Mother-Hearts

Their mother-hearts beset with fears,

Their lives bound up in tender lives

(from Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”)

I’ve read “Goblin Market” about a million times (OK, more like 20), but I noticed these lines only recently. I used to dismiss the domestic conclusion of the poem as predictably Victorian, with the nearly-fallen woman redeemed through childbearing and child rearing. But of course, there’s a wrenching truth to these lines, too, a truth that is impossible to get away from once you are a mother. Those tender lives that are our children do have a way of binding themselves around our hearts, constricting them with fear even as they expand them with love.

It wasn’t until I became a mother that I noticed that there is an attentiveness to mothers that makes them sometimes seem absent-minded. Their eyes are so riveted on their children that they may miss punch lines, news items, and gossip, but their hands will almost always be the first to reach out to catch a falling toddler (or the dish he throws), as though each mother’s very body is in tune with her child’s.

My child is still very young. He still needs catching. The other day he wandered from the grass to the edge of the sidewalk near a residential but fairly busy street. I was too far away to grab him but I yelled louder than even I expected, and he stopped in his tracks until I got to him. I felt a surge of mothering-adrenaline in me at that moment – my yell was primal, and my boy heard me. Yesterday I saw him start to fall down our outdoor steps (he was trying to put my sweater over his head and it toppled him). I was across the yard, so I wasn’t fast enough to prevent him from hitting his head on the first step or rolling onto the second, but I did catch him on the third (still two from the ground). Poor munchkin. He wasn’t badly hurt… mostly scared.

I’m not there yet, but I think in some ways it must be harder to feel that maternal pull when your children are no longer children. My mother has mentioned on many occasions her desire (or need) to reach out to us (her children) when she feels that we are falling (not falling down so much, but away from her, away from her dreams for us, away from her expectations of us). I am sure her maternal reach is as visceral as my cry to Owen to keep him from the cars. How difficult it must be to let go. I hope I manage with as much grace as my mother has.

To all the “mother-hearts” (biological and adoptive mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, special aunts, godmothers, and guardian angels) whose lives are “bound up in tender lives,” have a very happy mother’s day.

One Year of the Postmodern Child

… and nearly two years of parenting … and I am still trying to figure out how to be a less lackadaisical mother.

After two nights of really really disrupted sleep (it took Owen 90 minutes to get to sleep after many tears and lots of song and persuasion), and a week of weird behaviour (tears, arm-holding, sadness)… I finally took him to the doctor this morning. I kind of hate that it takes me being inconvenienced before I finally take him.

We had a great doctor at the early bird walk-in clinic (where we had to wait only 1/2 hour!) who gave Owen a toy dinosaur and told him he’d swallowed a cow (making odd mooing sounds when he opened his mouth)… Anyway, he discovered what I suspected/feared… Owen not only has a little pneumonia in his right lung, but also has a little ear infection in his left ear… so that would account for a lot of his odd behaviour this week and the disrupted sleep.

It makes me kind of sad, though, that I’m still not in tune enough with my child to know that he needs to see a doctor. I was prepared to hear that something was up, but also prepared to hear the doctor say “He’s almost two. It’s a phase.” It’s tricky, too, when he’s mostly happy and chatty, to realize that he’s sick. He coughed a lot two nights ago, and then hardly at all last night. And then I wonder… did they give me antibiotics to get rid of me? Because even the doctor said we might as well so he doesn’t get sicker and you’ll have to come back in three days. Meaning he’s not that sick now?

In any case, I’m very glad my boy will be better soon, and I’m pretty proud that I’ve been writing this blog for exactly one year!

Sadness

I got a call from Owen’s daycare this morning. Owen (who never has “des crises”) was breaking down in tears (and I don’t think he understands the election results, but I’m close to tears myself), and apparently nursing his arm. He insisted on bringing The Runaway Bunny (“Nunny Away,” he calls it now) to daycare with him, and was hugging the book as I left him this morning. Of course, this brings all kinds of guilty twinges into my heart – does the boy hope I will become a tree that he will come home to? Does he want me to become a gardener and find him, my little crocus in the hidden garden? Because I will, of course, but today I have a stack of essays to get through (oh, I know, and this blog entry – but I’ve done 12 essays already this morning and this will only take a couple of minutes).

I explained to our daycare provider that Owen has been fragile the past couple of mornings. Yesterday he sat down on the couch and cried for absolutely no reason. He hadn’t hit himself on anything, hadn’t asked for anything we’d refused – nothing. And, through his tears, he kept saying “Mmmah, mmmah” (i.e. he wanted us to kiss it better)… but how do you kiss sadness better? We did, of course, and he eventually calmed down, but this morning there were more moments of sadness, not directly related to going to daycare, I don’t think, but possibly. And the book seemed to be a security blanket.

Anyway, I asked that the daycare phone back if he was still inconsolable, and haven’t heard back in a couple of hours, so I guess he’s OK. Poor little guy. Don’t worry. “If you become a little boy and run into a house, […] I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.” This afternoon. Promise.

Newborn Love

I had the rare and precious occasion to hold a friend’s infant on Friday, and the experience made me remember my feelings of powerlessness in those first few weeks. I was surprised to feel so awkward holding my friend’s child, in ways I don’t exactly remember about Owen. Surely I grew confident in holding him in my arms, since that was all I did… I think what I remember is not the awkwardness but the successes (I carried him down the stairs to open the door; I propped him up in one arm to answer the phone; I strapped him into a baby carrier by myself, etc).

But of course, the newborn period is so very brief. The only people who get good at holding newborns are probably nurses in maternity and preemie wards (if you’re even allowed to hold preemies) – or mothers on their third? seventh? baby, or people with huge extended families – maybe by then the memory would stick.

When I was holding this baby, I remembered the obvious things, like holding his head, but sort of forgot what positions had worked best. Eventually I propped him up on my shoulder, which was Owen’s favourite place. Still, I don’t know if it’s because it wasn’t my chilld or just because I’m out of practice, but I felt just as clumsy holding an infant now as I did before I was a mother.

On the other hand, this baby’s parents? Experts. Baby dangling from an arm like a monkey in a tree, nestled and snuggled, fed and changed. Quite magical to see my friends in their newborn-parent cocoon. Cheers to them!