When I was a kid, my two favorite movies were “Terms of Endearment” and “Chariots of Fire.” I sympathized with the Jewish Harold Abrams as he ran fast in a society that shunned him for his religious background and his rather open ambition. But in my heart I knew I would never be an athlete, live in England, or hear the roar of an audience at my back at an Olympics.
There was one thing I was pretty certain that I wanted from life and that was motherhood. Maybe it was the incredible score or the way Winger and MacClaine fought but “Terms of Endearment” stayed with me as I grew up. It was one of the few movies I ever saw that portrayed the mother daughter bond as I knew it: painful, often loud, mostly at odds and yet with a deep longing for acceptance and love that ached in every single scene. It was a movie for girls and a movie for women.
While I am not from Texas and my mom was not a corseted blonde, the relationship I saw on screen was the one that would haunt me for many years as I thought slowly and carefully about becoming a mom. I wanted to be a parent but I was also afraid of motherhood. I was afraid that I would have a daughter and our relationship would be like that on the screen, a battleground in the middle of occasional moments of sheer joy. I was scared of losing myself in the process of becoming a parent.
It was one line in particular that I came kept coming to again and again. Debra Winger’s character, a mother who is being mothered, in “Terms of Endearment” says this of parenthood:
“As hard as you think it is, you wind up wishing it were that easy.”
As I would learn as I began my own journey into momhood, she’s right of course. We all go into parenting knowing deep inside of our skin that it will be hard. Oh it all starts with a sense of giddiness as the stick turns the right color and most of us think about who we’re going to tell, when we’re going to tell, and how we’ll decorate the nursery. In the first week or two, we all hold our breath and wait to see if sticks. I did not think it real until after I spent nearly a day’s pay on pregnancy tests.
And then about a month later, the hard part began in earnest. Morning sickness hit me like a solid wave at the shove for several weeks, dragging me under and nearly draining my strength. Then came varicose veins, back aches, ankles that looked like loose balloons on a string, and the e-cup. Like so many women, I was lucky. The pregnancy ended with the hardest work in the world: the work of giving birth. A part of me though that the hard work of all this parenting thing was over.
In the months of sleeplessness that settled over me like a lace veil, I would learn the real truth of the matter: that the hard work was going to last a while. Over the years, I would battle all the little wars of parenthood, from potty training to sibling rivalry to managing work, motherhood, and a semi-clean house on five hours of sleep and three cups of coffee. I would think of that quote again and again, realizing the truth of it that I had known even then at 12. And yet, as true as the quote is, the real truth of motherhood lies somewhere beyond it.
It is hard, this experience we dub parenthood. But it’s also easy too. It’s easy in ways that do not become apparent until you’re deeply in the middle of it as the movie ultimately demonstrates. You take a little tiny thing and you slowly mold it. You bring it along the long path is adulthood day by day, month by month, year by year and then watch as you have an actual person from a bassinet and something that once fit in the crook of your arm. It is maybe the world’s most difficult accomplishment but it is also possibly the most rewarding. You give up parts of yourself in the process because you have no other choice. You cannot go back. There’s a small dot in my back where they inserted the epi needle that aches when I turn a certain way. My feet are bigger and so are my ankles. My heart grew, too, so there’s that.
My eldest child is 15. I remember thinking as I looked at her in the tiny crib next to me wrapped up in a blanket like a loaf of freshly baked bread that I cannot possibly do this at all let alone do it well. Yet, somehow here we are together a decade and a half later, our journey almost completed as she chases the enticing trail of womanhood in front of her and it was almost just that easy.
She sits next to me quietly letting me hold her hand and stroke her hair and look at her solemn and merry face. I whisper I love you again and again, 15 times and realize with each breath that the hard journey – the difficult and winding path – was the best one I ever took.