I love when my children call me “Mama.” It feels like Konglish to me – Mom and Umma put together. It’s Mother’s Day in a couple of days, and I can’t help it, I have to write about mothering in some form. The truth that no one really admits is that if you are a young-ish mother, that day really is not about you. It’s about your mother and your mother-in-law. The senior mothers in your life upstage your role. It’s as it should be, but nonetheless an adjustment. Still, I got a preview of the cards the boys made and I am looking forward to seeing them for real. I am loved….
I realize I am not a very cheerful person the week preceding Mother’s Day. In thinking about mother’s, I am struck that I have two mothers but neither one feels like a mother to me. English is my native tongue now, and I have not called out “Mom” in a long time. It isn’t that she isn’t around, but the nature of our relationship at this point in my life is that she is not in my life. Read between the lines, if you will, I cannot bear to put it out there so publically as to why. I will not air out dirty laundry. It hurts, it’s embarrassing, it’s a boundary I do not break, it’s not about adoption and yet it is all about being adopted into my family. I miss the push-pull of being the daughter of a mother. I miss saying “Mom” to someone.
So, I have my Umma. I call her “Umma” but it does not flow, it is not what I am used to. It is just another word among words I have learned to say in Korean. But I try. For the first time in 18 years I called her for emotional support. I called her just to hear her voice, hear her say my name, the name I never hear but is mine. I had no words to express my deep feelings, no way of conveying to her how much I needed to hear concern, worry FOR me. She did answer the phone and tried to insist that I speak my mind. I blew it. I knew she could not comfort me so I said nothing. I have lived my life wishing for such an earnest plea, but admittedly, it was not from her. I set her up, I know I did. To call her and cry in silence was mean and incredibly insensitive of me. Telling her my thoughts would be hell for her and I would be stabbing her again and again with my words. She cannot undo, she can’t be any more sorry and she doesn’t deserve all this dumping. But for those two minutes it felt almost good enough.
It’s torture being a mother of any worth. I think about the myriad of ways I draft a dialogue in my head to reach the very soul of my boys. Each engagement begins with the perfect scenerio that will elicit their deep thoughts and all the angst in their hearts. I will prove I am strong enough and warm enough to hold their stress. Yes, they are only in elementary school, but they are cultivating memories. The book of their life has begun. From now on, they remember everything, if only I can figure out what moments will stand out. Will they be able to recognize that they had a blissful childhood or will they remember the one time I really lost it and went bullistic? Rather, what will happen in their book that I can neither know about or predict? Reality check, those dialogues never go as planned. But damn it, I keep trying. That’s what good mothers do, right? They are nosy and ask, goad, beg, plead, bribe, negotiate, yell, grab, clutch, embarrass their children till they break and reveal. Peace reigns when being mother means I can predict exactly how the rest of the evening will flow, more or less. Is good enough good enough?
The thing about mothering that gets me is that I will ultimately fail. I just don’t want to be a dismal failure. The paradox of mothering is that even on my worst day as a mother, my kids still love me, need me, seek me, can be completely undone by me and get repaired by me. Of course this connects to being adopted. Even for us not in our families of origin, this foundation of resilience is the same.
Perhaps then this is a call out to all mothers, the marvelous ones and the shitty ones. Your kids love you, there is no choice not to. Spend any amount of time with adopted kids or kids in foster care and all you hear is parental love – the desire for it, the want for it, the security of it, the pain of it, the anger of it, the jealousy knowing they won’t settle for anything short of it.
It’s torture being a mother, but equally torturing being mothered. I can’t imagine being bossed around by me 24/7. But the idea that I am all they have has to do. Reminding myself that discipline is teaching and feeling very unmotherly earlier this week, it ended with a field trip to see the new babies born on a farm and a bus ride with my baby sleeping on my lap. I don’t know what will hold in the hearts of my boys when they grow up and think of their mama. I don’t have enough confidence to believe it will be untainted from feelings of disappointment, resentment or fear. I only hope the love will wash over these feelings enough to make them a little lower on their list of grievances.
Mother’s Day is about showing the love you have your mother. For us mothers, I hope we will allow ourselves to have that favor returned to us no matter what and in whatever way our children can demonstrate. Writing this post took me forever, all week actually. My last break was to request a hug from my little one. “Are you kidding me?!” he said, “I would never leave you alone!” Well, it seems that my catch phrases are catching on….one memory in the bank! I am indeed loved, motherless notwithstanding.