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From The Archives: On Motherhood

Originally published November 23rd 2015

I've listened to a slew of podcasts during my long drives to and from the city, the bluetooth really enabling a new capacity for the medium.

Repeated thematics  are: technology and the resulting alienation of conversation (in this podcast, which is completely enthralling), compassion + empathy and introspection (from this podcast) and motherhood, having just finished Lit.


I've just come out of a rather difficult mothering period, wondering if the kids are each getting what they need, as individuals.

Wondering if my own ebb and flow of moods is impacting them negatively, wondering if they'll hang on to this move as the thing that ruined their lives.

Wondering how they'll assign the blame and guilt on us, as self-possessed adults, how they'll turn the attention on their own childhood looking for signs and reasons.

I've also spent a few weeks listening to different women all in their own seasons of motherhood: the seasons of work, the seasons of fertility, the decision making seasons...

I comfort you with the knowledge that I have no answers, just more questions.

I talk to the moon and ask her for patience and guidance. And she is willing to help.

My parents grew up in the second world war, with very little means.

Neither of them had a traditional upbringing.  

My mother was not educated, rather her brother was put through engineering school by the charitable donations of their very Catholic community.

By the time she was 13, she was an au-pair working in an Italian family and that was her start in the real world.

She left home at the same age as I was when I saw the Black Crowes in concert and cried because my biology teacher was mean.

If that's not perspective... I don't know what is.

I can only interject my own opinion here because she is a private shell, that mother of mine,  but I'm 98% sure that she didn't hail from a tradition of love and validation. She doesn't hug us much, and by much I mean ever.

But the once a year compliment is a sacred jewel that we carry in our back pocket. It's the one I revisit when I mistake her coldness for disaffection. 

What she lacked in affections, she made up with in grit: in life you do what you can, not always what you want. Her own words that I see now, as the only solace that she could find, as a teenager turned away from her own home.

My father grew up in a mixed generation home, having lost his father at a very young age.  He heated his pockets with warmed chestnuts and jammed his feet in shoes far too small. Allegedly, his grandmother dumped her latrine on German soldiers and they ate blood pancakes made from the gorged chickens hanging above their stove.  By sixteen, he was carting beef carcasses from the butcher to restaurants in Paris. He worked his way through L'Ecole Hotelière de Nice, served his military service in Algeria and had a son by the time he was twenty.

Our childhood was punctuated by his warm and friendly presence, I looked to his smart suits and shined shoes as the emblem of the world I wanted to embody. 

I pined for the  5 minutes calins that were available to me on the few nights he was back from work before I was asleep. He voiced his disappointment exactly twice in my life, and the depth of that experience still sends a chill in the depth of my core. He encouraged my creativity at every turn. He made me a clapboard when I wanted to be a stage director.

I was given the childhood that was denied to my parents. My father ate boiled rutabagas in times of famine, and so we would never have to go without. I feasted in 3 start Michelin restaurants and often got driven around in limousines.

We were schooled privately, given ski lessons, horseback riding lessons, clothes from L'Esprit and trips to France to visit the relatives.

We lived in hotels, weekended in the country, with no televisions, but the caterpillars kept us company.

In my eyes, it was the only way to live.

In a kind of weird dichotomy, we had so much,  yet none of it was ours.

What I wanted most, was a family that hugged and laughed, like the families of the TGIF lineup. My childhood was comfortable in its environment, but sometimes lacking in the soul department. It gave me the solitude I needed to know who I was, but it lacked the connectivity that I needed to make sense of myself in relation to others.

In my own family, I will give my children the shadows of the privilege I received. Something I think only our generation will have to face. At first, this was devastating to me, but as my own family grows, I am less inclined to hold onto my own experience as gospel.

I recognize it now as a curious and marginal upbringing by two people who did as they thought best, never interested in what others thought.

Dinner was at 19h00, not 18h45, not 19h15.

In my own family, I chose to reinvent motherhood, not as I have experienced it, but rather as it shows itself to me.

Doubt, ambition, sadness, disappointment, vision, explosive devotion combined with pure resentment.

All of these emotions are alive in me simultaneously. 

Mothering as I've experienced it, is a labyrinth of emotions, each pathway revealing something new and completely undetectable.

Each dead end surprising you, each hedge reflecting facets of yourself you didn't know existed, equal parts charming and frightening.

I am 10 years in on this thing. I feel like I should have a badge, like the ones you get in recovery programs.

Hi, my name is Emeline and I am a mother.

I have mothered every day for 10 years. Some days are a choice, others are a duty.

Most of those days are fine.

Some of them have been painfully horrible, as I watch myself lash out with impatience or crumple like a sheet of paper under the weight of a simple snack demand.

Others have been enchanted by magic, where the words of comfort flow as though they aren't even your own and the sad child acquiesces that they need to wear a hat,  and without a fight, you know you've done your job.

Sometimes the bad days sneak up on you like a nightmare you can't wake up from; and the good days warm your insides like that cozy early morning fog you want to stretch out in and never let go. Which one lays ahead of you?

That's not in your control, really. You can stack your cards all you want, but you never really know what's around the corner in this maze.

And so what? We all have these stories to tell. Mine is in no way remarkable, the only noteworthy thing is that I chose to write it.

I wish I had known that my hair was going to fall out.

I wish I had known that it was ok to feel like I wanted to be anywhere but here.

I wish I had known that I was going to rail against my body so harshly, when all it did was give, give and then give more. 

I wish I could have felt how comforting the insulation of babyhood could be.

I wish I could have realized that there are seasons to my life, and early motherhood is just one of many.

And yet, what would I change?

Borne into motherhood reluctant, I am not a perfect mother. But I am a genuine one.

Every day I turn to the sun and I ask for help. And the help I get is the simple reassurance that no one needs me to have all the answers.

They just need me to be there in caring for my imperfections.

And that I can do.

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