Achy breaky heart: The emotional torment of motherhood

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File photo. File photo.

My older brother was bit by Grandma’s dog at the age of 2 and nearly lost his eye, so the story goes. Possibly even more exaggerated in family lore is the fact that the doctor had my mother physically barred from the hospital room while he sewed my brother’s eyelid back together. Dad was allowed in to suppress his son, who was being stitched sans anesthetic—so the story continues. Mom, though, was deemed emotionally unfit to be present. That part, I don’t doubt.

As a kid, this bit of family history (or histrionics) traumatized me—imagining undergoing a medical procedure without my mom’s hand to hold. But as a mother myself, the episode has become almost unbearable to consider.

In addition to my weak bladder, lingering paunch, and inexplicably larger shoe size, I’ve realized yet another chronic condition of childbearing: the emotional fortitude of, well, my mother! I’m like a spigot, gushing at every joy (“wuv you mama”), every sadness (“She doesn’t want to play with me”), and every bittersweet milestone (“No more training wheels!”).

Where once were nerves of typical tenacity, now live the flabby, stretchmarked remnants left by the toll of two kids who stamp on my soft, squishy core in myriad ways every day.

It’s something I’m trying to work on —to steel myself like a magnolia for the emotional mother lodes to come, but it’s a constant battle against the onslaught.

Shots and other doctor-ly business
All kids, even infants, have this look that can slay you. It says, “Mommy, why are you letting them hurt me?” It’s like being stabbed in the gut and then forced to watch a baby seal get clubbed over and over. Or having your toddler’s anguish during the diagnostic procedure for a kidney infection tattooed on your frontal lob for eternity. I will never un-see or un-hear that.

The first day of [school]
Whether it’s a preschooler who cries at drop-off, or, as I can imagine, a young coed who walks confidently into her freshman dorm and doesn’t look back —schoolyard scenes tear a mother up. I watched my own blubber the entire car ride home after depositing my brother at college. The entire—seven-hour!—car ride home. I have those genes. I’m doomed.

Friendship/love woes
I never knew I had it in me to picture ripping the face off somebody else’s 4-year-old, but that’s exactly what I did the first time my daughter complained that this other child told her, “I don’t want to be your friend.” And I’m still years away from middle school. Doomed!

The “I don’t need yous,” “I don’t like yous,” and “Please go aways”
Even the tiniest tykes can gut you with rejection—and I haven’t yet reached the stage of having doors slammed in my face or overhearing one of them call me the B-word to her friends. The worst so far was the “Daddy phase,” but she might as well have yanked out my still-beating heart kung fu-style the first time the younger one picked him over me for night-night reading.

Then there are the daily, happy moments—catching two sisters in an impromptu embrace; finding a crayoned family portrait crumpled at the bottom of the lunchbox; the jump for joy into my arms at pick-up time—that do me in.

One day soon, my lack of composure will be a source of embarrassment to my children—and that will break my heart.

  • Anna

    Big Smile… I love this article – very cute and honest.

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