On this day called Mothers Day, I thought I’d attempt to answer a question some of you have asked of me, what’s it like being a mom? Here’s my attempt at answering that. For me, to love my kids has meant to be vulnerable and open to the rip your soul out, gut wrenching pain that only the loss of that love can bring. It has also opened up an intense sense of meaning, hope and joy that I’ve not known before this experience.
I learned this in the first days of my daughter’s life, as she didn’t get to stay with us, her parents, as all babies should be able to do. Instead she needed time in the NICU, which meant poking, prodding and needles stuck into her brand new perfect baby skin. I’ve not known that kind of powerlessness and pain before those moments. I could not make her better, or take her place; I could only be with her, let her know she was loved and be the proudest freakin mom on the planet when seeing her strength and resolve at getting better. Damn, that wrecked my heart.
On that joyful note…Yay, happy day! Happy Mothers Day! I really think they need to start to re-write mother’s day cards. Being a mom sometimes feels more like being at war than a field of roses. Instead of cards covered in flowers and hearts I want a card that talks about the battle scars of being a mother. Scars from being on my knees, crying out to God to help me be a better person so that I won’t hurt my beautiful babies with my short temper, or need for predicability and yet constant change. I’m sometimes a reck and am so human and am broken by the way I try and fail at loving them well.
Two years ago this May, I became a mom for the first time. My wife gave birth to our son and daughter (twins) and as many who have gone before me have uttered; life has never been the same. I will never forget my wife’s description of the experience of becoming a mother; “My heart is wrecked forever,” she said it mere hours after giving birth. It was like instantly I knew what she meant because I too was feeling that, my heart was wrecked in a way that felt so good and yet vulnerable and almost out of control. For me the pain comes in the combination of having your child love you the way you’ve always wanted to be loved-with reckless abandonment and yet on the other side of that is a visceral experience of the fragility of life. My kids don’t care who sees them love me, if they want to kiss me, sucking on my face for 5 straight minutes they will. There is no shame in showing affection, need or desire. It is THE BEST feeling in the world! The other side of that for me is the fear of loss. I will never forget the moment my daughter had a severe allergic reaction to nuts and I knew we had to get to the hospital. There was nothing I could do for her and against all my instincts had to continue driving until we got to the hospital with her screaming and puking in the back seat. It wrecked me. This idea of a wrecked heart might not sound like the most loving, or tender thing a new mom has said, I mean aren’t words like beauty and breathtaking more mother-like, but damn wrecked just fits so much better in my experience. Wrecked by love.
Yesterday I was watching Grey’s Anatomy and there was a moment where my eye immediately filled with tears because I felt understood and not so alone (even if it is a TV show) in hearing someone else put different words to this same concept of wreckage. In the show Maggie and Meredith are sisters (they share the same mom) and Maggie is now helping Meredith raise her 3 children. Even though Maggie isn’t considered their “mother” she mothers and to mother means to connect to, in a visceral way, the weight and glory of it. (Click on the photo of Maggie & Meredith to watch the clip).
The kind of love I feel for my kids is like no other love I’ve ever felt; it feels more raw, fierce, filled with ache and attachment than anything I’ve ever experienced. I have never felt so strong, animalistic and yet spiritual and nurturing all at the same time. One moment in particular I remember feeling this way was one day when I myself got sick. I was on the bathroom floor so weak, praying that God would help me. I began to throw up and my kids came running into the bathroom. As I was throwing up my daughter started to climb on my back; I know she was both worried about me and wanted to play. I assured them I would be okay, cleaned myself up and then took my kids to the living room to read books. In a moment of great weakness, I also felt a strength and pretense of God I’d not known before this moment.
There’s also an anger and exhaustion that’s been brought out in me which at times has taken me to the edge of insanity. After a 4:30am wake up call and playing at the park it was time for lunch. Even though exhausted myself after having just come off my workweek I took the time to prepare a nice lunch for them. I brought out their special mickey plates so I could put the food specially cut up for them in each mickey ear; fruit, yogurt and noodles with butter. God they eat so much noodles with butter—don’t judge. But both kids just screamed in their highchairs; the crying is so hard for me when its not associated with anything logical and there’s nothing I can do to help them; talk about powerless. That’s about the time that my son decided he was done with this whole thing and flipped his plate onto the floor. I knew what was next, but I wasn’t quick enough, just as I ran over to my daughter’s chair, she had beaten me to the punch and over went her food. Both kids were crying and now our floor, wall and their chairs were covered in food. Rage! I turned around, thank god I turned around because I didn’t want this rage to be directed at them and I mouthed lots and lots and lots of 4 letter words. I did my best to take a breath, shake it off and I cleaned it up, but I still felt so angry. After cleaning them up I put them down for their nap, “thank god I’m going to get to rest”, I thought, except my daughter wouldn’t sleep. And about 20 minutes in to her “nap” she said, “poopoo”. “Oh god I just need a break”, I thought to myself. I got a diaper, wipes and headed into their room where I saw her standing in her crib with poop all over her hands and smeared all over the side of her crib. I felt sick because no matter what anyone says, your own kids crap smells just as bad as anyone else’s. I was also angry that she had made such a mess and yet compassionate and tender in knowing that she didn’t intentionally do this to make me mad-she seemed just as puzzled and grossed out as me. I clean her and the crib—I wanted to cry and scream as I felt my tiredness. I realized there was no way she was going to sleep in her crib after all the excitement. So I carried her to my wife and I’s room and lay her in our bed. We snuggle up so close so that I could feel the heat of her breath on my face, her arms were wrapped around my neck, every once in a while she decides to kiss me gently on my cheek, our bodies became relaxed together and we both fell asleep. By the time I’d woken up the tenderness of our rest together was so lovely that the memories of all the cleanups’ were just that, a distant memory. This kind of exhaustion, work and yet tenderness happens a million times a day in a million different ways. My heart is on a rollercoaster.
Oh, and the laughter and adventure makes life full of wonder and excitement. There was nothing like handing my son his first kite-string two weeks ago. I will never forget the look of awe and joy when he understood he was the one flying this wondrous thing. And then how he stood still starring into the air for longer than I’ve ever seen him stand still as he mourned the loss of the kite when he let go of the string and it flew up and over the houses to a place I couldn’t see anymore to even attempt to get; that was after the time I sprinted and dove for the string to save it the first time he let go of it. I want to buy him a million kites.
But, oh God the roller coaster of emotions is so hard. I was surprised to see my daughter light up during her first pony ride. I’m not sure why it surprised me, I guess for some reason I thought she’d just “sort of” like it. But she LOVED it, which took my heart to the highest highs of joy to see her delight. And then 1 minute later, her turn was over and we had to pull her screaming and kicking body off the horse. There was no consoling her, or me for that matter. I both wanted to buy her the horse right then and there and also felt angry and frustrated that she couldn’t just get over it. I felt powerless that I had given her something good, but had to take it away and she felt very very bad when it was taken away. I’ve had to grow in my ability to hold the bad feelings, to not get angry when my comfort doesn’t calm the sadness and loss she feels and to instead just be with her just like I did in the hospital. To be with her and let her know I am there and that I love her. Damn, it is SO hard.
The wisest thing my mom ever said about parenting is that parenting is about letting go, and then you let go again, and then you let go again and again and again and again. But I don’t like letting go; I like hanging on. I always want my kids to squeal with delight and sprint to hug and kiss me when I walk in the door from work. I want their “I love you’s” to be directed at me, not some cute guy/girl they just met at school. I want them to always think I’m this funny when they roll on the ground giggling simply from a silly look I give them. I want them to always think I’m this smart when they are amazed I know which puzzle piece goes where. But life moves and they grow and it’s how it’s supposed to happen. I will have to let go again and again and again and my heart will be full and it will be wrecked.
Sometimes I’m such a good mom I think I should be on the cover of “The Best Parenting” Magazine (not a real magazine). Like the time my daughter took a toy away from this little boy at the park. He began to cry as he wanted his toy back and I’m sure he didn’t appreciate the abruptness in which she had taken it from him and so instead of ripping it out of her hands to give it back to him I took a moment and reminded her about empathy. I was so patient with her and showed her that she could see the little boy was sad because of his tears and asked her to think about it, to think about how bad that feels to have a toy taken away that was yours. I said it in a kind and gentle voice. She thought about it for a second and gave it back to the boy followed by a tender pat on his shoulder. Damn, I’m good! And Sometimes I am such a bad mom. Sometimes when there’s more water intentionally spilled out of the bathtub than in it, or when they bite each other for no good reason, or open my closet and pull all the clothes off the hangers I loose my shit. I mean, really loose my shit. I always feel bad. I’m trying to do better and sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. The other day I yelled at my daughter and she was visibly sad about it. This was the first time she showed a visible hurt feeling about mine having yelled at her. It broke me. I told her I was sorry, that she didn’t deserve that, that she wasn’t bad and that I’m trying to do better. It was actually a moment that both my wife and parents witnessed; talk about a wrecked heart.
So what does Mothers Day mean to me this year during this chapter of my life as a mom of toddlers; a heart wrecked by deep deep joy, tedious patience, belly rolling laughter, rip my eyes out exhaustion and gratitude for every single minute of it. I LOVE being a mom with everything in me. It has already made me a better person, therapist and wife. Lord be with us mothers as we venture into place of war in order to better love our families, ourselves and our spouses. Help us love our children with the reckless abandon that they love us and give us more patience than we’ve known before. Amen.