May 11, 2009
This year was my first Mother's Day as a mother, and I spent it doing the things most mothers do: having someone else make me breakfast, buy me flowers, and take me out to lunch; going for a walk in the sunshine and cuddling up with my loved ones for an afternoon nap. I also spent my first Mother's Day as a mother with my mother-in-law -- and not unhappily. She is staying with us these three weeks to take care of Colin while I transition back to work. And though I was apprehensive about this arrangement -- if "guests, like fish, begin to stink after three days" as Twain says, what must they be like after three weeks?! -- I am surprised to find that my mother-on-law still smells as nice as my Mother's Day roses.
Of course, who would mind an extra pair of hands around the house to hold the baby, make dinner, and do a little light cleaning, right? Oddly enough, I tend to resent such assistance, in general, and from my mother-in-law, in particular. I've discovered over the years that I am incredibly territorial and mistakenly perceive another woman's helpful attentions, such as sweeping my floors, wiping off my countertops, and pruning my houseplants, as a judgment on my housekeeping. (OK, well, the guerrilla pruning was perhaps not misinterpreted.) But, after becoming a mother myself, and now never having enough hands to calm crying babies, walk hyperactive dogs, and keep up with the housework, I am just grateful for the help, and I'm finally beginning to see it as it was, no doubt, intended: just help.
But there's a little more to it than that, I discovered today. I read an interesting article on Salon about the historical importance of Homo sapiens sharing the duties of motherhood. "You can never have too many mothers", the article is called, and it's an interview with a biologist who theorizes that humans were able to develop the skills necessary for advance civilization (cooperation, empathy, etc.), because human babies were so needy that they necessitated dependence on "alloparents," surrogate parents such as grandmothers, aunts, husbands, and that "baby-crazy 12-year-old girl" to help with the child rearing. Because "it takes a village" to raise a human child, Homo sapiens were able to overcome their loner ways and actually form villages -- the precursor to civilization -- or so the theory goes.
In reading it, I've discovered an unusual mirror on my own experience. I've been so overwhelmed by the challenges of parenthood that I've finally been forced to accept help -- and not just from my mother-in-law, but from my own mother and countless friends. And not only have I learned to accept this help and appreciate it as a sign of love towards me, I appreciate the gesture of love towards Colin. Those unwanted ministrations of my mother-in-law toward my plants and my countertops are nothing but beautiful when they are directed toward my son. After all, he can never have too much love, nor too many mothers.
A few pictures of Colin's many mothers: