.
She tells me to be stronger.
And it is her strength I lean on now. A strength that came from a deep and abiding faith in herself and the creative powers of the universe.
She was kind when she encountered cruelty. She was educated in the face of ignorance. She was stronger than illness, deeper than pain. She brought love and compassion like sunshine with her in every step of this life.
My mother was a hero. A warrior. A goddess.
Even in death, she shines like a dying star. Giving illumination to a dark and chaotic world.
And even as I weep for what I have lost, I find in her my inspiration to be better. To do better. To be the kind of mother she was, even as I miss her with my whole heart. If I cannot have my mother back, then let me be a mother like her for my boy. Someone he can call, someone he can trust, someone he can rely on.
Someone like her.
Because he deserves the best of me — not a jealous, sniveling child who cries at every mention of her mother. For him, I would stop my weeping, get off the floor, and be more like her than I thought I could.
Because I love him.
Like she loved me.
So we go on, and we laugh and we dance to The Big Chill soundtrack. And I take these tears and longing and bury them under a thousand baby kisses and a million hugs. I pour the balm of my darling boy over the wounds of losing her, and it is enough. More than enough.
Because now I am the mommy.
And mommies don’t give up.