The Music of Motherhood
BY Dr. Juli Fraga
Motherhood is a symphony. Seconds after birth, we await the first note, the sound of our baby’s cry. A sign of life beginning, it symbolizes our initiation into the mom-tribe, a world rich and ripe with highs and lows, hellos and goodbyes, tears and love. For almost half a decade, I have been a member of this consortium, and in just two months, my daughter turns five. As I put her to bed each night, I hold her hand. Feeling her skin press against mine, it’s losing its baby softness. Her fingers reach towards mine and feel like miniature pencils. Daily, she reminds me, “When you are five, you are as old as a whole hand.” As I continue traversing the terrain of motherhood, I notice the music has changed.
Immediately after her birth, it came pounding in, noisy and discombobulating like loud rock-n-roll. Everything I previously relied upon for sanity was thrown out the window. Goodbye to daily necessities like sleeping, eating and showering. We were creating our own music and she was the songwriter. As the new days folded into weeks, the motherhood waters softened and a ballad emerged. It was a love song between the two of us as we bonded. We settled into enjoying our life together and the short and long bursts of time throughout our days. Baby music, playgrounds, and stroller rides were the new normal, each activity scheduled in two-hour shifts, digestible enough for us both.
Toddlerhood brought lighter music, bubbly pop. She sang Lady Gaga to us, and practiced her best “poker face.” I had the groove of motherhood down and my steps were smoother. I didn’t trip as often. I could load up the car, unfold a stroller with one hand, and carry a coffee while carrying her. She was independent enough to venture out a bit on her own, still catching my gaze as she made her way around the playground, but still small enough that she wanted to be close and cuddly with my husband and I.
Now, she wants to control the music and it’s all about turning the dial, taking turns and negotiating. These are the waters I find myself in during her fourth year of life.
Throughout all of these transitions, I realize that motherhood causes us to face the music. Our children are so open. The “self-conscious monster” that visits us years down the road does not affect them. And this is a blessing. They have a way of being with and in their feelings in a way that denial goes out the window. In order to intimately connect with them around this range of feelings, we must intimately connect with ourselves.
When I quiet the noise, I can face this music. Over the years, I have held onto a few poignant lessons I learned along the way. They offer much-needed grounding during even the most difficult mother/daughter interactions.
Everything Is Temporary: The early days of motherhood are a dynamic time. A whirlwind. Feeling secure one minute may not equal feeling secure the next. It’s like a math equation that sometimes doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t have to. A bad day doesn’t necessarily equal a bad week. Whatever we are feeling, moment-to moment, it will pass. I remind myself of this daily, and “let it be,” has become a daily mantra.
No One Is Doing It Perfectly: Motherhood has connected me more deeply with my humanity and humility. By accepting and realizing that there is no perfect mother, I give myself permission to fumble and find my way, just as I am. I try to authentically share my worries and woes in hopes that others will share too. I have learned that vulnerability yields intimacy.
Acknowledge The Fear: Years ago, I took a Mindfulness-Based Childbirth and Parenting Course. The instructor, Nancy Bardacke shared a story called, “There is No Such Thing as a Dragon,” by Jack Kent. In this story, a little boy wakes up one morning to find a kitten-sized dragon sitting on the edge of his bed. He tells his mother about the dragon, but she does not believe him. “There’s no such thing as a dragon,” the little boy’s mother proclaims. Because he is ignored, the dragon grows to a disproportionate size. In the end, to prove that the dragon exists, the little boy pats the dragon on the head, and with each pat it shrinks in size, becoming kitten-sized again.
This story is a wonderful reminder that gives us permission to acknowledge our fears surrounding motherhood. Motherhood exposes us. It’s raw. Just yesterday my daughter and I were at a café. She spilled some water and I snapped at her. I caught myself. There I was, my frustration out in the open for her and everyone else to see. The vulnerability never goes away. When I lean into it, and welcome it as a wise teacher or friendly companion, I can hear what it is teaching me. Facing the motherhood music means looking at ourselves honestly and openly, and embracing, exploring, and navigating the wide-range of motherhood experiences life casts our way.