As soon as I entered my girlfriend’s car we started to download. I have no idea how you do it with three, she says. I can barely keep it together with my one. We share our week’s schedule and commiserate; all of our evenings full. Where does the time go?
I think of the family member about to deliver her baby girl on Friday as I wrapped party favors in tulle for another girlfriend’s baby shower at the end of the month. It seems the May flowers are followed by lots of baby showers. One will become a mother for the very first time right before Mother’s day; the other is a seasoned mom expecting her third. The words form in my mind.
Welcome to motherhood.
The group of women wrapping and chatting all have phones in hand; staring at schedules. Our lives are dependent on these mobile devices for scheduling, keeping tabs on work emails, tracking children’s whereabouts, stalking them on social media or scanning Fakebook and Instagram. We peer into our peers’ lives; absorbing posts of exotic places and active pursuits while we sit within our own chairs; enviously living vicariously through others’ Fakebook photos. The one shot does not reflect the rest of the twenty three hours spent in a day but we Like what they do and compare what we don’t.
We are mothers.
Our bookclub is currently reading, The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs by Christina Hopkinson; rife with British humor and lists of the things we need to do or the things that we don’t; the honey-do list. But what if the honey doesn’t actually get to it? That’s where we, moms, create lists of all the things undone; the pile of stuff at the bottom of the stairs. The fingerprints on the bathroom mirrors. The leaky sprinkler head that will lead to a fine since our state is in a drought. Our wine fest (the h is missing) this second Friday of the month happens to fall on the weekend of Mother’s Day and always leads to lively conversation.
In the first years of forming our reading group we had grand expectations of how the day of the mother would be spent with our young children. No cooking, no cleaning, no mothering; just pampering. We beamed happily at projects made at school, poems written, cards drawn. But as the years have progressed reality has set in as year-after-year high expectations are unmet and filled with disappointment. These days the teens sullenly sit; forced to be away from social media, friends and electronics to humor their mothers’ bidding. The husbands jump through hoops to meet these demands to make things happen. But is it ever enough? How can one day encompass all of our days, our hopes, our dreams? Can one day make me feel appreciated for the 364 other ones?
I imagine our pregnant family member holding her newborn daughter for the first time this Friday. The joy. The fear. The great unknown. That evening I’ll sit with my girlfriends dissecting the book above as we learn how to balance our lives with kids and feel appreciated as women in midlife. We yearn to still be needed, like mothers of young children, but we now must let our tweens and teens go and search for our own identities. Now what? Now our children drive cars, will graduate from high school and have relationships that usurp their time away from us. What does motherhood mean now? Without this label, who is the person beneath?
The Bellamy Brothers song transports me back to the 70s and to my own mother; singing at the top of her lungs in her heavily accented voice.
Just let your love flow like a mountain stream
And let your love grow with the smallest of dreams
And let your love show and you’ll know what I mean
It’s the season
Let your love fly like a bird on a wing
And let your love bind you to all living things
And let your love shine and you’ll know what I mean
That’s the reason
It comes full circle; the moment when you truly appreciate what being a mother means. Homemade dinnertime meals created nightly. Clothes sewn and repaired; laundry hung until the dryer came into our household. Toilets were cleaned, mirrors shined, fresh vegetables and flowers grown. I always knew I had a place where I belonged even as my mother harangued me to clean. My mantra always angered her; sassily responding to demands with this, that and everything that and I felt the sting of being disrespectful. She felt my forehead whenever it felt hot; made soups and meals to fight the colds. She taught me to be hospitable and to remember my upbringing and faith as I prepared to spread my wings in the pursuit of higher education and knowledge. She made me pick strawberries in the fields, one summer, to know what hard, back-breaking work felt like. The culture and generational gaps loomed large yet her love was always unconditional.
My one hour early morning walk brings me clarity before the detritus of details and schedules settle in. As I enter my house at 6:30 AM the pile of clothes await me at the bottom of the stairs; not quite making it into hampers or washing machines. I guzzle my ice water to swallow vitamins as I clear dishes from my dishwasher and pack school lunches. Soon after I rush up the stairs, two steps at a time, if I do not hear the pitter-patter of three pairs of feet showering or getting ready for school. I shake the husband awake amidst dueling alarms ringing at the loudest settings and return downstairs to start a breakfast of champions aka Eggo Waffles (my husband gags at this atrocity of GMO corn processed product not homemade) before my eldest and hubs set off at 7 AM. I then rush back upstairs to my own shower and any remaining time, if there are no glitches or searching for lost items, is spent grabbing coffee and at 7:25 AM off we go. I attempt to be the calm and serene drill sergeant getting my troops ready for battle; retired Navy husband included. None of the occupants in my household are morning people except for myself.
As our work day progressed I heard the pitter-patter of feet above; our roof at work completely being redone. The cranes, hammers and drills initially had me under my desk; thinking there was an earthquake until I became accustomed to the shaking and noise. As phones rang and customers came to and fro, my motherhood hat disappeared and just the drill sergeant remained. That is, until my phone rings daily at 3:23 PM; our youngest informing us that all have arrived back to base, safe and sound. The sounds of gunfire can be heard through my headset as our three sons take a brief respite with Call of Duty, DOTA or Skryim on computer consoles. Otherwise our blender can be heard in the background as the middle son rapidly depletes our fridge and fruit supply for smoothies. I return home, an hour later, to the battle scene; banana peels and strawberry tops strewn everywhere as yet another gallon of orange juice is emptied. As I walk through our garage entry IF there are any words emerging from our den, they are, What is for dinner Mom? Mom then initiates clean-up and dinner prep begins.
I inform my troops of our evening schedule. One child needs to be at CCD at church, the other at lessons and the third works on homework while the hubs and I tag team whom will transport and pick-up whom. But wait! I also have a meeting at the high school for three hours as I place dinner on the table, change from my work attire and head right back out the door. When I return at 10PM I hear the pitter-patter of three pairs of feet, and the fourth moving more slowly; up the stairs and into rooms. It is 10PM and upon my entry; they pretend they are all ready for bed to do this all over again the very next day. I fall asleep to the open Kindle with our bookclub novel. I can barely keep my eyes open as I read about a woman trying to balance her life with work, her spouse and motherhood. My eyes glaze over as I think of my schedule; which is full the entire seven day week. I know this craziness will soon end and I have learned to embrace it.
Yep. Welcome to motherhood.
I continue to grow as I transition into midlife. Stuck at a traffic light I begin to recite the phrase from the Robert Munsch book I’ll Love You Forever to my eldest son and I see the quick smile before he looks away and out the window; trapped in my vehicle. I tell him when he’s a dad I will hunt him and find him; to recite these words so he doesn’t forget.
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
as long as I’m living
my baby you’ll be.”
Yes, it is human nature to always seek recognition and appreciation. We want to know that we have something to contribute; that our lives have meaning. We want tangible objects to symbolize our worth: the big gleaming home with top-of- the- line appliances, the accoutrements of success such as the fancy cars, the exotic vacations and weekly spa packages. The flowers and chocolates and thank yous will flow this coming weekend to acknowledge what we do; if only for a day. I will accept these words and sentiments for my husband, for my kids. But my love language is in service and, though usually, this means I want a clean house; what I truly desire cannot be hung on a wall or posted on social media.
Let your love flow.
I want my sons to let their love flow, to embody the words from the Bellamy Brothers song above. I tell my youngest son to add this song to my obituary playlist for he and his brothers to remember me by. My boys are accustomed to this ongoing discussion; though tears spring to his nine year old eyes. “Years and years down the road,” I tell him, “When you hear this song I want you to always think of me singing it with the car windows down and music blaring; just as I see my own mother singing in my childhood kitchen.” He nods his head solemnly.
May the gift of music always live in their hearts just as it does in mine. Each day I feel my heart breaking as my boys grow and take steps away from me as they strive for independence. Motherhood is no cake walk in the park. It brings me heart wringing pain and soaring joy. May you wear this thankless badge with pride. It. Is. Worth it.