April 2018

Monday, May 15, 2017


Yesterday was Mother’s Day, so I sent my mother a card and called to say Happy Mother’s Day on my way to a WNBA basketball game. These expressions weren't much in the way of thanks, really, but how could I adequately thank her for cleaning up all that spit up and diaper changes; for my middle school years (all of them), for being by me when I married and divorced my husband; for calling as soon as she received my coming out letter to say, “I will always love you,” and then flying across the country to meet the woman I’d fallen in love with (my partner Ann: I'm pretty sure Mom loves her more 21 years later than she did at the time); for sleeping on the plastic mattress next to my hospital bed as I recovered from neurosurgery (and for making me settle back into my bed when I tried to release myself from all the tubes in the Intensive Care Unit because “my bed was tilting 90 degrees", and "I did not think that was a good idea in a hospital”), and for so many more moments of kindness and generosity through my 53 years.

There’s no way to say thank you, as Billy Collins amusingly notes in his poem, “The Lanyard,” my favorite Mother’s Day poem. 

I admire every mother, not just my own. I admire the ones who have persevered as well as those who, by so many accounts, have not been model mothers but have given their best.

I can’t imagine the patience and self-sacrifice it must take. If you’re a mother, how do you do it? Don’t worry, I don’t imagine you’re perfect. I just believe you’re amazing.

Since my earliest days, I remember thinking that I was supposed to want to be a mother: there were all those baby dolls (some whose hair would grow long if you pulled it, some who would drink water and spit up or pee.) The girls I knew wanted to practice motherhood with their dolls, but the job never looked that fun to me. I'd rather throw a ball or swing. 

I cut the hair off the doll whose hair grew, and realized pretty early that I was different than other kids. (I was also not at all interested in Barbie and Ken. Maybe Barbie and Julie would have been more interesting.)

All my life I had unexplained physical symptoms (fatigue, imbalance, blacking out), and at 43, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My surgeon guessed that I was born with this slow growing tumor, and, so perhaps from early on I just decided I didn’t want what I didn’t think I could have. Or maybe I just looked at what my mom and other moms did and decided I didn’t want that for myself.

What I thought I remembered for sure was watching a Carol Burnett episode when I was a teenager and her explaining childbirth to men. I very clearly remember her saying, “Giving birth is like blowing a bowling ball out of your left nostril.” I looked on the innerwebs to confirm this quotation, but I can’t find anywhere that anyone said that. According to Mr. Google, Burnettsaid,Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head.” Whatever she said, as my big-haired, skinny teenage self sat on that red woven couch in my living room in Raleigh, NC, I determined that I would never have children.

I wavered from this decision at times through the years and considered adoption at one point, but mostly I’ve been glad about this decision. When I taught high school students, I marveled at the moms who taught teenagers all day and then went home to their own teens at night. Once I had neurosurgery, radiation, and disabilities, I was especially glad that I didn’t have kids relying on me. How do mothers with disabilities and disease do it?

Ann and I hope to get a puppy next month (a cavapoo) and we’ve been reading books and preparing our home and yard for this little one, but we don’t plan to send her to middle school or to pay for college. We’ll never have to teach her to wear a bra or remind her to wear deodorant.

Some women I admire wax poetic about motherhood:

I believe them that this experience is powerful and heart-opening. However, as I looked on Brainyquote for inspiring motherhood quotations, I found amidst them an ad for getting rid of “Super Lice.” Like just plain lice wouldn’t be bad enough. 

Perhaps I’ll experience this joy in my next life, should I have one. For now, I just feel grateful to all of you moms who give birth to so many fascinating persons that I get to love and enjoy and then go to my quiet home to hold my partner’s hand.

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