Saturday, 7 May 2016

Dial M for: Marriage, Motherhood, Memoir

On today's date 22 years ago I didn't know it was Mother's Day weekend.
Serbia doesn't do Mother's Day, or Father's Day for that matter.

Twenty two years ago May 7th was "Djurdjevdan" - a big day in Serbian Christian-Orthodox Calendar represented by St.George on the White horse slaying a dragon. It's a patron saint day of many families in Belgrade, though not mine. On Saturday, May 7, 1994 my family was celebrating something completely different: their daughter's wedding. 
That daughter happened to be me. 

The decision to marry my boyfriend, once I had dated him for a few years, while diligently completing all the checkmarks my parents had insisted on (graduate from university, license as a pharmacist, find a good job, not get pregnant etc.) - well, the talented Bruno Mars perfectly sums it all up in the very first verse of  "Marry You" : "It's a beautiful night, We're looking for something dumb to do, hey baby, I think I wanna marry you!"
The initial wedding date was supposed to be in early April since my sister was emigrating to Canada in mid May and I wanted to give my parents a breather between these two monumental events in our family life. However, my pharmacy technician Mira, who was much older and wiser and also hypnotically persuasive - all that gypsy blood flowing through her veins - told me as we were manning a heavy afternoon shift in the pharmacy wholesale warehouse: "Never marry in April. April marriage--April joke." May 7th seemed like a perfect and safe day. 

Mother's Day 1996 was on May 12th. I wish I knew Mother's Day existed, not because by then I was a mom for the whole 110 days. I wish I knew because by then I learned how much I needed a mom, how much my mom meant to me and how at peace I was with everything that happened as if I wasn't doing my motherhood all by myself. If there is anything that touches the essence of my mom's motherhood it is the first few months of me being a mom - in my case, a single mom. 

My mom welcomed me home after a failed marriage. 
My mom went with me for ultrasounds and doctor's appointments.
My mom was at the hospital the night I gave birth to my son. 
My mom assembled (having our friends and neighbours pass down baby items) the most magical nursery for me to enjoy and heal in.
My mom woke up every night to keep me company while I breastfed. 
My mom cooked delicious home-made soups and baked pies.
My mom ironed mountains of cloth diapers each and every day. 
Bajce the Best!
My mom cleaned projectile vomits, soothed the crying baby and readily managed diaper explosions.
My mom patiently fed him his first solid foods. 
My mom assured me there is no rush to potty train. 
My mom...
My mom followed us to Canada at age 60.
My mom was my son's day-care. And a tutor. And a bestie. And a confidant.
My mom saved my sanity. And taught me everything I know about motherhood. 
And if I had to choose between that husband or this mom - I would've gone for this mom every single time!

I'm aware of my incredible good luck to have this mom be my mom. 
I measure my great luck for being a mother of three boys myself, while still having my mom around - fun and wise and full of life. 
And to make sure my boys will know how to carry our good fortune and extraordinary parenting forward, I'm researching, interviewing and capturing it all in a memoir. 
Here is an excerpt of an early draft:

        It was January. There was no baby formula. No glider chair. No dryer. Only lukewarm radiators. 
I am sitting on a sturdy orange kitchen chair in what used to be the bedroom my sister and I shared as teenagers. My leg is propped on a ledge, my whole body coiled uncomfortably on one side trying to avoid—sitting. 
The newborn in my arms is crying. His mouth gaping open, like in cartoons. Red toothless gums framing a miniature paper-thin tongue. It’s a hungry, frustrated cry. 
I’m crying. Mine is an exhausted, desperate cry. Manual for new moms was clear about breastfeeding. “Offer the breast whenever the baby cries. Mother’s milk is perfectly nutritious, served at the ideal temperature and always bacteriologically safe.” 
Mother’s breasts, the book failed to mention, were swollen and tender, chestnuts tightly packed into a balloon, hard from the milk that started pouring out all at once through the utterly unprepared ducts. The yellowish, greasy colostrum was everywhere, soaking and staining my bra and my PJs, spraying baby’s eyelashes, getting into his nostrils, sticking in his tiny soft golden hairs. It went everywhere but into his mouth. 
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Crying, chanting, I rocked myself front and back then stopped jolted by the sharp pain. The tiny mouth managed to latch and started sucking, sounding big gulps, almost choking at times, gnawing the nipple until it bled, yet never letting it go. I was nursing a wolf, not a boy. 
It was January. There was no maternity-leave pay for a retail pharmacy manager. Equal opportunity anything hadn't arrived in Serbia. No food in the supermarkets. No gas at the stations. Pampers for newborns sourced on the black market, too big for the skinny 6-pound body. One diaper, one Deutsch mark. 
“You WILL grow to hate me. You will look at me one day and ask ‘how could someone fail so profoundly at basically everything? At motherhood. At breastfeeding. At providing you with a warm room to sleep in. A clean diaper. A safe childhood. A normal family. A country with no war.’” 
The father-to-be handed me an envelope with neatly signed, stacked and stapled divorce papers ten days before the baby was born. “In case the child is born alive (for still birth please see below), the mother has the right to give the name and make sole decisions regarding medical, religious, educational and all other needs.” Then he disappeared. 

Twenty years later, I am sitting on a chair watching a 6’4”, broad-shouldered man with a hipster beard pack the last few items he’ll need in his sophomore year. Laptop—check. Guitar—check.
“Filip, how was it growing up with just me… never meeting your biological father?” 

“Oh, mama!” He turns around and gently taps the top of my head. Then he smiles. “It was magical!”
Happy Mother's Day!

No comments:

Post a Comment