A few days ago Miss Mia and I had our photograph taken together at the photo booth on Zossenerstrasse next to Rossmann drugstore. We sat on the swivel chair, once painted to look a toad stool but now kind of brown and gunky-looking, put 2 Euros in the slot, smiled into the glass plate in front of the camera and then waited five minutes for the photographs to come out of the slot.
We've already taken photographs from this photo booth before. They are all hanging up on the metal utility box in our hallway; long strips of four, passport size old school black and white photos. I knew what to expect. But when this strip came out and was finally dry enough to touch, something was a little different. I looked at my smiling face in each of the photographs and thought "Oh my god. I look like somebody's mother."
Of course, it dawned on me about a half a second later that I AM somebody's mother, two somebodies even. But how did this ever happen? And what exactly does it mean to be "somebody's mother"? No question about it, the word "mother" certainly is loaded....
On several occasions I've run into old girlfriends of Jasper's, all of whom are lawyers or judges or professors. Although all of them were nice, things always got a little sticky each time they asked me what I do. I told them I've taught, I write, I sing and, oh yeah, I stay at home with the kids. Each time I mentioned this I could see that same flash in their eyes, that same faint outline of a smirk. "The woman who Jasper married is just a mother."
Sometimes I think this is a way in which feminism has gone wrong. Certainly it was necessary for women to emancipate themselves and it was terrible when motherhood was the only respectable choice they really had. But to be "just a mother" is certainly a derogatory term, especially among women; somehow, as a woman, you are less. Still, I have to admit the women who live in the land of Mommydom are the ones I feel the hardest to be around. You can see them at just about every playground, dressed in sweatpants and talking about pre-schools and after-school programs and baby yoga and diapers. I hope they are happy in Mommydom and, if they are, then more power to them, but the truth is, they freaking scare me....
But what does it really mean then, to be somebody's mother? It means a lot of things, but one of the main ones is sacrifice: For a long time, your needs simply come second. I don't mean you do this out of responsibility, though that is of course part of it, but simply because this is what they deserve. Everyone in the world deserves to have a beginning where they are cherished and loved, where they are kept warm and safe, where they are the first priority, but so many people don't. This is your chance to give that to another person and, really, it's an honor. If they don't get it now they will search for it the rest of their life and there's a good chance they will never find it.
No one in the world can probably wound you as deeply as your mother can wound you. I've found this scary sometimes and I think it's the reason so many mothers feel the pressure to be perfect. But you're only human and you do have needs and they are important even if they often come in second. And wounds do heal. They can and they do, but in their place there will always be a scar. Then again, the most interesting people I know are the people who have scars.