Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 9, 2003

Ah, the paradoxes of motherhood

“There’s a lot more to being a woman than being a mother, but there’s a hell of a lot more to being a mother than most people suspect.” – Roseanne Barr

As this Mother’s Day nears, I’m reminded that motherhood is a paradox.

The designers of the growth chart on the wall of my 7-year-old daughter’s bedroom included these wise words for the proud parents who would use it to mark their child’s progress: “Give me roots to grow and wings to fly.”

That proverb, which I pass on my way to tuck my daughter into her purple-swathed four-poster bed each night, reminds me of the paradoxical charge all mothers have accepted. The world over, mothers love their children more than themselves while simultaneously preparing them to leave.

My nearly 12-year-old son has a wild animal themed growth chart. He has surpassed the Bengal tiger and panda bear in height and is rapidly approaching the tips of the rhino’s horns. Whenever I take a moment to scan the ever escalating hatch marks on my children’s growth charts, I shake my head in wonder.

Wasn’t it just yesterday they were tiny infants dependent on me for everything? But they’re no longer those dichotomies that steal a mother’s heart: at one moment cooing and smiling like cherubs and the next shrieking earsplitting wails; at one moment cuddly and intoxicatingly powder-scented and the next emitting foul stenches that would offend even a pig farmer’s sensibilities; at one moment flaunting enchanting rolls of fat covered in skin that can only be described as baby soft, which is the next inflamed with a dreadful diaper rash.

My husband, my kids and I have successfully weathered the trials of teething, potty training, first days at school, and health crises ranging from stitches to life-threatening illness, and are blessed to continue to mark Andrew and Katie’s height on the charts, documenting their growth toward adulthood.

I’ve passed writer Joan Kerr’s acid test: “A woman who can cope with the terrible twos can cope with anything.” Been there, done that, twice. So why not let me – or the mothers who’ve successfully raised even more toddlers than I have – work a while on world peace, hunger or the energy crisis? Compared to trying to reason with a toddler, solving those problems should be easy as pie.

As my children mature, they’re able to make many of their own decisions – whether I like those choices or not – and put me through the agony of watching them pay the consequences as they learn to choose wisely.

I like to think I’ve managed to suppress my motherly impulse to protect my children from the consequences of their occasional errors – so that I won’t harm them more in the long run than the short-term pain those consequences often bring.

Ah, the paradoxes of motherhood … they’re everywhere.

Take their upcoming teenage years – please. Dave Barry warned that “To an adolescent, there is nothing in the world more embarrassing than a parent.”

Although my son is on the precipice of adolescence, I’m still looking forward to that time when my children are full of themselves, convinced their mom who once knew everything, who could do no wrong, magically transforms into the most unhip creature to ever walk the planet.

I can’t wait. No really, I can’t. Because although Carol Burnett was probably right on the money when she said “Adolescence is one big walking pimple,” if I can see my children successfully through it, I’ll be tantalizingly close to my goal of producing happy, healthy, society-enhancing adults.

As this Mother’s Day approaches – it will make an even dozen first Sundays in May that I’ve celebrated as a mother – I feel the tug of the passage of time, and the growth charts on the walls of my children’s rooms serve as a graphic reminders. I’ll blink and my son will have his driver’s license. I’ll wink and my daughter will graduate from high school.

In between bats of the eye, I’ll aspire to Tenneva Jordan’s description: “A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie.”

Happy Mother’s Day.


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