“Please go to sleep,” I whispered to my four-month-old. His answer was clear: spit bubbles in my general direction.
It was the middle of the night and my baby wouldn’t go back to sleep. I tried all the tricks, but feeding, singing, and bouncing endlessly together on a yoga ball did nothing.
Nor, I soon learned, did sobbing. My tears came from a deep place of exhaustion and as they fell, unexpectedly heard my mother’s voice flow out with them. “You know, you weren’t a good sleeper either,” she said. Her words hit me like a ton of Duplos—she’d done all this for me, too. In that moment, I felt more connected to her than ever. How had I missed all she’d done for me?
A Mother’s Touch
My sleep-deprived brain thought back to my first childhood memory of my mom. Her face is focused and calm, a huge contrast to the big bouncy-ball of tension sitting in my 2-year-old belly. She placed band-aids on my knees and reassured me that the scrapes would feel better soon. Of course, I totally believed her and all my fear bounced right out my stomach.
Growing up, my mom was my first ever BFF because she had all those important qualities I was looking for like giving good hugs, cooking tasty hotdogs, and displaying proper Candy Land playing etiquette. It was her supportive presence that guided my painfully shy self through grade school until I felt comfortable enough using my own voice as a teenager—against her.
“Why are you always with me?!” I cried out in the car.
Our fight that night was a typical teenage one: my mom was supposed to drop me off at a friend’s house but now wanted to stay and talk with us. I told her it would be fine, but I knew it would be a problem. I so wanted to feel worthy of hanging with the cool kids and that so wasn’t going to happen with my mom tagging along all the time. I couldn’t take the pressure of balancing my school friends with my mom friend. I shouted my truth without a thought to how it might make her feel.
Later that night when I told my diary about the whole event, I remembered the lost and helpless look she gave me. I’d been too harsh, but my 16-year-old pride was too embarrassed to mention it. From that moment on, my mom stopped inviting herself to my parties, but she didn’t stop being there when I needed her.
“I’d taken her for granted and now I was holding the proof.”
A New Appreciation
Sitting on the floor cradling my little guy, I thought about all my mother had done for me. I thought about how these days my mom and I have settled into a great adult friendship. I call her almost every day and we giggle when I teach her the appropriate emoji for her text messages. So why was that same bouncy-ball of tension sitting in my stomach? Even if my over-tired brain was too slow to recognize the truth, my body was not. I hadn’t fully recognized the effort my mom put forth.
I’d tried to make a point here and there to let her know she was special—even sending the required Happy Mother’s Day card to prove it. But I could feel a different kind of mom guilt swirling around within me—I’d taken her for granted and now I was holding the proof.
Looking down at my little one, my body was filled with a fierce protective love that gave me the strength to push through feelings of exhaustion night after night. I knew this same intense feeling would move me through our life together. This time, though, I’d be the one putting band aids on scraped knees, playing countless games of Candy Land, and remaining silent while I listened to a teenager shout as my heart crumbled. No, I hadn’t appreciated my mother nearly enough.
The tears now came for a new reason as my gratitude for her ran deep. I’d only ever viewed her experience through the eyes of a daughter and now I had the privilege to feel it as a mother.
After that long, sleepless night, my perception of my mother shifted. I held our memories closer because I could see them from the other side of the bassinet. I understood more of the emotional sacrifices she made simply because she was a mom. Our conversations even took a different tone. They moved effortlessly from mother-daughter talks to moms revealing their parenting hacks and heartbreaks.
Saying “Thank You”
So, when Mother’s Day rolled around, I decided to give a gift created just for her instead of the more expected burnt toast in bed routine. Even though I’d enjoyed celebrating my mom as a kid, I never really appreciated all that motherhood meant—the sleepless nights and a heart that’s on call and available for the rest of time.
I decided to take the opportunity to say “thank you” to my mom in a whole new way – I penned a “thank you” card to my mom, explaining how my new-born perspective made me appreciate her so much more. While Mother’s Day gifts are great, including this much deserved thank you in my Mother’s Day gift giving is my new tradition. But the great part is, this deeper gratitude extends into all the days. My mom has never stopped being my mother but it took me becoming a mom to truly figure it out.
The next day, a text beeped in on my phone: “Thank you for my card, Honey,” my mom’s text read with the corresponding heart and smiley face emoji.
Looks like we are both still learning from each other.
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