As the new normalcy of our life ebbs and flows, Teddy and I have reached a chaotically tranquil routine. There are moments when forceful, raging tides crash into the smooth shoreline of our day with a loud swoosh leaving residual streaks only later and only visible from certain angles, and then there are moments when slow, serene waves lap rhythmically onto the sand creating a peaceful refreshing cheer that lingers on long after the tides have ceased and waters still. Navigating this ocean of motherhood has been by far, the most arduous, grueling, laborious, gut-wrenching task I've ever taken on -- and mind you, I worked for some very tough ambassadors, and one very tempestuous Saudi Princess. As I think of what this one syllable, three-letter word encompasses for me, I think about what guiding constellations this word has held in my mind and the cathartic revolution it's taken as my world evolved.
First, as a child-turned-teen, this one syllable, three-letter word was simply a summons. A summons for the gamut of things mom would provide when called: a back rub, a Bueno run, an ironed shirt for the next day's outfit, a ride to the movies, approval for Manda to sleepover, $20 for the mall, or a Dr. Pepper that I was too lazy to go to the garage and get myself (spoiler alert: now moms don't let you drink soft drinks). I emulated the required moody tonality of those three letters with such distinction, such enunciation, that I was conveying whole sentences with a single utterance. Mom. MOM! MooOOooM! But, I was unaware of what actually arrived when I whispered, shouted, or screamed that one syllable, three-letter word. What actually arrived was that single element which I was subliminally seeking: help, refuge, comfort, safety, sustenance, love, admiration, joy, support, shelter, direction, and advice. Though blissfully unappreciative, I knew she would do anything for me, but the actual perpetual depth to her love, and should the moment arise, the instantaneous exchange she would make to give her life for mine was a feeling incapacitated yet.
Then, I was a young(ish) adult. Managing the ambassadorial schedules and diplomatic appointments at embassies far, far away, I presumptuously greeted new expat moms, assured that I knew all about what their upgraded sabbatical lifestyles would henceforth entail--handing babies off to nannies so that they could saunter off for a massage, followed by a mani/pedi, or a facial, or a blow out, or all three (which only runs you about $16 in Bangkok), and culminating with a return to a spotless household with a plated local dish, indulged upon while sipping wine with their diplomat husbands, as the nanny, or maid, or both, cooked, cleaned, and cared for their kids. This repetitive schedule ran in a continuous loop, only punctuated by a girl's shopping excursion to Hong Kong, or a family ski trip to the Alps. Two to three years later, this matronly transaction would conclude with Facebook posts of the kids, now a few years older, hugging their nannies in teary goodbyes. I remember my reaction when I asked my then-pregnant embassy friend Mary (and now best mom friend) who (not if) she was hiring as a nanny, and she replied that she wasn't. No nanny?! I sat perplexed, unable to grasp the fact that she was refusing the option of scantly-priced, experienced help caring for her new baby in a foreign city. I concluded Mary was just looking to stay busy in a sometimes lonely, sometimes overwhelming, big city while her husband worked long hours. No doubt, some of my assumptive itinerary was true but returning stateside, I pictured my own maternal schedule to conceive somewhat differently, albeit relatively the same, or as the Thais say, "same same but different." As I sat pregnant, I envisioned my daily mom routine would consist of leisurely Starbucks runs, superfluous Target trips, and exhilarating stroller-jogs, culminating with a quick stop at TJ's for organic veggies and protein to whip up an epicurean delight for my family. Easy enough!
Then, I gave birth.
Then, I was a mom. As you may surmise, I can say, I was wrong. I have maybe never been more wrong about anything in my life. And I've been wrong about a lot of things I might add. Wrong about my preconceived fictitious notions of what it takes to be a mom. About my preconceived fictitious notions of the lives of expatriate moms and the undoubtably complex relationships with their nannies. About my reasoning behind expatriates, or any mom for that matter, not even choosing to hire nannies. About motherhood. About the meaning of that one syllable, three-letter word. About it all. I am painstakingly embarrassed at my naiveté and at my oblivious, selfish discredit to all those moms for all that they did and choose to do, including, and of course, to my own. For the mental expenditure and physical tour de force it takes to provide and sustain an entire universe for a child (much less a household) in any given day. And most of all, I was wrong about me and my bestowed upon ability to be a mom.
Then, I was in my first three months post-partum. Every single thing felt insurmountable, alien, and exasperatingly difficult. From trying to go to bathroom while constipated, with swollen hemorrhoids encroached upon by strained, bloody stitches, to attempting to fasten a nursing bra over cracked nipples fused to swollen, tender breasts. It all seemed. so. difficult. My entire being seemed to dematerialize and in my place a ghostly manifestation ineffectively attempted incessant Sisyphean tasks. Day by day, I was drowning, treading helplessly in dark waters, feet desperately kicking and scrambling through deep currents, as they vainly sought the assuring firmness of stability from anyone or anything, including, but not limited to, Google searches, mommy texts, and strangers in the grocery store line. Instead they flailed wildly, my ankles gripped by the unrelenting weight of exhaustion, failure, and inadequacy. Arms despairingly thrashing and reaching, seeking the promising solidity of any available life-saving object, advice, or recommendation. Instead they clawed fruitlessly, shoulders weakened by an invisible but mutinous undertow that left my neck craned, head bobbing under torrents of suffocating pressure, mouth agape and gasping for air but instead swallowing gulps of water. Choking. Unable to breathe.
Then, I'd made it though the day. My apparitional presence usually clung until the evening somewhat whole, and then too weary to hold back tears, gave way to the constant clenching pull at the back of my throat in a five-minute shower that left me heaving sobs of delirious exhaustion. Those five stolen minutes were my only solace each evening, and it existed at just barely more than dire emptiness. I leaned, propped up against the cool shower wall, scarcely able to stand, weak from hunger but too tired to cook, my caloric reserves exasperated by breastfeeding, my numb cheek suctioned to the cool tile buttress of the shower, listening emptily as Ned also unsuccessfully attempted to quell Teddy's cries from the other room. My eyes vacant, I stood paralyzed, anxiously wanting to run to Teddy, to expertly comprehend and provide to him what he needed like my mom had for me, but instead I remained immobile, deathly afraid, because I knew I couldn't identify, much less fulfill his needs and therefore, I was a failure. Hearing my muffled sobs from the other room, Ned would set Teddy down safely, and open the bathroom door, a look of stunned sadness in his eyes. He grabbed a towel and turned off the water, and took me in his arms. My weight collapsed against him and he held me, and told me it was ok, and it would pass, and I was doing great. Great. Great?! If this was great, then what did horrendous look like? This was now my repetitive schedule that ran in a continuous loop, only punctuated by an overwhelmingly nervous walk to Giant to get another pack of newborn diapers and gluten free granola, deliriously convinced my gluten, egg, wheat, sugar, or dairy intake was the main culprit for his ceaseless colic. I would try again tomorrow. And so it went, day after day, night after night, for the first few months. Sitting alone in our studio apartment, with Ned at work, his 'generous' parental leave from the military over at three weeks, I searched Teddy's blurry eyes for some unrequited assuredness as they rolled haphazardly around his new environment. We both wondered what the fuck was going on? Where were we? How did we get here? Was this how it was supposed to be? Surely not. I'd never seen this part documented from my mom friends on Facebook?!
Then, he grew out of the fourth trimester. And Teddy also grew out of his tempestuous daily (or half-hourly as I remember it) tantrums, over what, I still have no idea. Gluten allergies? Colic? Gas? Hunger? Overstimulation? Too little breast milk? All of the above? None of the above? Who knows. What I do know is that we both matured to a mutual understanding of each other and our personalities began to pulse cohesively along a shared wavelength, so in sync, so bonded, that I feel it's now impossible to separate. And as I struggle to even leave him for two hours under the care of a probably-more-knowledgable-than-I-babysitter, I look back at those expat moms like Mary, and I realize it probably wasn't an easy decision to hire a nanny, to invite a stranger into their lives, who would no doubt judge their Americanized maternal instincts, all while feeding, holding, and disciplining their most prized possession, as they forced that cultural and linguistic dichotomy onto the vast, open, interpretive eternity that is motherhood. I realize these moms made so many sacrifices, as all moms do, before they even set foot in whichever foreign city to which they've been directed. Rescinding their domestic support systems, readily accessible necessities, and their careers, these mothers were plunged into a new, revolving group of friends, in a foreign country, far from the American accouterments that make life with their children that much easier. They deserve all the massages, all the mani/pedis, and all blowouts, and all the prepared meals if they so choose, and if they even have time because after all, it takes a village to raise a child. And no doubt, those teary Facebook goodbyes to nannies who were possibly the closest person to family that they had at these embassies far, far away.
And now, with each day I gain a bit more confidence and a fraction more surety in the love and care I can provide to Teddy. He was not an easy baby, and for that I am forever grateful because through his tumultuous exit from infant-hood, to his present-day charming, curious, inquisitive, social, 9-month-old self, Teddy has instilled in me the meaning of Mom. He has undoubtably taught me the actual perpetual depth to my love and, should the moment arise, the instantaneous decision I too would make to give my life for his without one fleeting moment of introspection. And I know that in an all too near future, far before I am ever ready, Teddy too will expertly enunciate the moody tonality of that one syllable, three-letter word. Mom.