My son Damian was born just a few days before Mother’s Day. When we got home from the hospital, two huge beautiful bouquets showed up, sent by a family friend: a profusion of white and purple, and red with lacy green accents. One bouquet was for my mother, who was visiting to help out, and one was for me. Happy Mother’s Day!

As I sat in the oversized armchair, recovering from a C-section and trying desperately to teach my tiny baby to latch on and nurse, I stared at the mantel. At those flowers. Contemplating their meaning. Me, a mom? Really? But he was so tiny, barely human yet. Just a need machine. I didn’t feel maternal, I felt like a worker with zero training, randomly assigned to an impossibly complex job.

Me, a mom? Happy Mother’s Day?

Two years later, I felt like a mother, alright. Just an incompetent one. Everywhere I turned, other moms seemed to know what they were doing better than I did. In the playground, they would chirp at their kids, who would come running. In the library, kids would sit on their mothers’ laps, clapping happily along with the librarian at sing-song story time. I watched moms with two and three kids and wondered how they managed. One wailing, whirling dervish of a child was wringing me dry.

A year after that, it all made sense. Autism explains a lot, doesn’t it? The label is also useful:  I got books, spoke to experts. With a diagnosis in hand, I could learn how to parent this complex, contradictory child of mine. I started to get the on-the-job emergency training I’d always needed.

The work was still just as hard:  long hours, intense conditions. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Always. But most mothers get a specific, tangible reward—sticky kisses, crude drawings, big hugs. “Mommy, I love you.” Payment for services rendered. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever hear those words.

I did.

I can’t remember the first time he said it, but I do have a record of this: October 7, 2002. Damian was four and a half. He cut out a construction paper heart in occupational therapy, then presented it to me, saying, “I wanted to make a heart for Mommy because I love you.”

The next Mother’s Day was good. I got the crudely drawn card, the loving hugs. I got what I wanted.

Over the years since then, I’ve heard the word a lot. “Mommy, I’m hungry.” “Mommy, I’m thirsty.” “Mommy, I’m bored.” “I hate you, Mommy!” “Remember when I said I hated you, Mommy?  I didn’t mean it.  I love you, Mommy.  I love you a lot.”

About a year ago, around the time Damian turned 11, he decided it was time to grow up. Time to shed Mommy and Daddy. Henceforth, we would be known only as Mom and Dad.

It was strange at first. Every time I heard his pre-pubescent treble calling, “Mom!” I looked around for my own mother. Nope. It’s me. All me. No longer Mommy to a toddler, a preschooler, a young child.

Me, Mom?

It’s not just the loss of three letters. It’s a renegotiation, symbolic of the shifting relationship between a mother and a preteen boy. Me and my son. As Mom, I let him have more independence but expect him to shoulder more responsibility. As Mom, I’m less caregiver and more facilitator.

The job description has changed. It’s less all-encompassing but somehow feels more permanent. I’ll be Mom for the rest of my life. No, for the rest of his. I’ll be Mom, his Mom, forever.

I like that.

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  • Julia L. Kay May 9, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Great piece!
    Happy Mother’s Day!