My mom was always a superhero in my eyes. She was the quintessential working mom who was somehow able to climb the ladder in her career and make sure her kids had a home-cooked dinner every night. She never missed a school play or a softball game — or forgot my favorite shirt that always had to be clean even though I wore it constantly.
Although I knew my mom had always wanted to be a grandmother, she was polite enough to refrain from pressuring me overtly about having kids of my own. But with her only other child more preoccupied by his career and serial dating than by starting a family, I knew that as the stable married gal, I might be my mom’s only chance to fulfill her dreams of becoming Nana.
I, on the other hand, didn’t always know I wanted to be a mom. Perhaps in no small part because society told me that as a lesbian I shouldn’t. But somewhere around my 30th birthday, the stars and Supreme Court justices and my biological clock aligned — and forcefully led me down the fertility path. I became pregnant without too much fanfare.
I was so excited to tell my mom we were expecting. I knew she had waited for this moment for years, as she watched all her friends and siblings and cousins become grandparents. Although at first I had trouble understanding her response when I told her, I came to understand her attitude as “cautious celebration.” My mom was so excited about becoming a grandmother, she was afraid to let the emotions out in full force because it didn’t seem real. It was almost as if she didn’t want to jinx it.
As the due date drew nearer, my mom’s excitement grew. She took us shopping and bought beautiful nursery furniture. She talked about how she would be ready to run to the hospital the moment she heard I was in labor. I had warm, fuzzy thoughts thinking about my mom holding my baby, and I felt reassured that she would be there, right from the beginning, to teach me the mom ways and impart her wisdom about how to care for a newborn and how to be a good parent.
But when I actually had the baby, it was a whole different ball game. Sure, my mom was incredibly excited to be a grandma and couldn’t help but bring gifts every time she came to visit. But something really strange happened: It was like my mom became a different person — or maybe just that the person my mom really was all along was finally revealed to me.
I couldn’t put my finger on it, especially through all those early sleepless nights and hormone surges. But what I did know was that my mom was not the mother and grandmother I knew and wanted her to be. My mom was in fact clueless.
For the first three months of her grandson’s life, she refused to hold him. She wouldn’t change his diaper or feed him. She never offered to watch him for a couple of hours so we could, say, get a nap in or go out for a meal or take a walk around the block to catch our breath sans baby. When the baby cried, my mom freaked out, which only made him more upset.
And then, a few months in, when she finally held him for the first time, she was completely awkward. She didn’t know how to support his neck. She tried to feed him, but she didn’t know to tip the bottle up. Five months in, she tried changing a diaper and somehow ended up putting the poop-filled diaper back on. Possibly because of all this or because my mom is so uncomfortable with him or for other unknown reasons entirely, my baby does not like my mom.
“You really should learn to socialize him,” my mom will say, as if we are somehow hiding him in our embrace eternally and refusing to share him with others. I don’t have the heart to tell her he’s pretty good with just about anyone but her.
The whole conundrum is completely baffling. Presumably, I was a baby once, and my mom had to care for me — right? Didn’t my mom in fact raise two children? Could someone so easily forget how to keep a baby alive? Or had she always been clueless and I’ve been the truly clueless one all along because I had no idea?
I haven’t had the heart to call her out on her discomfort with my kid — or ask her what’s going on. I’m not sure if I’m more concerned that I’ll burst her bubble and upset her or whether I’ll learn she was just as incompetent with me when I was a baby.
I don’t know how we arrived at a place so sadly divergent from where we expected to be, but I wish my mom might one day be the grandma I know she wants to be — to the grandson I know she’s always wanted. I don’t know how we’ll get there, but I hope we will.