I stood and stared at the home pregnancy test teetering at the edge of the bathroom sink. I took one test, then another, wondering if it would be an altered result. No doubt about it. I was indeed pregnant. I was about the enter the realm of motherhood. The bright pink lines stared at me mockingly. I had no earthly idea what to do next; all I found the courage to do was to stare back. Beads of sweat formed above my brow and my upper lip as I stood frozen in a showdown with an inanimate object. I guess I thought if I stood there, alone, behind the safety of a locked bathroom door, just long enough, I might be able to negotiate a different result with the two plastic contraptions that seemed to be able to predict my future.
Glancing into the mirror, I caught some pregnant lady mouthing the words “What have you done?” right back at me. I unlocked the door to the Jack-and-Jill bath and walked into my husband’s childhood bedroom, the place we brand-new newlyweds would be calling home until the two of us could get established. Not a word passed between us. I held the generic brand home test up, and sort of waved it in his general direction, hoping he would see the writing on the stick. With the swath of an eighties-era boy-wonder spaceship wallpaper as the backdrop, my smiling spouse promised that it was going to be just fine. Motherhood was going to suit me perfectly, he said.
And it has been. It’s been more than fine. Motherhood has been the most challenging, yet rewarding endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. Those positive pregnancy tests have become a beautiful, caring, smart teenager.
Had I had the courage to answer the image reflecting back at me all those years ago, when the foreigner mouthed the words “What have you done?” I would have answered “Nothing!” Therein lies the crux of my problem.
I wasn’t a teenage mother, but before the birth of my first child at 25, my behavior didn’t indicate anything to the contrary. I never actively made any decisions. I never did anything when circumstances arose, which meant I could tell myself things just happened to me and relinquish responsibility. I was a bystander in my own life.
My daughter, Nora, my first born, gave me the motivation to become an active participant in how my life story unfolded. Instead of a spectator waiting to be entertained, I engaged in my life, and motherhood.
When Nora Rose was a baby I would spend hours holding her, talking to her, making promises I’ve always attempted to keep. As my blonde beauty grew, so did my desire for self-examination and self-improvement. The first question I asked myself was “What if I make a mistake?” The answer that entered my brain was one of the most freeing, yet scariest truths ever told. I was going to make parenting mistakes. Heck! I was going to make a million mistakes, but I was giving myself permission to be imperfect. In order to complete the awesome assignment of motherhood, of guiding and shaping this tiny person into the woman she was meant to be, I gave myself the right to make mistakes.
Further self-examination brought up questions like: What decisions got me here? Where do I want to go? How am I going to get there? What if I screwed up? I could live with my own poor choices, but my child deserves the best parent, which meant she deserves the best version of myself. So while my husband was desperately trying to make ends meet, I finished my degree and somehow became a role model for my baby girl. For the last 16 years I have strived to become a better person than I was the day before. For my baby girl, and for myself.
Nora is a teenager now. I hold no delusions that I know everything going on in her life. My mothering of her is constantly changing, and soon I will enter an entirely different phase. What I have learned, and what I believe to be the greatest irony in all my experiences as a mother, is that my biggest blunders, failures, and heartaches have served me the most. The topics that are the toughest to talk about with my kids, especially Nora, have been the touchstone of the most profound teachable moments of motherhood. Admitting my mistakes humanizes me in the eyes of my child. My shortcomings are the very things that have been a springboard for my 15-year-old daughter to be unafraid to be herself.
Nora has a far better sense of herself than I did at that age. When I was 15, I was plagued with fear and insecurity. Nora’s independence is proof that we, as parents, have not made a clone of ourselves, but a wonderful young woman who is well on her way to finding herself – separate from her father and me.
My daughter is not my appendage, the latest fashion accessory, or a puppy peaking from a handbag. Her choices are only a reflection of me, they are not me. My goal as Nora’s mother has never been to be her companion, or her friend on the journey to adulthood, but rather a tour guide when the terrain that lies ahead is uncharted and appears treacherous.
I thought keeping my beautiful girl happy and healthy as an infant was a daunting task. Ensuring that I give a well adjusted, well rounded human being to the world is far more difficult. I will never stop trying as long as I have the good fortune to be her mother. We may never be the perfect mom/daughter duo, but at our house, we are having the time of our lives learning from our mistakes.
Now, when the foreign voice in my head nags “What have you done?” I answer, “Something pretty freaking awesome.”