In his poem Inferno, Dante travels through nine separate circles of human suffering on his journey towards spiritual salvation. Now I’m no major Italian poet, nor am I on a quest to save my soul, allegorically or spiritually. In fact, I haven’t even read Inferno, which is part of the epic poem the Divine Comedy, since the first time I trudged through (parts of) it in college, but I am a Mommy of three little kids. I have learned that motherhood is both divine and, often, a comedy….and yes, there is suffering. Hoo-boy is there suffering. I think, had Dante been a Mommy, his Nine Circles of Hell may have looked a bit different…but no less dreadful.
In the First Circle of Mommy Hell, a bleary-eyed mommy is pulled out of bed in the wee hours of the still-dark morning by wide-awake little beasts, demanding to be played with and fed. Immediately. Mommy reaches for her coffee, which she needs in order to comprehend life at this hour, only to find that it is lukewarm. She tries to heat it up but, alas, in Mommy Hell, coffee is never warmer than tepid.
The Second Circle of Mommy Hell is a circular room with doors all around. From behind the first door comes the universal signal for mommies to stop what they are doing and come running quick: “I’m ready to wipe!” Once mommy has completed her doody duty, she returns to the comfy couch in the center of the circular room. Before she can sit down, however, she hears the same call coming from the second door. This continues until she has assisted a child behind each door….and then, because the room is circular, she’s back where she started and the child behind Door Number One is ready to wipe once more.
Imagine an ascetic monk who spends his life at the top of a mountain, alone and meditating. In the Third Circle of Mommy Hell, the suffering mommy is like that monk at the top of a mountain. Except, instead of being alone, there in an infinitely long line of seven-year-olds waiting to talk to her. And instead of meditating, she is forced to listen as each seven-year-old, in a shrill and hysterical voice, tattles on his little brother.
There is a large dining room table in the center of the Fourth Circle of Mommy Hell. Mommy shops for, prepares, and serves a delicious and healthy meal to a table full of children. Upon presentation of her culinary work of art, every child begins to cry, “I’m not eating that!” The mom sits down to a whiny chorus of “How many bites do I have to take?” and before she can even pick up her fork it escalates. “I need some ketchup!” “Can I have more bread?” “I spilled my milk!” “His plate is too close to mine!” “More napkins, please.” “I’m full, but what’s for dessert?” And this continues….for an eternity.
In the Fifth Circle, Mommy stands alone in a room so large it’s hard to see where it ends. She stands on a beautiful wood floor, stained a rich, dark brown and made from reclaimed timber full of gorgeous knots and grooves. She knows that she must spend an eternity keeping this magnificent floor clean, which actually doesn’t seem so bad. Suddenly, from behind her, she hears a clamoring ruckus. She turns and sees a band of wild children running towards her. Too late to stop them, she notices in horror that each child is waving around an open container of glitter.
The Sixth Circle of Mommy Hell features a warm, cozy bed in which the mother may rest. The instant her eyes close however, there is a tap on her shoulder and a tiny voice requests water, or one more tuck-in, or underwear that doesn’t itch, or pajamas that aren’t too hot, or another closet-check for monsters, or a different pillow, or socks, or the removal of socks, or one more verse of Puff, the Magic Dragon, or the immediate location of a hasn’t-been-seen-in-a-week stuffed buddy. And if the constant waking wasn’t torturous enough for the weary mommy, she is forced to notice the presence of her partner lying beside her, soundly sleeping through each of the interruptions.
In the Seventh Circle, there is a room full of mommies. One works, one stays home with her kids, one breastfeeds her babies, one uses formula. One mommy is pro-vaccine, while another advocates Chicken Pox Parties. There is a public school mommy, a charter school mommy, and a homeschool mommy. There is a mommy who creates Pinterest-worthy at-home birthday parties for her kids and a mommy who thinks birthday parties are overrated. There is a vegan/non-GMO/organic mommy and a Happy Meal mommy. One mommy uses cloth diapers. One mommy uses the Ferber method. One mommy uses 1-2-3 Magic. There is a mommy who uses Elimination Communication and a mommy who potty-trained her kids after they turned three. One mommy stages elaborate Elf On the Shelf photo opportunities, while another mom refuses to lie to her children and has told them the truth about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and those elves. Each mommy knows that she is Right in the choices she has made for her family, and believes that it’s her job to convince the others. There is no exit for the suffering mommy, nor is there a single drop of wine.
There are three hundred 4-to-8 year-olds surrounding the mommy in the Eighth Circle. The movie Frozen is playing on an IMAX screen on a continuous loop. It’s the karaoke version, and of course, every child knows every word of every song.
The Ninth Circle of Mommy Hell is a truly dreadful place. It is a place I have experienced and, somehow, survived to tell the tale. In the deepest, darkest pit of Mommy’s Inferno, the suffering mommy is in the driver’s seat of a minivan with an infant, a toddler, and a preschooler in their car seats in the back. The van is navigating through heavy traffic in an unfamiliar city. The newborn baby begins to whimper. Then she begins to cry. Then, she is hysterical. She is hungry, she hates her car seat, and this trip is taking too long. She needs to be held–now. Mommy is forced to drive, as there is nowhere to pull over. The toddler in the back of the car starts crying now, too, for he is a sensitive little boy who hates to hear his baby sister cry. The oldest boy is plugging his ears, shouting in complaint of the volume in the van, failing to recognize that he is contributing to his own misery. The mom starts to sweat. Then, because she is a nursing mommy and her baby is crying, her milk comes in. The baby is crying so hard she’s bright red and producing no tears. The toddler is still crying and now inexplicably saying, “This is all my fault!” which makes Mommy start to cry from the guilt of having put her children through this horror. The big boy is still shouting. The van continues to drive, but as if on a treadmill. It seems to be going nowhere. The mom is sweating through her shirt and is lactating through her nursing pads. The baby is still hysterical and IT NEVER ENDS.
In real life, this Hell on Wheels that we endured did (finally) end, and I earned a few stripes on my Mommy Badge in the process. I’m hoping that after weathering that emotional fire pit I’ll be more ready to take on my Screaming Newborn’s two-year old tantrums. And the toddler tantrums, I hear, prepare us for the inevitable standoffs between us and our big kids. Which, in turn, just make it easier for us to say good-bye when our babies are no longer babies, and are ready to leave the nest. Right? Because honestly, that far-off day has me shaking in my boots at just the thought of it.
Dante had to figuratively travel through hell and back before enjoying the peace that came at the end of his journey. I guess that’s the point of Mommy’s Inferno….that the inescapable moments of suffering we endure as mommies makes us stronger, better equipped to handle the challenges that come next, and more ready to enjoy the light of the good days that always follow the darkest nights of motherhood.
So don’t “Abandon all hope, ye who enter” motherhood; for, though the hours and days of motherhood be long, the years are short…or so I hear.