Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hello, My Name is Mommy

A teacher acquaintance was telling me recently about the Vietnam veterans who speak to her classes, and the vets say that when a soldier was wounded, no matter his age or rank, he would call for his mother.

So many of us, soldiers or not, are drawn to our mothers when we are sick, of body or of heart. From the very beginning, they are our everything; as we get older, we still know that our mothers will be there with a hug and a band-aid, and all will be well. No other person on Earth knows our histories like our mothers do, and that makes them, from the first moment to the last, our most effective, fierce, and comforting line of defense in a difficult world.

The mother mission statement is not so very complex, but the job description is miles long. It all boils down to one essential requirement, though: "Make sure that my child feels loved and secure." They know we will be there to kiss boo-boos, chase monsters, cool fevers, and tuck them back into bed, and we are their favorite person because of it.

Motherhood is a completeness that I did not understand until I joined the ranks. All that assurance of love and safety changes who you are, for in that instant when you go from being a woman to being a mother, you become, to that little person, forever and ever, no matter what, in every moment, without pause: Mommy. To them, there is no other identity.

And I will not lie, being someone's everything can be exhausting. But it is also triumphant. When your newborn baby cannot be comforted by others, and is beside himself with sadness, you can swoop in and lay his head on your chest, and it is like a spell has been adeptly cast over his red-faced, teary, hiccupping little self. You are Mommy, and you can fix anything.

The singular identity lives on far past babyhood. In ninth grade, my mother destroyed her favorite accessory so I could use it in a school project. I was touched, but I did not understand until recently the depth of that gesture. Mothers sacrifice every day, in small and enormous ways, without hesitation or need for payback, because they want us to feel loved and secure. My mother's little sacrifice told me that nothing, no material thing, was more important to her than me.

Remind your mother that she is your everything, even if you are grown-up and independent. We may not need her to chase away monsters anymore, but at one point, we needed her and she was there. And if you are a mother, look at your babies and remind yourself that when they lay down their little heads, they sleep well because they know that you are there. Your Mommy-completeness is their security blanket, and will be for long after the last time you ever tuck them into bed.

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