I always knew that I would be a mother. From the time I could hold a baby doll, I practiced feeding and changing, burping and chastising. I remember writing down lists of names, depending on my current mood and on what was popular at the time. I wondered what their father would be like, and if we would live in a big house in my own hometown, grandparents on call just down the street. I thought about how many I might have, and if I’d have an equal ratio of boys to girls. I decided that I’d need to take a break from my job in order to devote enough time to their childhoods, just as my mom did for my brother and me.
I never dreamed in a million lifetimes that I would raise my children in another country. I didn’t consider for a second that their father wouldn’t be Canadian and might have his own opinions about names (that might not even be English). I wouldn’t have guessed that their grandparents wouldn’t live within driving distance. And I never once thought that my baby daddy would be a guitar player by night and Super Dad by day, so I wouldn’t need to leave my career behind.
The reality of motherhood doesn’t even share the same eye color as my vision of it when I was a little girl force-feeding her Baby Alive circa 1978. I didn’t know that I’d struggle while trying to pushing a stroller over cobblestones. I didn’t know that I would cry for my own mother when it was 2am, the baby wouldn’t sleep and my husband was at work. I didn’t know that I’d be a second language learner in the pediatrician’s office. I didn’t know that I would search my babies’ faces and realize they didn’t look like me at all.
I didn’t know that sometimes I would feel very lost, very sad and very alone.
But I also didn’t know how rich and sweet my life as a mother would be, because how could I have predicted any of those things as a young girl playing pretend? Because when you become a mother, you are always biting off more than you can chew, and you never can be fully prepared for the new identity you are taking on.
When you become a mother in a country where you were not born, you are taking on a new identity while trying to understand a new culture and language. When I changed my son to a new formula, I had to learn the ingredients in Spanish. When I couldn’t deal with the stroller on cobblestones, I had to learn how to wrap my little babies in a scarf, or reboso, literally wearing them on my body. I dealt with typhoid and dengue as threats to our family’s health, along with the regular, suddenly mundane, colds and flu.
Strangely enough, I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the maple syrup in Canada. Our family is small, but it’s tight, thanks to all those days when we had only each other to lean on. Carrying my little ones wrapped up next to my heart is one of my favorite memories of their babyhood. Our children speak two languages with ease and can read now labels for me. I came to acknowledge that regular sleep wasn’t everything (although it’s pretty dang important). I learned that sadness and loneliness are not the apocalypse. They are simply emotions that show me I’m human. And I learned that joy and love are felt just as deeply, and often at the very same time.
Motherhood isn’t what I expected it would be when I dreamed of it so long ago. It’s a thousand times better. My identity as a mother to these two human beings is the most precious part of who I am. I am grateful every day for the gift of love and for my life as a mother in Mexico.