Mother's Day came and went on the weekend. It didn't make many ripples over here, and it usually doesn't, always coming on the heels of my birthday. The kids are already spent. Didn't we just celebrate you? their eyes seem to ask. They did, and they do.
I've been mulling over motherhood a bit more than normal, mostly because I'm parenting on my own at the moment (halfway done!) and I find myself thrust up against my own existence as a mother, without even a break to catch my breath. And now, with a ten year difference between my oldest and youngest, I find myself doing these very different types of mothering- helping the moody preteen and the infant. Using my mind for all it's worth in one instance, and my body in its infinite mothering capacities in the other.
Motherhood can make me feel so absolutely alone, because whenever it comes right down to it, I am the only mother to my kids. My friends and family love my kids but only I am the mother. I look around for someone to join in the mothering, but I'm here, in the spotlight circle by myself. It's me. This me who still sometimes locks the doors at night and feels a gasp of surprise. Where's the grown up? I'm alone in this house with these kids? People are letting me do this?
The most alone I feel is when people look in from the outside and call me things like "Supermom." I know when people do this, they are giving me a compliment, sometimes right from the heart. They are expressing awe at what I do with many kids. I receive it from them as kindness. But it makes me feel more alone, because I am not Supermom at all.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all about one kind of Super. I know about superheroes and how you sometimes need to put your Wonder Woman cuffs on to go shopping for Christmas or birthday presents because shopping is very scary. You need your superhero persona to override regular you and throw a great birthday party, because throwing great birthday parties has nothing to do with your natural personality, nothing to do with what you would do if you had a moment alone.
But Supermom sounds like Superman, and mothering, in its truest definition, has nothing to do with Superman.
Since I have been a mother, I have grown smaller and softer, as well as larger. I am more open than I feel comfortable with.
I craft moments or meals and they aren't always received with the same tenderness I offer them in. I am stung, shrug it off. This doesn't feel super.
My lap is an intersection during rush hour traffic: people climbing in and out, laying their heads on my knees. My ear is the opening for all kinds of complaints, from "I'm bored" to "He punched me" to "No one understands me at all." This doesn't feel super.
I feel bereaved of the child that was just two weeks or an hour ago, even as I open my heart up to the child that is now. I feel old and too vulnerable. I want to creep back to safety, but to leave, to take my heart and presence would be the worst move of all. So I live in this discomfort. This doesn't feel super.
To be a mother, you need to exert all of your strength and willpower. Being a mother is certainly mighty, but Superman does everything he does with ease. Bullets don't hurt him. I don't resemble Superman at the end of a long day, when I am as limp as a tired plant in an unwatered garden, when I lie down on my bed with sweat on my upper lip, curl up under the fan and fall asleep without meaning to. I don't do this with ease.
The bullets pierce me. I hurt when my children hurt, even when my consequences given for their wrong actions are the things doing the hurting. I make choices that don't always feel right. I answer eight thousand requests a day, often with the wrong answer. Help Kai with his math? Or sit with Solo making something? I can't do everything, something always has to give. It is often me. This does not feel super.
Superman gets his super self from one place to the next with super speed. I am as slow and stunned as a turtle.
Oh, I think mothers are strong and brave and incredible. If I can step back from all the small mistakes I make, I can even say that I think I am strong and brave. (And incredible, ahhh awkward!) I think you, the mothers who are reading this, are strong and brave and incredible.
But I also think you are soft, and in need of protection and love from the community around you. You need people in your village to look out for you, and though they can never be you, never be the mother to your children, they can support you and tell you that you are important.
(I think I've said this before, but it's the greatest gift of living in Asia- this importance of the family. It's very simply accepted, that mothers are important and that they need help.)
You are not Supermom- your giving goes deeper than the giving of someone with unlimited strength and energy, because you are so limited, so small, so human, yet you continue to give. You are less like Superman and a little more like Jesus, giving and giving. Laid out and vulnerable, choosing to give parts of yourself to people that can very easily hurt you.
And still, I know and see that when people call me Supermom it is a part of the support that I need. They are acknowledging what I do, and though I want to protest that no! I am not an alien without needs! I smile and shrug and thank them. And accept the loneliness that comes from being, for my kids, the only and very non-super mother to be found.