I see her out of the corner of my eye. Arms stretched out in my direction, this older, attractively dressed woman looming nearer and nearer is hard to miss, especially with her loud, “ooooooh!” siren’s call across the Nordstrom second floor level.
She swoops in and reaches her hands around the bundle against me, my infant daughter resting in her sling. “Oooh!” she continues to sing before looking up sharply to meet my eyes.
“I was the same” she assures. “I loved, loved to keep my daughter close! Such joy! We are close because of it too.”
I smile in response; having acquainted myself many times with the nostalgic emotion the presence of a newborn brings to a mother of older children.
“Oh how I miss this!” she laments, gesturing to my sling. “The closeness. It’s important you know,” she nods up to me. “My daughter and I were always close like this. She slept in my bed until she was twelve …”
I feel my shoulders pull back, mind grasping to connect obscure parenting dots and return to consciousness in time to hear her sing, “You’re doing the right thing” before sailing off across the tile floor.
You see, I’m not that Mom. I have no intention of sharing my bed with my offspring, especially into their adolescent years. The umbilical chord was cut at birth. And no, I didn’t keep the placenta.
I need my space, which is why I left my two older papooses at home with my husband. The baby’s with me in a sling because it frees my hands to shop and browse and reclaim a bit of me between feedings.
Somehow the mere presence of a babe swaddled in a sling (a black, non-descript one at that, no bulging diaper bag either) positioned me as an advocate of attachment parenting to this mother elder.
My own mom has commented on what an “overly conscientious” parent I am.
I’d love nothing better than the fantasy of dropping my kids of for the day with a simple, “have fun at school” car door slam send-off. But one of my children struggles with an inconsistent learning challenge and my youngest needs help with articulation. They need me to go the extra yard so I do because I have to, mental exhaustion withstanding.
And in the most trying times I wonder what would happen if I just allowed that popular river of Denial to allow me to ignore my kids’ challenges and just assume they will thrive without speech pathologists and extra tutoring.
But that’s not me either.
Defining ourselves in the perceptions of others is a vulnerable past time. Every title—wife, mother, mother of three, mother of three with dog, working mother of three with dog and lizard … add extracurricular (soccer!), adds a layer of assumption, even expectation.
It is the expectation of my kids to be their Mom and all that entails in their minds that is the most daunting, humbling, inspiring, and soul-searching.
I often catch the gaze of my pre-teen daughter in the mirror as I comb out the tangles in her long hair. She watches me intently while asking me about my interests when I was her age or commenting about what she likes about my face or hairstyle.
I wonder about the me she is forming in her perceptions. I try and mask my self-consciousness about being scrutinized and try to meet her gaze with a confident smile. My mind darts about skin creams, wrinkles, pimples, and the like. But I don’t want her to see that me. I want her to believe that I have my priorities straight (finally) and truly believe beauty is only from within.
I want her to believe in the power of a good breakfast (even while Mom downs just two cups of coffee) and eating healthy meals whereas I’m a snacker.
Her bookshelves are graced with books about strong women from Eleanor Roosevelt to Jane Goodall. My daughter believes she can make a difference in the world and believes everyone deserves the same opportunities.
Yet lately I think about the decision I made to leave full-time work and all of the opportunities my former colleagues have achieved by keeping on that track. I question and wonder and wish where I want my children to assume and aspire.
I confidently remind my daughter that the gestures or cutting comments from mean classmates only speak to their insecurities and won’t affect her so long as she remembers who she is. But I feel the oddball comment from another parent.
I want the chaos of life to appear controllable with a good sense of humor and a level head, though I can’t find the car keys and worry about aging parents.
As I respond honestly and hopefully to Lauren’s questions, I meet her gaze and smile convincingly.
I want Lauren to see that me.
And maybe, just maybe I will too.