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FORTY-SOMETHING FIRST-TIME MOM | “Motherhood is an Olympic Sport”

 

 

 

Jill Villanueva Palarca

TOKYO, Japan. Filipino weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz pulls the bar to her clavicle and thrusts the 127 kg barbell into the air. She staggers a little bit. But one—two—and the crowd cheers. Blisters on hands, she gets the gold!

Meanwhile, Davao City, Philippines. Forty-something first-time mom Jill Palarca slowly bends her back with an 8 kg baby in her arms; still swaying and humming, to make a smooth crib landing. She staggers a little bit. But one—two—and the baby cries. Back hurts, she feels old!

When I watched Hidilyn do her power stance as she lifted that enormous weight, I gushed in awe. The core strength to hold it all in. The determination on her face to keep the balance. That’s motherhood!  

Weightlifting is not new to mothers. They do not only carry the weight of growing babies. They also carry the weight of their children’s future – their dreams and struggles – and even the weight of society’s eyes. Just like in the Olympics, spectators are on the sidelines either quietly criticizing or loudly bashing your parenting decisions. Thanks to Social Media. 

A mother absorbs all the hurt from the tiniest scratch to the biggest tragedy. And by holding everything in just like a weightlifter would, they call her strong. But deep inside, she’s really about to crash. Her knees are just a nudge away from folding. Nobody takes notice because everybody loves a winner. So even if you’re losing, just do a Margielyn, and grin your way through your misery. People like that. Don’t get me wrong. Didal’s photobombing antics is sportsmanship at its cutest. On the other hand, postpartum depression can be acute.  

A mother will try to balance motherhood and a professional career. She multitasks just as an Olympic athlete would display her highly-developed hand-eye coordination. But she realizes immediately that there is no such thing as juggling babies and work especially in a work-from-home set-up. There is no so-called balancing act. In reality, a mother holds onto a rope with one hand while clutching a baby on the other – it’s a death-defying stunt! 

Of course, I am describing myself in my arena of motherhood. My own Mt. Olympus. 

Weightlifting is just one of the events. Boxing takes place inside the shower as I spar with my own guilt, regrets, and frustrations for the day. “I wish I had been a better mother,” I would cry Toni Braxton—style. But stress always came in as a left hook. An emergency meeting that destroyed my baby’s feeding schedule. A co-worker that I have to cover. Losing the internet connection when I’m meeting a deadline. And worse, a power interruption in the middle of sweltering weather. Cue fussy baby. 

Our own gymnast struggled with his floor exercise – an event where he was expected to bag the gold. I have my own version. Because my baby’s now crawling and climbing, and refuses to stay inside her playpen, my workstation is now on the floor to keep her company. But let me tell you, I ain’t really bagging the gold at work too. 

Prior to having a baby, writing lesson plans, making presentations, etc. was all in a day’s work. I had side projects, gigs, and could even manage to sneak in some filmmaking or advocacy work. These days, I’m lucky if I can even finish something in a day. 

I attended a time management seminar recently and I can’t help but chuckle at the fact that babies do not respect schedules. It’s always an off-synch routine. My fumbles are spotted. The ‘judges’ are not liking it. And it’s only a matter of time before I get called out for always bringing my very expressive baby to meetings. 

But unlike Simone Biles, a mother just cannot simply take an exit.  It’s almost like we’re not allowed to break down. Being in the Olympics is a privilege. Having a baby is a blessing. That’s what they say. But there will always be days when we can’t just do it. 

For the past 127 years, the Olympic Games has always been about being ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ as the competition requires athletes to run faster, throw further, jump higher and leap longer than their rivals. In the same way, motherhood has become about a race for baby milestones, throwing extra-creative birthday parties, and out-mothering everyone with organic food, baby-led-weaning, cloth diapers, sleep training, and all those postmodern parenting rules. 

This year, the Olympic committee added the word ‘Together’ into the motto to reflect the need for solidarity during this difficult time. The parallelism to motherhood is undeniable. Mothers need support. But unfortunately, just like Hidilyn’s experience, getting help these days is so hard; what with the almost impossible quest to get a competent nanny among other things.  

It took Hidilyn four trips to the Olympics until she was able to make it to the top-most podium. It took me three trips to the hospital before I can officially be part of the mom club. Though I can’t out-mother anyone, just one look at my daughter’s milk-drunk face feels like I have gold in my arms.

(Virgilind “Jill” Palarca graduated with honors at UP Diliman in 1999 and worked as an associate producer for MTV Asia and a writer for television and events before becoming an educator. She teaches Media and Information Literacy at the ADDU Senior High School. She is also a filmmaker and has won Best Screenplay at the 2014 Mindanao Film Festival. )

 

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