Just Like Mommy
I was not the marrying kind. But I tied the knot. Everyone was surprised. Including me.
I was not very fond of children either. But I had M. Everyone was surprised. But not me. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I had a plan.
I was going to have my baby. Take a couple of weeks of maternal leave, and be back at work. I was a career woman. The high-powered type. The type that enjoyed working. The type that was bent on climbing the corporate ladder. One rung at a time. Two or three if possible.
I read all about storing breast milk, and M had a place at the local nursery. I had everything arranged.
M came home. We spent our first twenty-four hours together. Every minute of it. Together. Just M and me. I do not remember my husband coming home. The Diet was in session, and they had beds at the office.
I was expecting a frantic twenty-four hours, but M was a happy baby. She slept for hours at a time. Got fed. Got her diaper changed. And slept again. And when she was not sleeping, she just looked at me with those big round eyes. Peace and quiet. Now I was surprised.
The days passed. It was winter, and cold outside. I hardly went out. I did not see anyone. I did not talk to anyone. But it did not bother me. I had M. And every day was one of peace and quiet.
M cried. All babies cry. But it was more like she was calling me. And she always stopped crying the minute I picked her up. It was as if she knew she no longer had a reason to cry.
As my maternity leave neared its end, I realized I would not be going back to work. I could never leave M in the care of a stranger. There was no career more important than the tiny creature in my arms. I knew then that I was leaving one career for another. I had decided to be a stay-at-home mom. Everyone was in shock. I was not. Instinct told me that I was moving on to a greener pasture. And that the pay-off would be enormous.
I became M’s mom. It was a twenty-four hour job. Seven days a week. 365 days a year. 366 days on a leap year.
I was a cook and nutritionist. M never liked carrots, but she ate them anyway. She just never knew she was eating carrots. I had a way of making them disappear in the dishes that I cooked. I guess I was also a magician.
I was a baker. There were no cake shops in Lagos. Or maybe, I did not know where to find them. But it did not matter. I learned to bake before M’s first birthday. By baking three round sponge cakes, one bigger than the other two, I had a huge cake of Mickey’s face and ears for her second birthday.
I was a costume designer. I never learned how to sew, but M always had interesting Halloween costumes, I used glue. Lots of it. And I was very proficient with the stapler. It worked just as well as a sewing machine. She was once the Phantom of the Opera with an elegant velvet cape that I hemmed with the stapler.
I was a Japanese teacher. I taught her the 240 Kanji characters she missed learning because we moved back to Japan when she was in third grade. I wrote short stories using these Kanji characters over and over, and I put the stories in her lunch box.
I was a medical researcher. While living in Lagos, I found a long, fat, white worm in her diaper. It was very much alive. And the doctor was away. I was panicking, but not enough to get on a plane to London. I went through the medical encyclopedia, and learned that the lively parasite was female. I had the deworming medicine sent from Tokyo. More worms in her diaper. All dead this time.
I was M’s mom. And I was a little bit of everything.
It has been a seventeen-year career, and it is coming to an end all too soon. M is leaving for college. I am nearing retirement. It has been the career of a lifetime, and I was right. Although I never received a paycheck, the pay-off was huge, and the bonuses even better.
Bonus number one. M’s conversation with a friend.
Friend: M, does your mom work for the UN?
M: No. But she could.
Friend: Is she a lawyer?
M: No. But she could have been.
Friend: What does she do?
M: She’s a stay-at-home mom.
M: And she is no ordinary stay-at-home mom. If stay-at-home moms worked in the corporate world, she would be the highest paid CEO ever. Definitely seven figures. With stock options.
Bonus number two. An excerpt from one of her college essays.
“I used to want to be a writer. I turned eleven and decided to become Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Now I plan to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a bureaucrat, but I’m realistic enough to know that might change. All I know for sure is that I want to be a mother. It’s the most difficult job in the world, but I’d like to try my hand at it, because it’s also the most important.”
And the biggest bonus of all.
“I want to have a daughter. And I will raise her exactly the way you raised me. I will be a mommy just like you.”