A few years ago, I had occassion to work with a fascinating woman who had grown up in Hait Ashbury, dropped out of college, where she was studying to be a teacher, just months before graduation because the state where she lived instituted a standards-based education system, served a brief stint in the army managing to convince them she was crazy enough to be let out before being sent to Iraq, and moved to DC. She wore short skirts and high heels and had a huge dragon tattooed on her calf. She worked for an organization that coordinates the efforts of my state agency and those of others along the East Coast. I would see her once or twice a year at meetings and conferences and we would go out for a drink in the evenings and she’d regale me with tales of her romances in a level of detail I would not share with my oldest friend, let alone someone I saw twice a year. I was married, with a kid, living in rural Maine, my days of that kind of adventure long behind me, so I was fascinated.
She usually did most of the talking, but she asked me once why be a mother, and the best response I could come up with at the time was, “It’s so incredible to watch this little blob that came from your own body grow into a person.” She was clearly not convinced. Even now, several years and a couple of kids later, I still can not put into words what it is about being a mom that should make anyone on Earth want to enter into the enterprise.
I was thinking about this yesterday, as I watched Z, who was wearing a t-shirt that hung to his ankles, (because M had dressed him up as a Jedi Knight earlier in the day so they could fight with the light sabers they had made out of Tinker Toys), standing at his little table, carefully, meticulously sawing an apple into bite-sized pieces with a butter knife (because of course he had refused to eat Easter dinner) with his little blond head gleaming in the setting sun, his cheeks round and red from a day of devouring candy and running and shrieking through the house. And I thought about it again last night while M talked on the phone to my mom, about how much money he has saved up for going to Colorado, and how much she has saved up for coming to Maine, and I saw the little dimple, that I didn’t even remember he had, appear at the corner of his mouth when he smiled. And again this morning, when E, who had been sleeping in my bed, woke up and came over to me as I was getting dressed and I picked him up and he settled his head in the place where my neck and shoulder meet, tucking his hands between us.
I’m not one of those people who goes around declaring what a “joy” parenting is—because I really think it is mostly a chore, interspersed with little moments of joy. But there is something about those funny, odd, beautiful little moments—when Z sings “C is for Cookie” or “Grandma’s Glasses” in the voice of the possessed woman in the Exorcist, or when M startles me with a phrase or a word or an insight too big for a six-year-old’s mouth, or when E somersaults across the bed after his bath—that holds the mystery of it all, that, at risk of using a hackneyed phrase, makes it all worth it. The why of motherhood is something I can’t put into words. It runs too deeply for that, something primordial, perhaps, in my reptilian brain, too intimately entwined with senses and instinct to be penetrated by language.