Most couples have nicknames for each other. Sweetheart. Honey. Dear. Usually my husband and I refer to each other as “babe”. (We were on vacation with friends once and they found it so annoying. I found that hilarious.) Periodically though, my husband refers to me as “The Mother to all Mammals”. He started this as a joke a few years ago when we had Jordan, his two friends, and their two dogs living with us and our two dogs. So there we were- me, four grown men, and four male dogs. If momma ain’t happy…..well, you know the rest.
As early as I can remember, I always wanted to have children. You hear about girls thinking about their wedding day and planning colors and bridesmaids etc. as early as grade school. I was never one of those girls. I always knew I’d be a mother, but there was never a clear husband in the picture (insert third marriage joke here). I loved being around children and babysitting and just knew that being a mother was going to be a huge part of my life.
My own mother was very young when she had me and there were times where I behaved more like the parent. I think this frustrated her and gave her a sense of relief all at the same time. With three children by the age of 21, she had other responsibilities and she handled them well when we were very little. She sewed, she made homemade fancy birthday cakes, and Christmas was always special. When my parents divorced, my mom started to spread her wings in a way she couldn’t in her early 20’s. She became a bartender and the hours and the lifestyle started to creep up on the list above breakfast, PTA, and overly attentive parenting. Maybe she knew I would pick up the ball when it was necessary and make sure (to the best of 13 year old ability) that my my brothers and I got to school and got fed and stayed alive. I was also learning to drive around Philadelphia at that time when my aunt may have been a little too “sleepy” to do it herself. These are all great life skills that shaped me, for better or for worse. I maybe could have waited to learn them for a few years, but we were all doing the best we could with what we had at the time. Where my mother had challenges with being a mother to me, she completely excelled at being a grandmother to my children. I learned to trust her completely with my kids, my fears about them and my ability, and pretty much everything else. She gave them unconditional love, and that far outweighs pouring my cereal when I was 14 years old.
I had my first child at 24, and my second child at 26. That seems so young to me now, but I was more than ready. From that point on, motherhood was a very critical aspect of my life and how I defined myself. By the time the kids were about 4 and 5, I was divorced. Sometimes I think I was destined to be divorced and be a single mother. I had very specific thoughts about how to raise the kids and looking back now that wouldn’t have been possible in a two parent household. I was too young, and too stubborn and not nearly enlightened enough at that time to see any of that, and thankfully it turned out pretty damn great. It wasn’t always easy, and I wasn’t the mom you’d see on TV. I cussed. I yelled. I was not trying to be their friend, and I didn’t bake. But I do love my kids fiercely and am always on their team and I can say with certainty that they always know that.
Motherhood to me is not defined by whether or not you pop a baby out of your body. To me, it is about unconditional love and brutal honesty. If my kids really screwed up, I could tell them that I thought what they did was shitty, without ever making them feel like I thought they were shitty. There’s a difference and it’s critical. Motherhood is about guiding when they need it, and backing off when they don’t (still trying to master this one). I’ve come to believe it is about being there for them on their terms, not yours. Not in an over indulgent way, but in a way that is meaningful for THEM. Much of it is sheer luck and you are just knocking the kids off the sides and back in to the middle when they start to wander too far off the path. For me it doesn’t just extend to the children I’ve birthed….I firmly abide by the “It takes a village” school of thought and I take my role in that village very seriously.
The chink in my armor of motherhood though has been, up until very recently, the thought that it was a solo battle for me. For the most part, I had to shoulder the burden or shit wouldn’t get handled. I could help others, but asking for help myself was not an option. I don’t think I consciously thought of it as weakness….to be honest I don’t know what I thought of it as. I didn’t really think about it. I just kept doing what I’ve always done and set it up pretty well across all areas of my life. My family, my business, my friendships, etc. I don’t think I ask for a whole lot.
It’s no accident to me that the group I’ve chosen to train with for this competition is called The Muscle Mamas. They are a group of incredibly strong, committed and diverse women whom I’ve grown to rely on like nothing I’ve ever done before. I couldn’t do this by myself, and I also couldn’t do it with the fear that asking for help is weak. They are the experts, and I need to trust them. This journey has been more about trust for me I think than anything else. I’m used to doing things with a decent amount of success mainly because I just won’t stop until I’ve crossed the finish line. This has been so humbling to me because on paper I have been doing everything I should for the last 19 weeks and it took my body about 17 weeks to start to comply.
I wanted to quit, seriously quit, and they wouldn’t let me. They listened to me bitch sometimes but didn’t indulge me or let me wallow. They celebrate the wins with me, and are so free with the compliments when things go well. They push me when I need it, and encourage me to keep moving forward. Just like a good mother should.
So thank you to the mommas, mothers, mommies, and Muscle Mamas out there. This Mother’s Day, like the last 10, I will be sad because my own mother is gone. But I will choose to focus instead on all of the amazing women (and choice men) along the way who have been generous enough to provide some mothering to this motherless child.
My favorite picture of me and my mom.