Motherhood Milestones by Andrea Santo Felcone


I have this candle that has tried to define me. It was given to my parents by what I assume was a well-meaning Aunt, as a present (for me) on the day I was born. I think she was my Mother’s Aunt through marriage, or maybe just through time and osmosis. I remember visiting her and discovering she had saved every sticker from every piece of fruit she’d ever eaten, and adhered the stickers to her kitchen cabinets in an interesting “mosaic”. Yet even with this “hobby,” this Aunt found the time to give my parents the hefty, pink, satin-ribboned, “Milestone Marker Birthday Candle”. milestone candle

If I wasn’t sure I was a “late bloomer” beforehand, staring at my “Milestone Marker Birthday Candle” every year–solidified that for me. This candle, created in the 1950s, has a number line (from 1 – 21 years) featuring pictures next to the years identified as “milestone years”. For example, at the age of 6, I was supposed to ride around on my training-wheel-free bicycle. And at 15, the double-hearts with the arrow running through–could only mean I would find “true love”. And at 18, there’s the graduation cap (self-explanatory). And, of course: at 21, there is a symbol of–yes!—a wedding ring. (Hey, in “candle years”, this was the 1950s).

So, according to this candle, I’m a huge disappointment.

I didn’t fly in by “Stork” (yes, in “1950s Candle World” that is how these things happened). To be fair, I don’t know how the candle could have predicted my riding a ONE-WHEELED training-wheel bike around. (Dad accidentally drove over one of my training wheels, and, rather than fix that one, or remove the other–I wasn’t ready–I was sentenced to riding around in circles.) I didn’t have my first boyfriend at the age of 15; I’m sure my head was buried in a book. And I certainly wasn’t married by 21, as predicted by the poorly misguided “prophetic” candle. Growing up in the 1970s, very few (if any) of my milestones unfolded according to these 1950s waxy “deadlines”.

And yet, I ADORE THIS CANDLE.

In my younger years, I used to let the candle burn the full inch of whatever age I’d just turned. In my late teens, I realized if I wanted to keep this candle a life-long tradition–conservation was in order. From that point on, every birthday is celebrated by a faster than fast: “lighting–birthday wishing—extinguishing” ritual. This is my time-honored tradition (never you mind that there are people selling these candles [unused] on eBay for $120.00).

But, since the good people of “Penn Wax Works, Inc.” didn’t see fit to create a “Motherhood Milestone Marker Candle,” I’m left to wonder what the continuation of this candle–the Wax Monument to my Motherhood–would look like. I can imagine if the 1950s candle had continued, in those years from 25 – 30, I was surely expected to be surrounded by a healthy brood of children; rather than an energetic intrusion of cockroaches in a tiny Brooklyn apartment, complete with a ticking biological clock on the mantel. (I can already hear the candle “yelling” at me: “What are you DOING”? as I accept dates with seriously commitment phobic men.) Yet, be patient, waxy one. It won’t seem like it at the time, (especially not to me), but this will work out. Marriage will come–eventually at 32. Children will arrive–respectively at 35 and 42. And with the children–a slew of Motherhood Milestones will follow–some big, some small, all reason to celebrate.

We celebrate all the wonder-filled things our children do, the “rolling over”, stacking blocks, talking, walking—but, do we give ourselves enough credit? Do we celebrate our achievements? Most of mine involve me learning to trust myself, listening to my “Mom gut”– following my instincts.

I knew the pacifier wasn’t affecting my firstborn’s speech, but I still gave myself a hard time with that decision. Until the day I didn’t–might have been the day my son busted out with “Brazilian Hardwood” (don’t ask) in a quiet doctor’s waiting room. I eventually let those pacifier worries go, and everything was fine.

And thankfully, I outgrew my penchant for the phrase: “Big Boy ______”.  As in: “Oh, look, your Big Boy tooth is growing in!” and “Would you like your apple sliced; or do you want to eat it “Big Boy style”? For a while there, it looked like I was going to go to his “Big Boy Wedding,” hoping he’d saved enough for his “Big Boy Mortgage”–but I got myself together.

And let’s not forget the inexplicable fact that I used to cry (actual tears) at my firstborn’s preschool and elementary school parent-teacher conferences. Something about his little drawings used to get me. The year they showed me his “self-esteem flower”; well, that was a low blow. How was I supposed to keep it together for that? “Color the leaves RED if you like this thing about yourself, BLUE if you don’t”. Everything was RED—except this one little, solitary–BLUE leaf. That tiny BLUE leaf unraveled me. I was sure that BLUE leaf was entirely my fault. I did rein it in before the one and only Middle School conference (think “happy thoughts”).

And perhaps one of my biggest “Motherhood Milestones” was the time I had to part ways with my son’s first pediatrician. This took SEVEN years. The “Motherhood Milestone Marker Candle” would NEVER have stood for that!—but that’s how long it took me. It wasn’t that he wasn’t good at his job–he was; it’s just that he and I weren’t a “good fit”. Surely, it wasn’t right to cry after every “well visit”? (I’m talking about myself here, not my son). I just had to give him the old: “It’s not you; It’s me” speech, and return the painful reminders (stickers, tongue depressors, vaccination pamphlets) of our troubled time together. The new pediatrician “gets me” (and “bonus”: he’s a better fit for my sons, too).

And, although I know there isn’t enough wax at “Madame Tussauds” for my actual “Motherhood Milestone Marker Candle,” I’m still proud of where I am. Progress is progress—no matter what those candle-makers of the 1950s had to say about things. Milestones are milestones. Late bloomers by definition bloom later, but we are still, well … blooming.

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