You see her over there. Her kids are screaming, terrorizing each other, whiny, and needy. They’re just being kids. Her patience is as thin as the plastic film she rips off one of her frozen diet meals before throwing it into the microwave. She’s been at it all day — the mothering. Actually, she’s been at it all week without a break because her husband’s out of town on business and she’s handling everything on her own.
This is all well and good because someone has to pay the bills, but damn, she looks tired. Wiped out, actually. It looks like it’s taking every possible ounce of grace she has not to blow her stack in public. You see defeat in her eyes, and it breaks your heart. You know she wants to give up. Right now she is thinking that motherhood is one sharp, snappy, sour pickle of a predicament she did not sign up for. But you know (because you’ve been there), that the motherhood signup sheet says “lifetime contract” in tiny print at the bottom. And it’s a binding contract too. It basically says you can’t give up. You can’t quit your job. Ever.
You watch her, and you know exactly how she feels because you’ve been there. You remember it well. Long ago, there were many times you wanted to throw your hands up in exasperation. Or throw in the towel with heavy sighs of desperation, and then hightail it out of dodge far, far away, into the hills, as far away as you could get. But your only real option was to pretend you had to go to the bathroom, just so you could close the door on everything outside. Everything and everyone trying to grab for pieces of you.
You remember all the times you wanted to wave the white flag and just surrender: poop on the wall, sticky juice on the floor, a wet bed at 2 a.m., Legos embedded in your tender feet. All the crying, fighting, bathing, and feeding. You wanted to give up because keeping your composure all the time was just too damn hard. It sucked. It was too overwhelming for one person. And maybe you just wanted your old life back because once upon a time you were a journalist. And you traded it in to become the cleaner. You swapped your whole life to become the giver.
You look over at the woman and you remember the many days you were so done giving — giving to everyone but yourself. You recall with a slight smile the way you envisioned yourself riding off into the sunset on the back of a beautiful Palomino.
When you look into her tired eyes a bit deeper, you can see the genuine love, and it comes as a relief. She’s halfway there. She loves those little beings hanging off her coat, wiggling all over the place. You know she would jump in front of a bus for them. You know that this part, this part where she gives until her spirit breaks, is merely the beginning of her motherhood journey.
Soon enough, her babies will make her give in ways she never thought possible. Driving. Spending. Asking. Hugging. Praying. Deciphering. Correcting. Defending. Questioning. Worrying. And then they will fly away from her, out of her nest. And she will actually miss it, all of it, all the days of havoc and weariness.
You watch her and you remember precisely when it began to hit you — the reason why it was you who needed to be the giver.
It was one morning when you woke up with a wet hand on your cheek and a tiny whisper in your ear. A little someone was pulling your bangs out of the way and using her baby fingers to pry your eyes open so that you would “wake up” and be up just to be with her. Because she was so small, all she needed was to be with you, to feel your love. She just wanted to hear your voice, and snuggle up close to your heartbeat to know that you were indeed still there, and that she was safe.
And you just couldn’t take it because she somehow smelled like pancakes, and innocent little girl dreams. The unconditional love you felt in that moment conquered most of the negative feelings you ever had about being a mother. It was many moments like this one along the way that erased the resentful feelings you had about being the giver.
You smile serenely, and all you can do is hope. Hope that the woman you’ve been watching, the one having her own silent, inner meltdown, will have her own set of moments like the one you had long ago, that first one that helped you see yourself through your child’s eyes. The one that pushed you around the corner toward the kind of mothering that gave you clarity and purpose. The one that decidedly made you a different kind of mother.
Because, make no mistake, the moment a baby is born is not the moment a mother is made. It takes a lifetime of giving moments. And being the giver is not a job for quitters.