The word Mom used to mean such different things to me once.
Here’s the one main thing that distinguished it from the meaning it holds today: it didn’t refer to me. It referred to my own mom. As in, “Mom, I’m cold, could you get me a blanket?” Or, “Mom, what time do I have to be there?” and all the other forms of these statements which resulted in getting spoiled. I personally smile at the following variation, “Maaa, Meatloaf!” because it’s a famous line from an all-time favorite flick of mine, in which the character who shrieks it still lives at home. We can laugh at it, but we all know deep down inside, that a teeny weeny part of us would secretly love to be in that position once again, even if only for a fleeting moment.
It brought me comfort, back in the day, to use the word Mom. It was a source of warmth, of security. I used it at a time when the ‘job’ I held consisted of waking up at any – literally any – hour, followed by the bothersome motions of getting dressed. Aside from the absolute necessities – like 80’s side pony and bright neon leotard bottoms – it really didn’t matter what I wore, as long as I clothed myself appropriately enough to head downstairs, where breakfast was served. That was it for necessities.
The rest of that day depended on whether there was school or not. If there wasn’t, then I could sit in front of my television, wrapped in a blanket either made by Mom or placed there by her, watching shows like TGIF lineup – with Balki Bartokomous kicking it to his dance of joy or Urkel snorting his pants up to his navel. Alternately, I would die of dysentery on my trek across the Oregon Trail, while rolling out Mom-delivered Fruit Roll-Ups, gnawing at them as they worked their magic to erode into my teeth and help fund our dentist’s retirement. Though the details date me, they were the substance that made up my days – carefree times filled with sweet laughs and sugary smiles.
But then, I blinked, and the meaning of the word Mom changed. Suddenly I was her.
I woke up one morning, and had a job. A real one. Like, the kind where I actually needed to be up at ungodly hours, jiggling the button of an alarm that never seemed to turn off. I needed to look presentable, apply a bit of makeup, wear decent clothes (on top of my neon leotard bottoms). I didn’t have any breakfast waiting for me downstairs. Worse, I had bodies down there – seated in front of their empty plates at the table, waiting for me to make them food. Where was Mom?
Wait – it was me! I was the adult! But it didn’t even end just there, it got even worse – because the oldest child seated at that table, waiting to be served, was none other than my own grown child!
This hit me square in the face, and rather hard – that my oldest had sprouted into a teen when I blinked for, like, a second. And what’s amazing is that he didn’t simply turn ‘big’ age-wise – he had also grown in build, and in mindset. His needs had grown, too – hugs no longer sufficed. He needed hair gel and cool clothes, plus car rides to get around. And money. A crisp $5 bill no longer earned me that satisfactory grin of his, as it had years ago.
Standing around the kitchen one frigid December day, I was hit with the reality of who I had become, when he passed by me and I heard his voice crack as he uttered my name – Mom – and it hit me at that moment like a ton of bricks. I had become the person I once took comfort in. She was now me.
I felt like screaming on the inside. Not a little bit, as with a curt scream of frustration, but with the bellowing type, like whales in deep ocean, or maybe even Chewbacca. A guttural release of surprise. Frustration and anger, mixed together in an irrational ratio – kind of like using the wrong ratio when making lumpy pancakes and then biting into aggregates of flour – that kind of irrationality. The kind that makes your face twist in shape, and frown your brow. It felt like I needed to throw my body down on the ground, kick my feet back and forth, and have the biggest adult tantrum I could imagine. I imagine it now, like the kinds you see in comedies. I wanted, at that moment of shock, to be like Adam Sandler. He gets away with that stuff.
I asked myself – when had I become her? Were there some tryouts I had skipped? How did I wind up in this role, without even a dry run?
It’s true, I was already a mother, and I’ve known this little fact for over a decade, at that. I played the part seamlessly in those very early years – changing extra stinky diapers or cleaning up rooms that looked like scenes from The Hangover. Finding a tiger in my boy’s bathroom would come as no surprise back then, and, without blinking an eye, I’d lead it back into the stuffed animal drawer of their rooms. Packing lunch, day in and day out, stretching those neurons to the point of pain, coming up with healthy choices they’d actually eat. Only to find those choices slimy and rotten, in their original baggies, buried a week later in their bags. I moved through the motions of motherly duties like these, and survived.
But I must have carried out the motions without it truly sinking in. I must have taken on motherhood full throttle, in seamless transition. And not because I’m so cool – quite the contrary – because sometimes you need to close your eyes and just do it. when it gets so stressful. Like zero to one hundred stressful. We may have adapted a mechanism to coping with the craziness of becoming mothers by lunging at it, full steam ahead, but we don’t quite have the time to look around, or let things sink in. Until now.
The clock seems to have slowed down for me. And as I look around, at who I am, it sinks in.
And here’s the caveat – here’s what really gets me – I didn’t have time to prepare.
And yet I’m doing it. We’re all doing it. We are all Moms, striving to do our best, without any preparation, or dry run. We are doing the best that we can, and that’s ok. I tell myself this as the word settles in.
I can take on this role, even if I need to improvise a bit along the way.