When we have babies, we pick one. Or society picks one for us. We’re tossed into a category based on our personalities, our appearance, and our abilities. Helicopter mom, PTA mom, neglectful mom, the kind of mom who yells a lot, the bystander yelling “oh my god, just spank your screaming kid already” in the grocery store mom, the milf, the mess.
I see it everywhere. On hoodies and T-shirts and Instagram bios… (I own the hoodies and T-shirts and have one in my Instagram bio.) The term “mama bird” or “mommy to three handsomes” or “a princess calls me mommy”. “Breeder of boys”. God, those are so cute.
And then, there’s “mama bear”.
That’s me. Mama bear. As much as I always dreamed of being the sweet housewife mommy in an apron who smelled like cookies and gave perfectly squishy hugs. As much as the delicate “mama bird” makes me imagine a quiet hipster singing indie lullabies to her baby birds in the back of their station wagon while they go on PNW adventures and makes me feel like a frazzled disaster. I’m a mama bear, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Do you know what a mama bear is like in the wild?
She’s fierce. A mama bear has been outnumbered, outsized, and outrun. But she is the toughest, scariest, meanest creature on earth. She’s scarred and missing tufts. She’s fought off animals who were stronger and hungrier. But she has babies to protect, so she’ll never stop. It doesn’t matter if it’s a waterfall or landslide, nor if it’s a hunter or another animal. She’ll tear right through it. Summarized, she’s protective. In depth, nothing else matters.
Sometimes I wonder if real mama bears ever feel guilty about their claws. When their cubs climb all over them to play and they’re just a little too rough and tired to play back. I wonder if they feel timid about holding them by the scruff with their sharp teeth, knowing what they’re capable of and making sure to take extra precaution to make sure that her strength makes her cubs feel safe rather than intimidated. I wonder if real life mama bears break down wishing they could smell like cookies and go on station wagon rides, but they have too much to do, too much to take care of, too many battles to fight. That’s a fun thought, a bear wearing one of those huge, wide rimmed hipster girl hats in a station wagon.
But really. For those of us who are mama bears, it’s not just beast mode, or Hulk-ing out on someone who’s mean to your kid on the playground and transfiguring back to the sweetness quickly. It’s who we are. Hypervigilant and always searching for a predator to fight off, because the predators of the past have made us paranoid. Stressed by the wilderness’s unpredictability and constantly hoping to come into a field of tulips and daisies where our cubs can frolic and play and be as carefree as they deserve to be.
But we made them. Grew them within us to know our heartbeats better than we do. To feel our vibrations. How can we expect them to be carefree while holding onto the back of someone who is restlessly preparing for a fight every turn? Our little ones are hypervigilant, too. They are wise and self-sufficient in ways we don’t understand, because we expect them to rely on us and our ability to protect them from everything. Our cubs are strong, and so are their bonds with one another. They look up to their protector and they want to protect just as fiercely. We can expect so much from them, and they deliver. Boy, do they deliver.
I don’t remember being as independent and brave as my daughter nor as sweet and well-spoken as my son, but like them, I remember being as protective over my sister as she was over me. We spent our childhoods fighting, but never with one another. Our mama bear raised kids who stick together. But perhaps the disservice that was done, in no way that mama bear’s fault, in no way could’ve been avoided, is that we sometimes fight battles which don’t exist. I lack a sense of contentment and ability to relax and be okay with what is. The world is my unpredictable wilderness.
I’m a mama bear grown by a mama bear. I remember as a pre-pubescent kid, a posh, sophisticated, boss lady mommy. She was filled with perfectly manicured hand-holds on our drives to school. I’d be tardy per usual, but with a Starbucks in tow and oxblood colored kisses on my cheek. She was fierce in a Beckham way, not a freakin’ grizzly way. Snuggly and sweet and such a hottie.
I never saw how intensely her eyes searched for solutions, or heard the knuckle-cracking in despair. I was never awake in the hours she may have cried on the phone to her own mommy. I never knew the battles she fought every single day, because that mama bear kept her shit together in ways I fear, most days, I might not. But it was impossible not to see the strength she possessed in all she carried. She was a hyper vigilant protector, bringin' home the fish and the honey without fail.
Of course I got older, and I saw her bare her teeth for me. I saw her fight off terrible situations and people, I saw her become grizzly many times in my place. Perfectly manicured, hair deadly straight, and grizzly. Whether I was being targeted at school, or harassed by mean girls, or legally bastardized, or spoken to condescendingly, or taken advantage of, that mama bear took care of it. I saw the claws of enemies come out, and my mommy walk away from their lifeless bodies*, licking her wounds. She had always been a badass mama bear. (*my mother is not a murderer, just go with the metaphor.)
My heels, tattooed at 17 with “run free”, grew strong, deep roots that stopped me in my frolicking tracks during the transformation from child of a warrior, to warrior mother. So perhaps it’s just self-reflective of me to worry that my children are not as carefree as they deserve to be.
Perhaps a mama bear’s biggest strength and biggest weakness is her fear. That we sit and stress about our teeth and claws being too sharp, but to them, we are perfectly manicured and in possession of a unique and fierce strength. Their confidence lies in the security we provide, and their lack of contentment is born out of witnessing our victories and desiring their own. Our fear creates our wish to be more, to be softer, more delicate, more present. But they see us in all our victory, they see how we wear our battle scars, and they think we are amazing. At the end of the day, they're thrilled by the adventure.
My mom taught me to wear my gold medals and battle scars with the same bold, high-headed, beautiful grace. I am not a gentle, quiet mama bird, fluttering little wings and finding worms. No. I'm scarred to bits, and that scar tissue is thicker than untainted skin. I am terrifyingly resilient and resourceful. I'm raising grizzly little warriors. For my children, I’ve fought the most horrific predators and escaped the harshest of environments. Because my mama bear showed me how to fight to the death for what I love. Summarized, I am protective. In depth, nothing else matters.
I’m a mama bear, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
Mama Bear T-shirt: Rose + Candy
Mama Bear Camo Hoodie: Wildfox AK
Oliver's Baby Bear T-shirt: Wildfox AK