Most days I vacillate back and forth about motherhood by the moment- it is either:
A. The best, most fulfilling, gratifying, and amazing experience on which I have embarked and I can’t get enough of it.
B. It is the greatest fool’s errand on which I have ever embarked and I start wondering before I’ve even opened both eyes in the morning if I will make it to lunchtime without losing my mind and fraying my last three nerves from the chaos, noise, and breakneck pace of it all.
In addition to being a mom, I work full-time as a clinical social worker with very high risk families. It is a job that excites and fascinates me at times, but most of the time is fairly draining and depleting- sorta’ like motherhood. I’m left with very little energy or time for that stuff they call self-care, and come home at the end of the day wanting to scream, “Don’t touch me! Get away and leave me alone!” as though I am covered in nuclear waste and just need to go detoxify myself before I am fit for human consumption.
Through my chat with other moms- both working and stay at home- it seems I’m not totally alone in feeling this way, which validates my hope that maybe I don’t suck too much. But I will share with you that over the recent holiday break, when I was home with my children for two solid weeks, I had to wonder what it said about me as a parent that I could only go three days with my family before fantasizing about going back to work.
What kind of mom can only tolerate a few days of her precious family before taking a nutty?
So, I know there are some of you out there (maybe?) who don’t understand what I am saying because you relish every moment with your kids, whether they are playing nicely or beating the snot out of one another. And to you moms, I tip my cap. Please don’t judge the rest of us who just get kind of tired and cranky and maybe feel a bit hopeless at the end of the day.
For the rest of us, I’ve come up with the following mantra: That Means You Are A Mom.
Were you woken up by bed wetting, a night terror, a need to replace a pacifier, and a question about how old someone has to be before they are allowed unlimited access to Lego Star Wars on the iPad? Then that means you are a mom.
Were you taunted by a mountain of laundry or dishes or dirty diapers or filthy cat box while you were trying to put on your stockings and get everyone else out the door for work and school? That means you are a mom.
Did you get boogers wiped on your last clean blouse during a hugging incident that you thought was a loving nuzzle but turned out you were being used as a human hankie? That means you are a mom.
Did you deal with a tantrum over sox six times before breakfast?
Did you just smash your head into the lampshade while rising from settling a battle between a child and a cat, scratches covering your hands?
Have you used the words, “Do you want a time out?” at least a dozen times in the last half dozen minutes?
Did you have to walk away from the sexy, new lipgloss because you spent your last $15 bucks on toilet paper and baby wipes?
Have you had to pee for the last three hours but not had a moment to yourself?
Do you have the theme to Barney, the Wiggles or Sesamee Street on incessant repeat in your head in the middle of the night? Did you put away the plastic food 80 times over the course of the day in some sort of Sisyphean task? Is your potty-training toddler running through the house with a drippy, bare bum while you sit on the couch without the foggiest clue how you are going to get a diaper or pull up onto them? Are all the pieces to every board game in your house out and about? Have you listened to Puff the Magic Dragon 25 times before 9 a.m.?
Yup, you got it, that means you are a mom.
I wanted to have children with my whole body and soul from the time I knew what babies were. I started working with children in a daycare as a teenager, and went on to get my degree in social work so I could do child and family therapy. I figured I would be an expert by the time I had children of my own. When my life was finally graced with my first baby, Jack, I was shocked at how hard every minute of every day suddenly became.
It was also surprising that for every moment I held him in contented bliss, there were at least 45 other moments I was second-guessing myself and feeling like a complete failure. Flash forward six years and another child, the feeling persists.
The truth is, motherhood is not either A. or B. It is both A. and B.
Telling myself That Means You Are A Mom when I am frustrated, scared, exhausted, frazzled, and insecure is a powerful affirmation. It grounds me. It reminds me that with great love comes great responsibility, sacrifice, and sometimes even suffering. It unifies the cognitive dissonance into a more melodic tune for me.
We embark on this terrifying journey into the unknown when we give ourselves over to our biological imperative to recreate. Much like packing for an expedition, some are better prepared for the trek than others. The fact that, despite my hubris, I felt so ill-prepared for motherhood is the stuff that makes me a human mom.
If we allow it, motherhood can be a pilgrimage not only of discovering who these tiny humans we grew in our body are, but also of self-discovery.
Sure, somedays there are a lot of sucky, mundane moments we have to slog through to get to bedtime. But then there are the moments when our kids crave the tenderness of our lips on their shiny, sweet-smelling hair, when they allow us to play for a moment in their world, and we all have cake and cocoa with sticky smiles. There are those moments (and they may be elusive sometimes) when we look into our children’s eyes and it is like peering into the center of the universe and suddenly knowing everything. That too, means you are a mom.