Let me set the scene: a Monday evening in late January. My husband had been working like a dog for over a week, and I had barely seen him in days. The kids were just getting over their latest in a series of winter illnesses, and they were post-sickness exhausted and crabby.
It had been a long week already, and it was only Monday. I was tired from flying solo with sick kids, tired from responding to sick calls in the night, tired from…well…everything.
I was also knee-deep in the winter doldrums, longing for sunshine and fresh air. On this particular night, I was trying to wrangle the kids. It was time for a bath, and I needed them to go to bed ASAP in order to preserve the last remaining bits of my mind.
That’s right: I was wishing them to bed. I was counting the minutes left in this day.
Of course, when my children are over-tired and coming off of an illness, they don’t act tired. Instead, they behave like wild hooligans. That’s exactly what was happening on this night. While I walked the upstairs hall, picking up discarded clothing for my next load of laundry, I begged the kids to get in the tub. My daughter obliged, but the boys were out of control. They ran shrieking up and down the hallway.
Meanwhile, I had the familiar throbbing above my left eye that migraine sufferers are all too familiar with. Because of this, I didn’t want to raise my voice over their already too loud havoc. Eventually, somehow, I managed to corral their little bodies into the bathroom and get them into the bath, which at this point was lukewarm. While my sweet girl scrubbed herself clean, the boys continued their antics — this time, with water.
I pleaded with them to wet their heads, to use a little soap, to calm the heck down. They responded with peals of laughter and abundant splashing. I was losing the battle, running out of steam, silently berating myself for having been a grouchy mom all weekend.
My daughter stepped out of the bath, and I handed her a towel. At that moment, my youngest finally poured water over his head, but he did so in such a wild manner that the water ended up pouring down my entire left side, soaking my shirt and pant leg. The boys erupted into raucous laughter once more.
I didn’t have an ounce of energy left. I didn’t yell. I didn’t say anything. Instead, I sat down on a nearby bathroom stool. It was probably the first time I had sat all day. This was my white flag. This mom was done. Toast. Kaput.
It was at that very moment, as I sat on that stool and watched the puddles on my bathroom floor grow in size, that my daughter approached with my iPhone in her hand. “Mum,” she said, “You look beautiful today. Can I take your picture?” My sweet girl is the kindest little soul. I smiled for her photo because how could I not, and plus, as I said, I was too tired to budge. She took this photo:
I love this photo. I think it captures the very essence of motherhood.
When I look into that mother’s eyes, I see an exhausted mom. I can tell she has a headache — I can see it in her eyes. But I see something else too.
I see a genuine smile, a look of love and of gratitude directed toward a very sweet girl. I see a look of understanding that, even on the days when we feel that we are failing miserably, our children see past it and love us despite it all. Even on our worst days, we are creating something very special as we help these little people navigate their way through this world.
Motherhood is a sacred, miraculous job. It is messy and loud and utterly, completely, mind-numbingly exhausting. But it is a short season, and we must remember that there is beauty in the mundane. There is joy in the ordinary. There is happiness in the chaos.
My daughter was wise enough to recognize it that night and capture it forever, and for that I am grateful. Children are our wisest teachers.
So, the next time you find yourself sitting on a potty stool with wet pants, a migraine, a burgeoning bad mood, wild children, and a mess to clean up, know this: Even on your worst parenting days, being a mother is a beautiful gift and a very short season.