This year is a year of reflection for me. A year when I continue to look deeper at the life I am choosing for myself. A year when I am trying to make sense of my role as mother and how this 4 year and counting role defines who I am. A year of reflecting on motherhood.
There are moments in life that change you, the moments in life that stop you in your tracks and force you to strip away the facade look yourself in the mirror and ask Am I living the life I want to live? There are moments happening around you that instantaneously thrust you back into a time that you have pushed away because it was painful and now as you watch someone else’s pain you have no choice but to relive your own again. But there is strength in this pain. This time showing not the vulnerability and desperation in the moment, but the strength and perserverence. There are moments that happen even before you are born that change you. That shape who you are and during each part of your life you look back at this time and peel away a different layer of understanding and confusion. A different perception that changes you. You realize that the moments shape you.
There are events this year that changed me, stopped me in my tracks and forced me to ask myself Am I living the life I want to live? None of these events actually happened to me.
As I was getting dinner ready one night, exhausted by a day of mothering my three little ones, I clicked on a blog post from a friend from college. Usually posting on the fun activities and hilarious antics of her five children I was saddened to hear of Amanda’s recent cancer diagnosis and blown away by the strength that traveled in her words. As I was reading her words attempting to let the reality sink in my little guy was calling to me to help him build in the living room. Before the words in a minute could leave my lips Amanda’s perspective about cherishing the small moments embraced me and walking towards the living room I said “here I come”. In that moment I was where I needed to be. In the weeks that followed Amanda’s post I have made a conscious effort to look deeper at and cherish the every day moments. Luca excitedly asking me to watch her latest dance which she proudly shows me by waving her hands in front of her chin with an enormous grin on her face. Quinn leaping into the dining room so proud of how far he can jump. Charlotte asking me to snuggle on the couch with a blankie to drape over both of us. I am exactly where I need to be.
When I was 17 my friends’ mother died of breast cancer. She was the first person I watched become sick, visit in the hospital and then mourn the loss of. This was the first experience where I felt myself grow up and actively give myself to others. My friend Syd was only 15 at the time. With her brother at college I took on the roll of big sister. I did school drop offs and pick ups, haircuts, prom send offs and teaching makeup application. We went together, just the two of us, to her mother’s grave on the first anniversary of Mrs. Solow’s death. In many ways this was my first experience taking on a mothering role. This year I was devastated to receive the news that Sydney was diagnosed with breast cancer. The same disease her mom had. It took all my energy not to jump in the car and drive to Philadelphia just to give her a hug. Just to look her in the eyes and say I am here for you. Though not as present in her life as I once was we have a history together. We have shared tears, we have shared laughter. In that moment I thought back on all we experienced, now through the eyes of a mother, and gained a different perspective. How scary it must have been as a mother to know that you were leaving behind a daughter and son that were just on the verge of growing up. At 17 I only thought from the perspective of the children, now at 32 I was in a mother’s shoes. I wanted to protect Syd from the pain. I wanted to take it away. But I’m not 17 anymore. Now I am a mother to my three. As much as I wanted to physically be there for Syd I could not. The fragility of life smacked me in the face. I am exactly where I need to be.
At 3 and 4 pounds my daughters were born prematurely and lived the first three weeks of their lives in the hospital. Though now healthy, happy 2 year olds the NICU experience still remains raw. Being a doctor’s child I’ve been around hospitals my whole life. There’s always been a sense of comfort in those surroundings. The loss of our first baby and our daughters’ premature births have changed hospitals for me. They are a source of sadness and exhaustion now, but also I cannot deny that they are also my daughters’ first home. The place where their lives were saved. Raising preemies is a unique experience. It is impossible to be a mother in a natural way. When a friend from high school recently gave birth to a premature baby I was flooded with the memories and emotions of NICU life. The photographs of Dara’s baby with the tubes and wires were like looking at photos of my own babies. I was amazed how vivid the memories remain. The smell of the hand sanitizer and ritual hand washing before I was allowed to visit my girls. The awkward feeling of having to ask permission to hold my babies. The warning bells that would sound if one of our babies was struggling to breathe- a sound that made me jump out of my skin for months afterwards. It’s with me. It’s forever part of me. One thing that I wasn’t able to fully appreciate that I now can as I watch Dara go through a similar experience is how much strength I had. I see it now. Now that the calm has settled (or as much as it can with three young children) I have the clarity to appreciate how much I have learned from parenting preemies. The nurses and doctors saved my babies’ lives, but I now realize I saved their lives too. I am exactly where I need to be.
As I was beginning to write this piece of reflection my super talented cousin Jon Sands published a piece in my other super talented cousin C. Max Magee’s website, The Millions (64 first cousins and a whole lot of talent). I will not even attempt to give a synopsis as there is no way I would do the piece justice. Take the time to read it. I was struck by our similar journies towards deeper understanding and grateful for the timing of the publication as it gave me pause to consider a new layer of motherhood and my identity.
My dad’s sister Mary drowned in the lake at their house when she was four. My dad was eleven. It was a horrible tragedy. Mary’s death was part of my family’s story for as long as I can remember. It was spoken about in a matter of fact way, but always with sadness and an element of mystery. I remember having a deep connection with this aunt I never knew from the time I was a little girl. I would stare at her photos, this ghost who was frozen in time as a four year old. I would try to picture what she would look like if she was still alive. I would ask questions to my dad. As I grew older I remember approaching my dad after college about the details of Mary’s death. So much was unknown.
Jon’s piece which touches on Mary’s death and my Aunt Kathy’s point of view gave me a new perspective on this part of our family. Prior to becoming a mother I never fully put myself in my grandma’s shoes. The story described to me countless times was that the day after Mary’s death the wake and funeral occurred, and the family was encouraged to live their lives. I never got it. And then I became a mom. I learned through the raw emotions that naturally occur the second you hold your baby in your arms that mothers would do anything to protect their children. I learned for the first time when reading Jon’s piece that my grandmother told my Aunt Kathy that she and my grandfather cried in bed every night for three years mourning the loss of their daughter. I get it now. I get that what I once considered to be a weakness was strength. Each day my grandmother woke up and moved on to give her 10 other children (and then 11) a happy life. She had no choice. Motherhood makes you stronger than you ever knew possible. My grandmother made a decision not to mourn in public because she thought this was best for her family. Whether this was the right decision or not could be endlessly debated, but I now know that the winner of that debate doesn’t matter. In her mind she was loving her children to the best of her ability.
My son Quinn is now the exact age Mary was when she died. This thought took my breathe away. While no one should ever need a tragedy in their lives to remind them of how much they have I promised myself that I would never look at my children in vain again.
Motherhood is complicated. I am grateful for the chance to screw up and grow and learn. I am grateful for children and a husband who give me this amazing opportunity to be a mother. While I hope to continue to improve as a mom I have no doubt as I reflect on this journey that I am exactly where I need to be.
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