I'm tired. Always. I got up four times last night with crying children. And I'm dirty. My shirt has snot and banana chunks on it from when I held my sobbing two year old after I dared peel his banana the wrong way. I should break up that fight I'm hearing between my girls over who the American Girl cowboy boots really belong to. I'm starving. Must. Eat. My four year old stole my food when I answered the phone call from the nurse about my daughter's hearing problem. Turns out it's just a listening problem. What is that written on the end table? "Dust me!"? That must have been my son. He just earned himself a chore. What the brown goo is dripping down the wall?! Help me.
I need to help my daughter with her science fair project. I need to help my son with his citizenship badge. Whoa! Was that a doll cowboy boot that just flew over my head? Where is the duster anyway? I think I saw my toddler with it yesterday, using it to stir the old rainwater and algae in our turtle sandbox in the backyard. I need to make dinner. But where would we eat? The table is covered in laundry that came out of the dryer 4 days ago. Did I just see my toddler lick the brown goo off the wall?! He must be really hungry. But the message in the dust is right. I need to clean. Everything, always. How many more years until I live somewhere clean again? Cannot. Handle.
Really, we should just evacuate the premises and torch the place. That would take care of the dust, the boot, the goo, and the laundry, right? I could even have my son be the one to gallantly call 911 in the middle of our smoky ruins to pass off part of his citizenship badge. My daughter could snap some pictures of the ashes and throw them on a trifold for her science project. If I blamed the arson on my toddler, would insurance cover it? We could hit McD's for a nice, rubbery dinner with the expectant proceeds.
Of course, motherhood is not always this chaotic. I’m obviously eating and sleeping at some point. And our house is still standing. And I’ve somehow carved out time to write this. But this really is an unfiltered glimpse into the workings of my brain for a good portion of every day. During these moments it’s hard to see beyond the endless years of being spread thin, exhausted, and pushed to the limit.
This is when the logic of society whispers tantalizingly in my mind—"Since motherhood is really that difficult and thankless, then maybe it’s not for you. Or maybe you should’ve had fewer children. Look at the normal and exciting existence you could otherwise be living!"
I even occasionally let myself get caught up in the "What if?" game. “What if I wasn’t a mother?”
I'd dust off my Magna Cum Laude business diploma to work with calm and competent adults as the CEO of a financial institution. I’d leave my collection of 5k medals in the dust as I took off from the starting line at the Boston Marathon. My husband and I would eat a variety of healthy and tasty meals, resplendent with peppers and onions, from a glass plate whilst drinking out of a glass cup. I'd freely jump and sneeze and laugh and frolic without fear of bladder leakage. I'd keep garbage cans on the floor, knives on the kitchen counter, scissors and sharpies on the desk, my chocolate stash out in the open, and I’d always know where to find my keys.
I’d roll out of bed at my leisure on Saturday mornings, chat on the phone without all hell breaking loose, and take a nice, long shower. In silence. Alone. I'd leave our sparkling, clutter-free home, wearing trendy and clean clothing, with nothing but a fashionable purse filled with lipstick and compact mirrors. I'd drive my small and classy, Febreeze-scented car to an upscale grocery store and calmly peruse the aisles without using a boat-sized cart and paying for broken items. I'd kick back with my husband on our pristine and plush white couch, chatting about our eminent trip around the world, funded with our hefty bank account…
But then something or someone always wakes me from my daydream.
"Mommy! Look!" my little boy squeals as he sees the garbage truck pull in front of the house. He's just as excited about garbage as I would be about traveling the world. And that's when I remember all that I would miss if I wasn't a mother.
I'd miss seeing life through bright, innocent eyes that fill with delight at every crack in the sidewalk and centipede on the ground. I'd miss the baby-soft skin of my infant against my lips. I'd miss the joy I feel as I see my 11-year-old show her own distinct personality and independence. I'd miss the satisfaction of beholding the power of my nurturing. I'd miss snuggles and giggles and tears and discoveries. I'd miss the me that I've become through a life of living for others, often without any discernible reward. I'd miss what's most important in my life. I'd miss my heart.
In these moments of clarity, the logic of society fades. All that I am sacrificing and the difficulty of my task seems inconsequential compared to all that I gain. Since when is pushing myself to the limit in the name of an amazing pursuit something I should avoid? Have I not been taught from birth, by my own mother, that if I work hard and give it my all—anything is possible? Is this not what athletes do for years to get to the Olympics? What scientists do for years to make great discoveries? What citizens do to maintain their life, land and liberty? Are not all these people spread thin? Pushed to the limit?
You don’t ever hear Olympic champions shouting in the middle of a race, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done! I should stop. It’s not worth it! “ Nor would society condone such behavior. We cheer them on, sing their praises, honor their accomplishments—as we should. Yet, as mothers are pushed to the outer edge of their utmost limit—not only do the the cheers fade, but we’re inundated with messages that our pursuit isn't worthwhile or commendable. Of all the endeavors in this world, why is creating and sustaining life so often undervalued or even seen as expendable?
No. Motherhood is not expendable. What if? What if there weren't as many mothers standing as an example of hard work and maternal conviction? What if there weren't as many mothers who showed children they were worth total devotion? What if I or any of you viewed our unique role as optional or our impact as negligible? What reason would we have to strive and push and pursue? What kind of world would we live in? I’m not saying that motherhood is the hardest and the only worthy and difficult endeavor in the world. Nor am I saying that mothers cannot do anything else in the world unrelated to motherhood in order to be awesome mothers. But I am saying that being a mother is the hardest and most important thing I will ever do in this world. And I intend to do it well, without looking back.
So, while what I am doing may seem unreasonable—to society and even to me at times—motherhood goes beyond reason. It goes beyond banana goo, homework, bickering and exhaustion. It goes beyond traveling the world, renowned careers, clean houses, and large bank accounts. It goes far beyond me and my children. And yet motherhood begins with me. It begins with one mother. With one home. It is at the core of every life, every breath, every heart. What if I wasn't a mother? Well, I am. And I wouldn't have it any other way.