Tuesday, November 27, 2012

She can wear my sweaters now

When I was teaching high school German, I took a group of students on an exchange trip to Stuttgart. Esther was two and a half and I remember freaking out about leaving her, to travel abroad with a dozen or so children who didn't belong to me, for three whole weeks.

Eventually we arranged for Ian to bring Esther over to Germany from England for the final week. It was the first time I had been away , truly far away, from my child for longer than four or five days. I remember having to ask other mothers if it was alright. As if Esther might possibly be harmed somehow by the sudden absence of her mother.  Motherhood has always messed with my unnaturally guilty-filled head like this.

Once I got to Germany, and learned from Ian that Esther was fine, and realized that I was fine too, the sense of physical and mental liberation was profound. Not only was I free, in the physical sense, my freedom came in this very clear context of intellectual freedom, an essential element of life which, from the moment I delivered my baby, seemed to come to a screeching halt.

Now I was in in a foreign country, Germany, responsible for escorting students around Berlin and Stuttgart and other regions, and, most importantly, speaking German almost exclusively in the home of my German exchange partner.

Every day I had to dig deep to prove myself and communicate with all the teachers at our German exchange school. Every day I was called on as a teacher, and a mother of sorts, by any of my dozen students, to solve some problem or other. But also, I was free to explore and absorb and simply enjoy my temporary reprieve from the domestic confines of motherhood. In short, I did not change one diaper or vacuum for three solid weeks.

In my free hours, yes hours, I wandered the streets of Stuttgart. I visited art museums and galleries. I resisted stopping at every fresh-pretzel bakery I passed. I went out of my way to find the longest possible way home and walked, sometimes two hours, through city streets and along woodsy walking paths, to get there. I lost five pounds in two weeks simply from all the walking.

And every night I went to bed with an aching head, swollen with all the new German words and brain twisting grammar rules I was now being forced to actually use, rather than simply recite. The pain of foreign- language acquisition is an exquisite kind of pain. Pain with purpose.

Then, after two weeks, I went to the airport to meet Ian and Esther, who had hopped over from visiting Granny in London. And it wasn't until they were in my sights, behind that glass that separates customs from the arrivals waiting area, that I realized how much I had missed them. By the time they were within reach, I was a sobbing mess. I hugged Esther's little body so hard and cried so many tears I couldn't speak. She pulled away from me, looked into my flooded eyes and said, "Wha' happen'?"

I laughed and answered, "Nothing, Essie. Nothing happened. I'm just so happy to see you."

The minute we were all together in the car, with my host at the wheel, heading back to the house, and my host started speaking English to Esther and Ian,  mommy's little foreign escapade was over.

I realized the trade-off of being reunited with my family. And I struggled with the confusion of being both elated to see them again, and disappointed to feel the spell of all-German- all -the- time be broken.

Anyway, the sweater Esther is wearing in this picture-- I bought it at Benetton on the KĂžnigstrasse in Stuttgart. I've got a bright orange one too. My new, forty-something mom figure can't really pull them off like it used to-- they're a bit tight--so I gave them to Esther.

I love seeing her in them.


Kathleen Trail said...

It's always the push and pull, isn't it? Motherhood stretches you out just like one of those sweaters, physically and emotionally, and you don't ever quite return to the same shape. :)

The combination of Germany & sweaters reminds me of a foreign exchange student my family hosted when I was in college in Texas. His mom sent him a care package with a sweater in it and when Axel opened it, he said (phonetically approximated), "I sweet and I sweet and what does she send me? A sweeter!" Looks like Esther's got a new sweeter...

Anonymous said...

My daughter just started wearing my sweaters! She is angling for my shoes too, thankfully, her feet haven't grown to my size yet! :D

I love this post, Betsy, you've described your experience so beautifully, I could picture the whole thing in my mind.

On thanksgiving day, one of the thanks I gave, was to have found your blog. I come read it every so often and it brings me a lot of joy, so thank you.

(posting as anonymous, since I am having some trouble with my browser)

Amy said...

What a sweet, sweet story! My girl is three...I wonder what sweater I am wearing today will be hers tomorrow? :)

kristina said...

Awww, I love that she's wearing your sweaters -- and she wears it well!

Anonymous said...

Sweet, beautiful, and honest. It made me cry. I understand what that mothering guilt is like. I also understand the bitter-sweet joy of watching our children grow up.

One of my daughters had her baby- my grandson- on Thanksgiving day. I was up all night on the phone with her while she was in labor and gave birth (She's in Vermont). I heard her crying out in pain. At one point, as she was pushing, she screamed "MOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMM!". It broke me into a million pieces and I sobbed. I heard my baby grandson's first cries and I knew that he was alright. I couldn't be there. I stayed on the phone with her until 5:30 a.m. talking to her and getting her through the first stages of breastfeeding and life with a tiny newborn.

I still live the days of my children growing up. My daughter, who's 14, shares clothes with me. She tries to stay up late to talk to me since all of our other kids at home are boys. She feels like she can't get enough mom time.

It's hard to get time for yourself when you're so busy being a mom. Especially since we all know how fast time flies by and they're grown.

This post really hit home for me. I've been laying low lately with sick children, and have been sick myself. I've missed your posts.


Shantique Rozell said...

I just love how eloquently you can put your feelings into words. I'm usually blubbering too much to see through my tears to be able to write so nicely when it comes to my kids.

I can't beleive I waited so long to come to your personal blog from BabyCenter, but I have come to dislike that blog very much, but find myself returning just to read your posts. Glad I can follow here instead!

Betsy said...

Kimin AZ: Congratulations, Grandma! Wow. What an experience that must have been, long-distance childbirth. I cannot imagine. I'd be a wreck.

Anonymous said...

Betsy - LOVE, love, love this...!! (And I'm saddened, in a mom-sorta-way, that Esther can wear your sweaters.)
Keep talking, we're listening.

Iris said...

I love the way you articulated that overwhelming mix of emotions that comes with motherhood. Our children are truly a blessing and yet still a burden. I willingly set aside my own needs in order to meet their needs. And yet,if I burn out, I'm no longer able to serve them. The hardest part for me is that I never want my children to mistake my need for breaks from them as a rejection of them. It is not because they have done anything wrong. I always want them to know without a doubt that they are loved by me beyond any way of measuring the immensity of that love. Even when they drive me crazy.

Anonymous said...

Betsy, I was amazingly calm. It was very emotional and difficult because I couldn't be there. I knew that she could do it. She was incredible.