Motherhood is a paradox, a bi-polar beast, a yin and yang. It’s a world where both opposites are always true at the same time. It’s wearying and mundane and exciting. It’s tears of joy and tears of heartache in the same moment. It’s willing the days to go by and mourning their passing at once. It’s selfless and selfish together. You give so much of yourself away and yet it’s to serve your own progeny. To serve the little humans that you decided to create or adopt or raise as your own to reflect parts of you. And then you live in selfless service to them.
Every day you wake to an impossible to-do list. A list that is perpetual, not only with tasks to cross off in a satisfying, accomplishing way, but tasks that you could do over and over and over again and you never finish. The laundry is perpetual. Never ending cycles of rinse and spin and soak and transfer and dry and dump into a chair and fold and put away and grab the basket on your way out to start all over again. The floor has been swept 5 times today and you want to cry when you turn around and it looks dirty all over again and do you sweep it again in hopes that it stays clean this time or do you fill those 5 minutes with a task that you can check off that growing list in hopes that you get a glimmer of fulfillment?
A life where you begged and pleaded and waited and coached them to say “Mama” and after hearing it 5 times 100,000 by the end of the day you don’t want to ever be associated by that name again. When they all need you at once and you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions and you can’t possibly make everyone happy and there’s a good chance you will succeed in making no one happy. When you have pride and dread that they want to bake cookies themselves and you know that’s a good independent project but it’s on the day you finally had the kitchen spotless. The counters scrubbed down, the clutter put away. And you know they’ll need your help with everything from finding the ingredients to figuring out which is a ¾ cup and how to soften butter and can you reach that bowl for me and you’ll have to remind them 30 times that they promised to clean up EVERY THING. And you balance reminding them and helping and deciding it’s not worth the effort all at the same time.
When one minute everyone is at each other’s throats and your entire world consists of trying to get their attention to stop teasing, biting, hitting, threatening wedgies, squealing, slamming doors, taking toys, and reminding the 15 year old that even though the 4 year old hit him first he is 11 years older so it doesn’t matter, for just 30 seconds of peace and it goes on and on until you almost lose your mind and then, instantly, there’s quiet. Not because you got through to them but because. The wind changed or the atmospheric pressure rose or Mercury was in retrograde or they saw something shiny outside. So much quiet you think the littlest one certainly must have run away and just as you start to picture how much time you are about to commit to searching and you’ll probably get to a point where you decide you should start panicking and feeling a little selfish that you think to yourself that when it’s time to call the police nothing on your list is going to get done at all, you finally realize that the 10 year old is producing a carnival in her room and is mesmerizing the little boys for the next 2 hours and has enlisted the 12 year old to give bull-riding rides and you think your children are the most amazing little creatures ever.
When you beg and plead and think of a hundred different systems and rewards and punishments and heart-to-hearts and threats, veiled and unveiled, and you go between doing it yourself and making them and you never get anywhere and then you turn around and they’ve decided to clean up their room on their own and are helping each other make the beds and your mind is a little blown.
When you’ve looked back on your day and you don’t think you have one more ounce of energy left in you and someone needs one more book, one more question, one more request for special time. You don’t know where you can even dig it out from but it comes. More than you ever thought you had in you. When you don’t think you can get out of bed one more time for growing pains and are so angry that you are being robbed of sleep and the instant you see them you are glad you got one more chance to hold them tight. As they get older that energy shifts from physical to mental and emotional. You remember those endless, endless nights where you didn’t think you could survive on 2 hours of sleep but you did and you felt ok and the next night you think you can’t possibly do that again but that’s the night everyone wakes up puking and you do that too. Because they were so cute you had to stop yourself from eating them. You look back on that intense time and shake your head in wonderment about yourself and think I must have been amazing. How did I ever do that? But now it’s the constant battle of teaching responsibility and being sure you are not doing it fast enough or good enough and sports and schools and physicals and paperwork and fieldtrips and birthday party invites and driver’s ed, and screen time.
You are living in a dual world that your children seem amazing and might just turn out and at the same time you are convinced one of them might end up in jail and how will I be judged then? I’m not doing it right. I’m not doing it right. I’m doing it right. I’m not doing it right.
You’ve overcorrected and you haven’t corrected enough. You rode them too hard today and you didn’t ride them hard enough. You indulged them today and you didn’t give them enough attention. You nagged them to help and you just did it yourself. You gave them too much responsibility and not enough. You yelled too much and you weren’t paying attention enough to catch what naughty thing they were doing. You spent too much time cleaning today and you didn’t get anything done. You forgot to remind them to brush their teeth. You made sure they cleaned their rooms before they could watch tv. You didn’t notice that they left their dinner plate and you noticed they actually listened and turned off the tv after one episode. You absentmindedly, accidentally gave them permission to eat their brother’s candy while you were trying to talk on the phone to another adult. You feel accomplished and drowning at the end of every day.
And sometimes you just want to cry but you don’t want them to see that and you know if you do you might not be able to stop. And at the same time you don’t have time. And you love those hugs and the vying for attention and you want to be alone too.
There are times in this journey that life continues day in and day out, fairly routine and you wonder what it will be like someday and you just can’t imagine when they get older. And suddenly they are and you wonder how that could have happened so fast. It all comes back to the rhythms of labor. Life and earth are always reminding me of labor. You’re laboring and laboring and suddenly there’s a shift and you don’t know it or always see it but it’s changed and you’re in a new phase. Life, like labor is rarely a slow, gradual hill. It’s a series of long or short bursts, plateaus with big jumps and big changes.
And sometimes those jumps sneak up on you not because you were lulled into the sense that your children are not growing at an astounding rate but that a shift has happened and the years you thought would be there are now gone. Like sending your oldest to college except it suddenly happened at 15 instead of 19. You have to adjust and they aren’t gone in the sense of permanent but it’s changed and it’s different and the time you thought you had to work on those nagging issues like making sure they change their underwear and shower every day and remember to use manners and help out and don’t spend too much time on the screen and they’re kind to their friends and they remember to brush their teeth and wear their retainer because you just spent a few thousand on braces. Whether they decide to live with their dad at 15 or go off to college in another state when they are 19 is all the same in a way because it’s the litmus test for the work you’ve put in. You’re giving up control and you don’t know how it’s going to go. They might come back but they might decide to go ahead and thrive in the change and you don’t know if that will feel good or bad. And the dynamics in the sibling pack changes and it’s exciting to them and sad at once and they begin to feel out their new roles.
It’s all feelings rolled into a big giant ball all at once and all the time. It’s all things, all the time. And it’s impossible and doable because you’re in it and doing it whether you want to get off the spinning merry-go-round or not. And someday, we will look back and realize our children grew up and turned out both in spite of us and because of us.