Two weekends ago, we celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday with 80 of our closest family and friends. Her birthday isn’t until October, but we decided to sneak attack her with a surprise party before she got too suspicious.
At the party, my dad, in true litigator form, gave a beautiful toast to her, which left all four of her children sobbing through champagne. He closed with “She loves with all of her heart, but don’t cross her.”
And it immediately hit me: I am my mother’s daughter. We love fiercely and feel deeply. But don’t cross us.
I remember when I was fifteen and learning to drive, a woman driving behind me came close to causing an accident by trying to pass me as I was switching through four lanes of traffic. It was terrifying, and the woman was completely in the wrong. We both ended up at the same stop light. To my horror, my mom got out of the passenger side of the car, walked up to the woman’s window, and knocked on it. The woman was so afraid she ran the red light to avoid my mom. My mother is 5’3’’, blonde, under 120 lbs, and probably wearing a Lilly dress – not exactly carjacker material. I was mortified, and couldn’t believe my mom had tried to confront her.
But if the same had happened to me now, with my fifteen-year-old son behind the wheel, I don’t think I would have reacted with any more restraint.
My mom told me that she wasn’t really assertive until later in life. She used to be a people-pleaser. I have a hard time believing that, but after becoming a mom, I can see how motherhood can completely change elements of your personality.
I, like most women, can be pretty hard on myself. But if you asked me before I was a mother, if I would consider myself a “bitch,” my answer would be a resounding no. ( I use bitchy in its colloquial sense, meaning assertive, blunt, or tough – not just rude because you’re having a bad day.)
If anything, I used to let things slide and tried to please everyone. I was sweet.
Twenty-seven months after having Tripp, I’d like to think I’m still sweet, but I also know that sometimes I can be a bitch.
I’m not talking about the inevitable new mom bitchiness that comes with sleep deprivation, or pumping at 2 am.
I’m talking about the kind of protective instinct that snaps into place the moment that baby is born and follows you through every encounter with a bad driver, and every doctor’s visit where you’re left in a waiting room for an hour during naptime. The instinct that changes you from letting things go to confronting the problem.
The instinct that changes “I will put up with that” to “I will not put up with that on behalf of my child.”
My patience is lower, my standards are higher.
“You’re turning into your mother” is a phrase I used to throw at my mom when I wanted to point out she was being difficult.
But now it’s a phrase I accept, with pride. Motherhood makes you completely exposed. You feel everything. Every bumped head, every scraped knee, every trip to the doctor’s office. Every possibility, remote or real, that something could ever, ever go wrong.
And so we harden, to allow our children to be soft. And isn’t that the whole point?