Defined By Love
I stood on the corner of 51st and Lexington, pretending to be brave as I waved good bye to the yellow cab driving my mother away. I had been waiting for this moment since I was old enough to dream, and now I was eighteen years old, fresh out of high school, moving to NYC to pursue a life long dream. I was bold and confident, but I missed my mom before we ever said goodbye. I can still see those iconic tears that rolled down her face, and the way she lifted her head out the back window to get one more look, as if to freeze that moment in time. I can still hear her voice, high pitched and cracking, like it always sounded before she cried. “I love you my e,” she yelled. It felt straight out of a film, only it was my real life, in a quick city rhythm, and slow playback time. It’s a moment forever engrained in my mind, one of those moments I told myself to never ever forget. I have a stock pile of never ever forgets, and with them I have been most faithful.
That moment was equal parts thrilling and painful, and I can assume my mother felt just the same. But it’s only now, ten years later that I can reflect on the magnitude of those emotions. Only now can I get a glimpse into my own my mother’s heart. A glimpse only accessible through walking in her shoes, and becoming a mother myself.
Before I became a mother I had such a calculated approach to motherhood, even before I knew the first thing about it. Which is rather ironic because I am not a fan of assumptions, and there is nothing calculated about me. I wasn’t going to be the mom who let motherhood swallow her whole. I wasn’t going to put all my stock in this one area of my life, and I was not going to allow motherhood to define me. I was going to keep all my previous passions alive so as my children grew older they would know me, and if I was lucky, they might even find me interesting. I would have something tangible, just for myself, so I would be prepared if, and when I found myself years later, waving good bye to my own daughter on the corner of 51st and Lexington.
To be brutally honest, I used to pity women who gave everything for their children. I misunderstood that stedfast, all consuming, love for self deprivation, and stifled dreams. That visceral love that makes a mother weep when her child is in pain, or a mother beam when her child feels joy, is not necessarily a woman living vicariously through her children. These tiny humans that came from my body are indeed their very own people, but my body was their first home, my heart their first sound of music. I am no longer my own entity, and I believe that transformation happened the day I vowed to share my life in marriage. I could strive to maintain a strong sense of self, without my family, but it would all be in vain, because I am them and they are me. The lines are forever blurred, and I learned rather quickly that if you’re so concerned with loosing yourself, you will leave little room to find yourself. There is so much to find, it would be a shame to miss it.
I don’t believe that my mother rode away from me empty handed that day. Knowing what I know today, I would have cried far less, knowing she rode away with everything. She was left with everything, because she gave everything. It’s that counterintuitive truth that leaves no room for logic, and relies solely on unconditional love, and impulse. She didn’t reserve a space inside her bones like the world told her to. She didn’t preserve her old heart, before her children, so she could reunite with it years later. She did not insulate herself into organized compartments in order to make her life a little easier the day I left home. She allowed her love to bend and fold, adapt and transform, she allowed herself to be honest with the now. She let it swallow her whole, because she knew that living life one foot out the door is hardly life at all. She loved me unconditionally and endlessly, but I think her approach was less about me and more telling of her character. I still find her to this day, digging into the moment with an unmet enthusiasm. It wasn’t just motherhood, it’s who she is at her very core.
I consider my mother one of my best friends, and I have enjoyed being around her most of my life, but I’ve spent a lot of that time convinced we were very different people. I mistook our diverse preferences for style, music, food, and then looked no further. Today I sit here with a humbled smirk, because I see now that the way in which we navigate life is eerily similar. I am not a save your money for a rainy day, type of girl. I don’t buy jeans a size too small in hopes of motivating me to get back to a pre pregnancy size. I don’t pick the premature bouquet of flowers so I can enjoy them a few days longer. Instead I buy an exquisite cup of coffee with the $5 left to my name. I buy jeans for my current body, so I am comfortable in my skin. I pick a bouquet of flowers in full bloom, to be enjoyed at their peak, right now. These are seemingly trivial details, and yet they are an invitation into my heart, because just like my mother, I let the present swallow me whole. I should have known motherhood would be just the same.
This is not to say I am not a believer in the necessity of quiet, restorative time to myself. This does not mean I don’t look forward to a day of dance classes, or a cup of coffee with friends. These things are thoroughly enjoyed, and vital to my well being. It just means I feel most at peace when my life weaves together into one close-knit piece of fabric, where the individual threads of he, she, them, or I, cannot be discerned or deciphered. Like most things I once said surrounding parenthood, I’m going back on my words, those mental notes, and promises to myself, because I can’t physically bare the pain of a heart half way inside motherhood, for fear of what I will be left with years from now.
Sure, it is true, my children do not define me. Their words, and kisses, their tantrums and messes, their mistakes and triumphs, and all of their choices, none of those things define me. But, how I teach and guide them, protect and love them, it might just be the most defining thing about me. Motherhood, I am most honored to say, does in fact define me. And like my own mother, I have no fear of what I will be left with once they are gone because I will have been honest with my heart every step of the way. I will have been defined by my love.
Erin DeLaney, The Village Journalist