My First “Aha” Mothering Moment
Becoming a first-time mother to an older child, I now know, is not the same as adopting an infant, or having a biological child. Jesss was already her own person when we adopted her at the age of three. She had her own name and she had her own story–a history and a life full of experiences that had shaped her into the little person she was. We needed to get to know each other. It was an odd arrangement for both of us. Here we were, suddenly anointed mother and daughter by the State–intimate strangers. We needed time to grow into our new relationship. It was both natural and awkward all at the same time.
Although I have five children ranging 19 years between oldest and youngest, I entered motherhood relatively late in the game. After many years of struggling with infertility, my first husband and I finally adopted our oldest daughter, Jessa. I was 29 years old when we brought her home. She was just 3 months shy of her third birthday.
When we picked Jessa up from the foster home where she had been living since she was 18 months old, her foster-mother couldn’t hide her tears. Jessa put her arms around her foster mom and patted her on the shoulder as she hugged her, reassuring her that everything was going to be all right. It took all my strength not to burst into tears. Here was this little toddler, who had been through too many broken bonds already in her short life, comforting the only family she knew as she left them. It would be the first of many times I would admire my daughter’s resiliency and compassion.
Becoming a mother to Jessa was a journey. I immediately loved her in the way I would any child placed in my care, but I distinctly remember the exact moment I felt like a mother. Her mother. Oddly enough, it happened at a Target store.
Sometime around six months after the adoption, I was waiting in the Target checkout line. The checkout lanes were divided by a chrome bar that Jessa was swinging on. I stood watching her, daydreaming, when a woman entered the lane next to me with her cart and pushed it right up against Jessa. When Jessa didn’t move immediately, the woman pushed her cart against her more firmly, pinning her against the bar, and sternly said, “Get out of my way!”
Even typing this, some 22 years later, I can feel the adrenaline rushing through me, as it did then. I had this overwhelming maternal DEFCON FIVE rush that was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I grabbed the woman’s cart and pushed it back against her, my heart banging in my chest, my voice sharp and loud, I yelled, “What do you think you’re doing!!! Get your cart off my daughter!” I was shaking as I blocked the woman’s path, telling her she better go find another lane, better yet, she should find another Target to shop at! She got the message and moved on without making a peep. I had no idea what had just happened to me!
I wish my “Aha” mothering moment had a tender story attached to it. Maybe one where I was reading her a bedtime story as she twirled my hair, or waking up to her hand on my face as she stood next to my bed in the morning. But no, my lane-rage in Target is my first ‘mama moment’ story. Not that there weren’t all those other tender moments, no doubt they were part and parcel of what lead to the maternal rush.
After adopting three children through three very individual adoption experiences as well as having two biological children very late in life, I have found the experience of mothering to be richly diverse. Yet, it is also mysteriously universal at its core. No doubt many of you reading this were shaking your heads in agreement over the Target encounter. You know what I’m talking about. I know I would handle similar moments with more dignity these days, now that I have five notches in my mothering belt. But, there you have it. My moment, my story, I own it, and I love it.