Tag Archives: children

Going Mother Bear

I remember twenty years ago when our son Cameron was a newborn and my husband and I ventured bravely from the suburbs to downtown Washington, DC on the Metro. He must have been three weeks old or so, as Cameron lay on my shoulder sleeping. A man across the aisle looked at the sleeping baby, I’m sure out of natural curiosity or happy memory, and I doubt I’ll ever forget my reaction. Holding tighter to our baby, I worried fiercely he wanted to take Cameron from me. I probably shot him a look that would kill as I envisioned all the ways I would protect my child.

Mother Bear

Mother Bear

Childbirth had its way with me chemically. Bruce said about a week into motherhood that I acted like I had been hit by a truck OK, not a good metaphor to use with a woman recently recovering from childbirth, but I had to agree with him. The woman I was before the birth had replaced Stepford Wife style while I slept postpartum in the hospital. No, I didn’t become a more diligent cook or housecleaner (no such luck there), but I had become a person who now suddenly would be willing to rip the eyes of out a fellow Metro traveler.

The “mother bear” instinct that took me over was often frightening. I must be honest, Before Cameron (BC), the thought never entered my mind how I might “take out” someone who would threaten one of my loved ones. After Cameron, I began to run scenarios on how I would jump in the tiger area at the National Zoo to rescue my children. How they would have gotten in the pen, I have no idea. Yet as I visualized attacking one claw equipped animal after another, I realized the footloose and worry free BC Deidre was gone.

Around our house in Montana, every couple of years a yearling bear cub appears trying to forage for food. Bird feeders and garbage cans are our usual casualties, but I used to wonder why the mother bears would send off their babies so young. Watching how my mother bear instinct rages within me even though we have grown and almost grown children, I wonder if this early send off is nature’s way of keeping both mother and teenaged bear sane!

With a twenty year old and two teenagers in our family, I am struck by how I still desperately want to keep them safe. I guess I always thought the “BC Deidre” might return when the kids reached a certain age. No luck there. Much to my children’s dismay, the mother bear instinct still remains.

When our children play upon cultural edges, be it teenaged antics or a racy outfit, I notice that I don’t act my best. I want to throw a baby blanket over their heads and take them home, even if they are home! “Guess what, teenagers and twenty year olds need some self-determination and independence,” says my rational brain. Meanwhile, Mother Bear tries to take over, even if her logic on safety is completely out of whack.

Sports are a funny aberration of mother bear gone awry. Go watch the antics of soccer moms. Why might you ask are these women ready to eat the referee alive, find themselves screaming at coach or opposing team parents, or pushing their children to run harder and play tougher? My theory is all the mother bears on the sidelines are internally chanting, “Winners are safer,” and “Great athletes have more opportunities and are thus safer.” Oh yes, and there is the constant message they could repeat that “Athletic kids are healthier (safer), get better grades (safer) and are less likely to do drugs (that will protect them too.)” Our logical minds can find counter arguments to all these pronouncements, yet the mother bears seize the stage and run to sign up little ones for another summer camp.

So, in terms of this blog’s theme, how does a biologically programmed mother “play well”?

I have found three supporting tools:

  • Self awareness – that my hormonal mommy makeup wires me to “keep them safe at all costs,” reminds me to pay attention if I’m going “bear.”
  • Check out the story – When I get a bit territorial, it helps to realize what statement I’m using. It usually that ends with, “…are safer.” It’s then good to remind myself that it’s not always true that kids who get straight A’s are safer for example. What’s the story I’m using? Is it appropriate? Is it fair to my children?
  • Be compassionate – I often dislike how wishing to create safety creates fear-based reactions. I want to support self-determination, creativity and independence in my children, so worry, inadvertent fussing or nagging rarely pleases me. But, I’m still a mother. Get between a grizzly and her cub and you’ll be in trouble. That my claws come out from time to time is only natural. Being kind to myself is better for all involved.

Once out of my childhood house, but “Before Cameron,” I was always confused by my mother’s reactions when I’d periodically visit. Going out with friends, she would be worried if I returned late or struggled over choosing a new job direction. I would remark how silly it was how I could travel all over the country and live thousands of miles away and it didn’t bother her at all, but at home I needed a curfew. Now twenty years AC, I understand entirely. Mother bears become just that when their cubs drop by, whatever their age!

It Takes a Year

Six months ago turbulent financial markets gained national attention. From a journal entry I wrote last September…

 “Every friend I have seen in town over the past days brings up the falling Dow and failing banks as a conversation topic. This was not supposed to happen. They are struck by how very smart Harvard MBAs constructed this mess and the government let it all occur. What can they trust? As I type, I wonder what the effects of this mass loss of faith in our government and the financial system will yield in the days and weeks ahead. What would this paragraph say six months from now?

Carrie explains, ‘I lived outside of San Francisco during the large earthquake of 1994. I remember friends struggling for months afterward since the ground had moved underneath their feet. Somehow it didn’t bother me since I believed it could and had prepared for an earthquake such as the one we experienced. But, now with the economy falling apart around us, I feel like the ground is unstable and I understand for the first time their panic.’

Fantasies of hording money between the mattresses filtered in as I drifted off to sleep last night. Before bed after the Dow lost nearly 1,000 points over two days, my husband Bruce sat on the couch, face lit by his black Mac Book and scanned online newspapers. He read off to me the Wall Street Journal headline ‘Worst Crisis Since ’30s, With No End Yet in Sight.’  A CPA and tax lawyer, his radar is tuned to the financial markets, and I rely on the blips and beeps that appear on his screen to send off my own alarms. Although a man of understatement most of the time, I could tell even he was concerned.  While visualizing hording soup in my basement, I can hear my alarm system is screaming, ‘warning, warning…’”

Six months later, I still have periodic soup stocking fantasies depending on the week…and WSJ headlines. I wish I did not.  I’d rather consistently possess optimism and poise with a dash of clarity, but that seems beyond my reach.

Six months has a special connotation for me as a mother.  I usually got disheartened about a ½ a year into each child’s arrival. After our first son,  I remember thinking, “I should have lost all this baby fat by now,” “We should be settled into this new family configuration,” and “Why is this still so ridiculously hard?” Six months is a long time to endure chaos and confusion; by then I have used up most of my just-muscle-it-through reserves.

To survive, my logic became if our culture’s standard mourning, or better said, “adjustment” period historically was a year, then shouldn’t I give myself the same? We knocked off an old life when each new baby arrived. The metaphoric gravestones could have read:

  • Young Couple – RIP June 1989.
  • Family of Three –  B: June 1989, D: March, 1991.
  • Moving from one-on-one play (two adults to two kids) to zone defense — June 1994 (I was raised in hockey country)

For my children – if any of you have read this far –  what we got in exchange was worth more than any loss we experienced.  There was never a need to wear black, although, I do like how I look in that color. Understand that by recognizing that we were in an adjustment period culturally prescribed as a year, I relaxed and let go the need to have it all together.  As an older, wiser mother once told me, “You are not supposed to be graceful during this phase.”

Signs of six-month financial chaos exhaustion are appearing in my circles. It seems we are asking similar questions including, “Shouldn’t have this mess figured out by now?” and  “Why is this still so ridiculously hard?” Yet, we could have a memorial service for a past leader in our community, Mr. Stable Banking Industry – From 1935 To 2008.  As we adjust to our new family configuration without our dear “big brother,” I realize I need to allocate a full year. Someone wonderful may appear to fill our past protector’s position, but in the meantime, I’ve still got a six-month excuse to be less than graceful as we traverse this uncharted territory. Know that I accord you the same.