An acquaintance of mine just gave birth to her first child two weeks ago. I saw her by chance today, outdoors and smiling as she took in the sky and the clean spring air, looking like she’d just emerged from a dark, mountainous cave. I remember that feeling so distinctly—the sense of being an escapee when simply venturing outdoors without the baby. It’s the reality of new mothering, especially when they’re infants and still living off your body. You are tied to them. Happily, yes, but inexorably.
When we stopped to chat with her, I was walking with my youngest who is now nearly four and a half. I said the typical thing that parents say to other parents while gesturing down at his little hand in mine: “You’ll blink your eyes and suddenly he’ll be this big.” I lifted up his arm for emphasis. I watched the exchange from outside of myself, like I had become a cliché of motherhood. She laughed on cue. My son proclaimed his age proudly and then we all parted ways with requisite smiles.
Yet, as I walked back to my apartment, this was my recurring thought: that’s not always true. Also true is that a human childhood is long. It’s an eighteen- to twenty-year journey and, frankly, sometimes I wonder how I’m ever going to get through it. It’s regularly exhausting. Sometimes crazy-making. Sometimes infuriating. And often the choices we parents have to make in order to accommodate the stability and structure these little people require are, well, confining, to put it mildly. I don’t resent the control that my kids have placed on my life, nor would I want it any other way, but sometimes I’m washed with a wistfulness for the days when I could work for a block of time, save up a stash of cash, and then disappear to a beach town in the winter months if I wanted to. Alone. No one to answer to. No one to make breakfast for. No one to wake me up in the middle of the night to take them “pee-pee.”
These aren’t the words you share with a brand new mother, though. She saw me with a walking, talking, functioning little human and no doubt it seemed to her like centuries from now that her brand new son will be so grown up as mine. What she really needs to hear now is that the journey will speed by, she’ll more than make it through, and she’s certainly strong enough! Think of all the adults in the world who have made it through before us, all the parents of grown children who are still functional members of society! So what I said was the right thing to say. I know that.
Nevertheless, I can’t write honestly about motherhood without both perspectives: how precious their existence is to my life and how challenging this role has been. Yes, rewarding too. Aren’t all challenges rewarding? But, wow. It’s hard. Motherhood is the Everest of female roles. Climb if you dare. Bring back-up, several sherpas, extra oxygen, and a huge backpack of patience. And remember: the view up there is breathtaking. You’ll never regret it for a single second, even when you feel like you’re going to lose your footing, tumble and die. Because you won’t, really. You’ll make it.
And one day, your kid may become a parent and say to you, “Thank you for doing this for me.” Or, maybe not. But regardless of any eventual proclamation of appreciation (and yes I did that!), I know for certain this one truth:
It’s all worth it.
Happy Mother’s Day!
About the Writer
Ember Swift is a Canadian musician, singer and writer who has been living in Beijing since late 2008. She has a daughter called Echo (国如一) and a son called Topaz or “Paz” (国世龙).
Photo: Adobe Stock Photo
This article appeared on p47 of beijingkids May 2018 issue