There is a restaurant across the street from where I live. A very good one at that. It’s called 158 Main, if ever you travel this way. It begins serving brunch at 8 am on Sundays. There were people waiting for the door to open before 8 this morning.
Soon after, the parking area in front of the restaurant was full and cars had lined up on both sides of the street. Mothers and grandmothers emerged from every single vehicle. Mine passed away 29 years ago, but while I do not have a mother to visit on this day, it is inevitable that I would think about my own mom. It is the first time, however, that I consciously ask myself whether I would have been a good mother.
It has always seemed clear that since I did not have the instinct to make children, then it was the right path for me, and for them, that I not do so. My mother loved children, so it is baffling that I did not get that “gene.” But you can’t force those things.
Part of me feels that I might have been a bad mother. For a long time, I was somewhat of a volatile person, feeling perfectly at peace with the world one moment and ready to throw a tantrum the next. I kept this in check as I grew, and quickly learned that I could have these emotions and not act on them. That was just a common sense choice and it worked, but it worked because I had the freedom to isolate. Nevertheless, I concluded that I would not have been a good mother and wondered if I was normal.
In my teens, on the city bus on the way to school, I always felt uncomfortable when a child stared at me. It was not unpleasant discomfort. Just an emotion I could not name. I could not help staring back and seeing the deep intelligence in those children’s eyes. It felt as though I did not deserve their attention.
Years later, friends of mine hosted a fresh Air Kid from the Bronx. It was summer and my husband and I spent a day with them and this shy but playful 9-year old girl. Everything was new to her. She had never even seen a cow or a lake. My friend who hosted this child was a nurse and clearly had greater mother instincts and know-how than I did. Then, something I felt I did not deserve happened.
We took the girl swimming in a lake. You should have seen the beaming smile on her face. She was the most radiant and appreciative kid there. As we eased our way into the water, she took my hand. I was speechless. As we progressed deeper, she grabbed my neck so I would hold her. I stood still, holding her, melting, fighting the tears. I am fighting tears as I write this.
I have no regrets. My path is clear now and I was not supposed to be a mother. But I think I have experienced the unconditional love and trust of a child and a glimpse at an unspeakably beautiful gift: motherhood.
Maybe I am normal after all. Happy Mother’s Day.