May 10, 2013

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Surprise! Motherhood was not what I expected

Cynthia DewesBefore I had kids, I thought motherhood would be a snap. Of course, I loved my mom something fierce, and also the other mothers I knew, including my grandmas. I knew they had worked hard and made sacrifices and all that, but to become a mother myself seemed a fairly easy prospect.

Well, I was wrong. And I’m not talking here about the physical aspects of motherhood, the morning sickness or the off-balancing tummy that made me look like the Little King in old comic strips. Nor do I mean the pain of birthing the baby. The way I figured, women had been doing this since Eve, so I guessed I could manage it.

Of course, there were other unexpected problems accompanying these facts, like feeling nauseated on the way home from Mass and worrying about throwing up the host, and finding ways to buy the new clothes necessary to fit me, despite our slim budget. Somehow, God’s grace always took care of all this and more.

No, the surprising part of motherhood came later. The sweetness of baby breath on my cheek, the tiny fingers grasping mine, and the newly focused gaze of pure love fixed on me, were merely the lulling preliminaries to the main events that followed.

For one thing—or six, as it turned out—the babies kept coming with such rapidity that my father-in-law joked that he’d forgotten to give the birds and bees speech to my husband. Of course, this was the time when the rhythm system for spacing births was the only approved method short of abstinence. Thus we weren’t the only young Catholic couple with a large family. It was rhythm, all right, and it never missed a beat.

Then, cautious as we were, there was the parade of broken bones, an arm here, an ankle there. Two of the kids had disabilities, so there was the playing out of the grieving process, with guilt, blame-laying, anger and finally, joyful acceptance. There was homework, teacher conferences, preparation for Santa and new clothes for Easter.

There were first Communions and confirmations. There were little friends overnight and neighbor kids showing up unexpectedly for dinner. There were beagles, and a salamander named Sam who turned out to be a cannibal when we tried to introduce a new friend into his bowl.

There was the logistical task of fitting eight people into a three-bedroom ranch house with two bathrooms. Today, that would fit the definition of child abuse. Not to mention the occasional swat on juvenile behinds and the mom hollering, also frowned upon nowadays. Speaking of hollering, I’m reminded that when one of my aunts criticized another niece who screamed at her child, everyone grinned because she had a reputation for doing the same. It must be in the mom genes.

Later, there were disputes over driving the cars, of which we had so many that the side yard looked like a used-car lot. And the rules we laid down about no drinking, no teenaged visitors when the parents were away, and turning down their music when I arrived home from work. Drugs were not a common problem then, or we would no doubt have made rules about that, too.

All these, and more. However, and this is a huge however, the unexpected motherhood problems were far surpassed by the overwhelming joys created by that condition. So I say, to myself and to all the other lucky ladies who qualify, Happy (!) Mothers’ Day!!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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