The Bittersweet Symphony of Motherhood


by Ryann Kahn

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I once had a professor who compared running a political campaign to orchestrating a symphony. We spent nearly 20 minutes on the first day of class listening to Bolero by Ravel and discussing it.

It’s a composition built on a single theme, with many variations. It starts quiet, and builds slowly, introducing one instrument at a time. In the beginning it’s easy to hear each new instrument enter the piece, but as it builds, I can only tell that it’s increasingly louder, though it’s not easy to identify what exactly has been added.

But eventually, it’s big and loud and complex and beautiful.

Since I never ended up going into politics, I guess I can’t tell you for sure if his analogy was accurate for the way a campaign is constructed, but what I do know, is that the song creeps its way into my head every now and then as a mother.

In the beginning, when I was pregnant, all I really knew was waiting and anticipating. Waiting for a test. Waiting to see a change in my body. Waiting to feel something. Silently waiting.

Then came the kicking and thumping. Increasing thumps. Stronger thumps. Bigger thumps. Thump. Thump. Thump.

And then of course he was here! And screaming. With reflux or colic or whatever it was, so much screaming. Screaming and screaming.

But then he laughed. His laugh filled the room. We tickled his belly for laughs. We ducked behind furniture to pop out again so he would laugh more. Anything to hear him laugh.

Then he started talking. He said “dada”. He called cups “hot” and then “bup”. He exaggerated the ahhh of “apple”. He called me “amma”. Dada. Hot. Bup. Apple. Amma.

Then he took off moving. He skipped crawling altogether and he walked. He smacked his hands down onto his knees with each step as he walked. He yelled and smiled as he went. He quickly turned walking into running into crashing. He moved.

Then he turned one.

I looked at his little face and even though we were at a new stage, I could still hear the waiting, the thumping, the screaming, the laughing, dada, hot, bup, apple, amma, and crashing/moving.

And I realized that it was just going to keep building like that – the bittersweet symphony of motherhood – the greatest and worst moments are always tinged with sadness or joy as they pass because we remember all the other variations that came before it.

It is big and loud and complex and beautiful.

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