Mothers are nuclear fission

Here’s what I mean: they make energy out of nothing for years and years and years. Here’s what amazes me about my mother: She is trying to heal the world by loving. Why don’t we all do this? But back to nuclear fission. Mothers give and give and give. How do they do this?

Today is the day on which mothers are celebrated and I want to think out loud about the importance of mothers and their alchemical, energy producing powers. I recently became a mother and the experience was less one of self-transformation than one of giving my body up to a much more efficient and high-functioning inhabitant. When it is 7am and I have slept for three non-consecutive hours and I am bathing my baby and washing between her tiny toes and remembering to talk to her about all her body parts as the developmental experts recommend, I am amazed. Who is this being who does and knows and keeps going? Who is this mother that I am? When I speak about the power of mothers, it is not an act of self-congratulation — the procrastinating, stagnant, anxious me is still doing the writing — but one of amazed spectatorship, at myself and all the other women who have become totally and permanently reliable. May the alien invasion never end!

First, I think of my mother, from whom I learned what it is to be fierce in love. Here is the image that surfaces: Calling my mother in the middle of the night some semester of college before my first final exam. I am in tears. Why? I don’t remember, but something along the times of: I don’t think I can do it. What am I doing? Who am I? In other words, the easy stuff. My mother, though awakened from deep sleep, is instantly wise. Somehow she makes herself bigger than my fear and self-doubt. The embrace of her being-there-for-me untangles me. I don’t remember what she said, just that when I got off the phone, I felt more capable. In this case, cliche says it best: I could not have done it without her. Where “it” is my own becoming.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wondered: How can I do as good a job at this as my mother did? When my daughter was born, I realized how physiological mothering is. When she cries, my body rises to meet her. My heart rate goes up, my blood pressure rises, I am sharpened and primed. Also, mothering teaches you how to mother. It is not like instant soup. As she grows into a new phase, I am at first awkward, then comfortable, then agile, just as she is ready to morph again. As her repertoire of capabilities grows, so does mine. And retained within both of us is the memory of all the stages that have come before. As a mother I know her becoming because I have witnessed its every wrinkle and crease. Nineteen years from now when the phone rings in the middle of the night, if I am able to comfort her, it will be because I will have comforted her so many thousands of times before.

So the alchemy of motherhood is due to physiology, to repetitive practice, and to paying close attention. But even greater than these is desire. My desire for my daughter’s well being is the fiercest desire I have ever known. It recasts every other desire I have known — for success, for food, for approval, for sex — as a mild whim. I am a tempest of want and the object of that want is the safety, health, and happiness of this little person. Desire keeps me lucid. When I am washing my daughter’s toes in the dawn light, when I am rocking her and rocking her and rocking her to sleep, when I am checking on her every ten minutes to make sure she is breathing as she sleeps,  it is my desire for her life that moves me and multiples me, that explodes me into more than myself.

So here’s to mothers, who desire us — first into being, and then into life, and then into living. And here’s to the mothers we have become. Who knew we would one day be so fierce and so capable? And here’s to our children, the catalysts.

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2 thoughts on “Mothers are nuclear fission

  1. Thank you for sharing this. Beautifully written. I just gave myself a pat on the back. And I’m going to call my mom.

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