After one year of giving birth, I sat in a cafe frantically writing this letter to motherhood, before picking up the twins form day care. I read this now and recognize how paramount that year was, and how thankful I am that i became a mother.
I survived…One year later, and I am still alive. I do not sleep, I do not eat, and washing my hair is a luxury, but I made it and I may have turned into a better person. I have two tiny people that remind me daily that life is sweet and short, much like a mini Mars bar, just when you start enjoying it, it ends.
As my day starts and my level of stress shoots to star high levels, the piled undone laundry starts to develop an attitude, and the unprepared lecture notes start to guilt trip me into wondering what kind of person I have become. What happened to the talented, smart, intelligent, career oriented, size 8 wearing, 15 km running woman I once was? And just as the sight of a morning jogger starts to pinch my heart and bring severe awareness to my protruding belly, and my wide hips, and just as my colleague writes me a long email passive aggressively reprimanding me for missing yet another academic committee meeting, and just as I race out of campus only to be stopped at Qalandia…for hours; just as the world starts to cave in, these tiny feet, and tiny teeth, and innocent eyes that gather the most beautiful expressions a human face can gather remind me that I am no longer who I once was, that I have irreversibly changed. I may have been the career oriented, size 8 wearing, 15 km running woman, but back then I was only a caterpillar slowly swallowing everything in front of me, unable to ever feel full or satisfied. I did not know back then, just like a caterpillar does not know that we were both only fulfilling our destiny. That soon we will emerge out of cocoons, butterflies with wings to carry us as far away as possible from everything that is mundane, to the honey centers of jasmine and rose. My soul has wings now, and it sores beyond all that is daily and boring. It can see the bigger picture even when my children are sick, and I am on my way to yet another doctor’s appointment in the middle of a thunderstorm.
A student of mine approached me cautiously a few weeks ago; she said that I made her cry last year. She was terrified of taking a course with me, but was pleasantly surprised when she finally did. “You changed, professor, you are not as difficult as you used to be,” she confessed. I was not sure what to do, should I be embarrassed for what I once was? Or should I be happy that I have changed. My students have always known me to be tough, but never was the intention to make anyone cry. She said that I still held them at very high expectations, but that I was gentler and more compassionate. I wanted to hug my student so hard and tell her that motherhood changes everything. It softens the heart, and awakens the conscience, and opens up the brain to fresh air. It rewires all emotional, biochemical and hormonal pathways, and the end result is a new human being. The caterpillar undergoes major biochemical and physiological changes too, it grows wings, legs, and tentacles; its body becomes skinnier and lighter to fly away. As it emerges out of its cocoon, it is changed forever. And I have emerged out of my cocoon.
Yes, there are days when I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I do wake up feeling much like Gregor Samsa did, a giant vermin, ugly, frantically trying to gain control over my body and everything else. There are days when I am no longer a butterfly but a ferret running frantically on its wheel and getting nowhere. A look in the mirror could send me into uncontrollable crying episodes as I lament the dark circles under my eyes, the ungroomed person I have become with milk, egg, and lentil soup stains on almost every piece of clothing. But soon enough Basil’s belly laugh comes rolling into my ear and rudely interrupts my self-pity. Then I snap back and remember that I am neither a ferret nor an ugly giant vermin. I am a butterfly. Or Taima’s unlimited babbling that starts at 6 a.m. and does not stop until she falls asleep trustingly in her father’s arms at 8 p.m. swirls around me, and then I am transformed again from self loathing to sweet reality.
Yes I have cried endlessly this year. I have cried alone, with the children around, in my car, in my bed, while changing diapers, while cooking dinner, in the kitchen, while grading papers, while reading scientific literature that made no sense at all at 2 a.m. while trying to a make a deadline for an article in This Week in Palestine, while missing mixing body butters and scrubs. I have cried everywhere you can think of as the pressures of life caved in. I cried when Basil could not breathe from his broncholitis and when Taima was rushed to the emergency room on her first birthday. I cried when I missed the Christmas tree lighting in Ramallah, and when I gave my midterms three weeks before finals. I cried when I realized that I have not said one meaningful sentence to Ahmed for months, and when we could not finish a simple conversation because Taima woke up full of tears and vomit, sick again. I cried when Basil woke up and screamed for two hours every day for the past month. I cried when the only sleep I got where between the hours of 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. I have cried a lot this year. But (and please underline this but) I have also laughed. It is difficult to say which I did more off crying or laughing, but when I did laugh, it was the kind of laugh that uncoils from the bottom of your tummy and roars through your entire body. I can say I have experienced pure joy, the kind that only a mother knows.
As the year ends, and I continue to search for me and find me in between written lines, cooked dinners, decorated Christmas trees, graded or ungraded papers, endless laundry, stolen quiet moments (even if they are in the bathroom), I just have one request from you dear Motherhood; have mercy on me and Ahmed. Give us the wisdom and strength to raise these children to become better than us. Give us the strength to raise them lovers of life and humanity, fighters for justice, kind, compassionate, well read, well written, well spoken, strong, very Palestinian individuals who will be able to face life even after we stop to exist. And give me, personally, the ability to understand that I have forever…morphed.
Happy New Year!