Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Supporting Mom

An anonymous commenter on my last post wondered why I link to my mother in my sidebar, since it seems like I "don't really agree with her much." It's an interesting observation, if for no other reason than it tells me I've been painting a very rough picture of my relationship with my mother on this blog. And why do I link to her?

I'll address that question first, because it's easy: my mother is very good at what she does. If, by some chance, a Seattle-area mother (or expectant mother) who's feeling depressed happens upon my blog and happens to click that link, it could mean the beginning of that woman feeling more hopeful. My mother is passionate about helping women and their families, and her professional tool belt is full of sound resources for doing so. It amazes me when I think about all the families she has helped towards healing and wholeness. My mother is really pretty brilliant as a psychologist and a counselor. I would link to her even if she weren't my mom.

Having said all that, it's true that she and I don't agree on certain things. These are usually pretty superficial things: I think she puts too much red onion in salads, she thinks I should take Westley to the zoo, our definitions of "once in a while" are slightly different. That sort of thing. And there definitely times when I'm guilty of assuming that my mother doesn't agree with me (or wouldn't support me) because I'm doing something she wouldn't do. But that kind of "disagreement" is all about me and my insecurities. Because while I don't want to grow up to be my mother, I also kind of really do.

My mother is an ass-buster. As in, there's shit to be done, and who're you gonna call? She doesn't give up easily, and she thinks to try things other people don't think of. For example, shortly after Westley was born, it became clear that he didn't know how to latch on to nurse. He would open his mouth around my nipple and shake his head back and forth, like a dog with a chew-toy, but he wouldn't close his mouth. (Then he would proceed to completely dissolve into wails that I can still hear if I picture his furrow-browed, red-faced, pissed off helplessness.) The lactation specialist didn't really know what to suggest. The midwives suggested feeding him expressed milk in a syringe to which they attached the tiniest tube I had ever seen. My mother finally figured out to put her finger under Westley's chin after he got his mouth around my nipple. He'd latch on properly, and my mother would gently press on his chin to encourage him to stay there. She helped me survive months of nighttime feedings, at first by sitting next to me and reminding Westley to stay latched, and later by just sitting with me, keeping me company so I didn't feel like the only person awake in the whole world.

One of the hardest things about living close to her--my mother is also my upstairs neighbor--is seeing her get shit done on the days when I've barely gotten dressed and the apartment is a peanut-butter-fingerprint-covered disaster area. And because my parents live right there, I end up doing a lot of my trial-and-error parenting under the watchful eye of someone who not only raised her own two children and adored it, but also assesses babies and toddlers and counsels parents professionally. So it leads to some emotionally-charged, italicized stress. Some of that stress is about my wishing my mom could put the Developmental Psychologist switch in the OFF position for a while and be just My Mom. But as I reflect on it, I think the stress, our tension, the "not agreeing with her much" is part of that mother-daughter thing. That parent-child thing.

I've said it before, but I think mothers drive their children crazy sometimes because they themselves are being driven kind of crazy all the time. Mothers are always "thinking for two," even after their children are grown. Perhaps especially after their children are grown, if, like my brother, they live in different time zones: What time is it there? Lunchtime. I hope he's eating something reasonably healthy. It's mental heavy-lifting to have another person on your mind.

As Westley gets older, I'm having to adjust my thinking about him. What I say to him and how I say it has evolved as his language comprehension has grown. I'm gaining new tools for understanding his needs, and changing the shape of my tool box. He needed new shoes recently, and requested black ones before I even thought to give him a choice of color. I now have a child who's interested in the color of his shoes, I told myself. I have to remember that my mother is still doing this for me. But her process has to be even more mind-blowing: I now have a child who has a child.

That's a realization I can't begin to imagine. It's strange to think that my mother used to do for me all of the things I do for my son. It's easy to forget that my mom used to be a mother the way I am a mother right now: intensely, full-time, all the time. Playing by ear, learning by heart. But the thing I can never let myself forget is that my mother loves me the way I love Westley.