It’s 10:30 at night and I am lying in bed – kids finally sleeping after we fought the evening’s shadow monsters and ghost trains. I can’t believe I am finally writing my inaugural blog post. I have planned to start this blog oh… a year ago, maybe more. Yet, day by day, life flies by in what feels like very tenuously controlled chaos. All those insightful posts I “meant” to write have been buried along with my other well-intentioned, but never produced, ideas and gestures. Oh well, surrender the day, right? I can’t rewind time to get them back, and I’ll waste even more time stymied by guilt. Onward!!!
Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. I have been caught up like all of us in the “what to get for my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law…” My boys, Will (age 3) and Mikey (age 2) don’t really understand the concept of Mother’s Day yet. Just today Will ran up to me with a wet kiss and a “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy!” Personally, my wants for Mother’s Day are simple (Listen up, honey!). Tomorrow all I want is to sleep in (sans the guilt) and enjoy my family with a day that avoids any catastrophe, major tantrums and crankiness (this applies to both adults and children). I pray that the unpredictability of having a chronic illness does not knock me down tomorrow and that I will have energy, stamina and minimal pain so I can avoid taking to bed and turning our schedule on its head – again. (Hmmm… maybe those requests aren’t that simple with a house full of toddlers… how’s a card sound?)
I have a keen appreciation for how hard it can be to be a mom. I know the long exhausting days and nights, the endless job description with no pay (except those sticky kisses and hugs, which in my book are better than any paycheck) and the 24/7 demands. Chronic pain and fatigue complicate this for me, but I don’t see my plight as any better/worse off than my other mom friends. We each have our own “complications”, whether it is illness, deployed spouses, estranged families, etc. I think it’s great that we honor moms – mine certainly deserves all the kudos she can get. But, something is missing in all the Mother’s Day hoopla. Mother’s Day should not just be about biological mothers but all those who sacrificially give of their time, energy, love and encouragement to engage in the act of “mothering” — women who may not hold the official title of “Mom”. I call these too often overlooked women – the “Other Mothers”! (Begin the superhero music, rocket sounds, and fireworks; and enter a swarm of fearless women of all ages dressed in bright colorful capes! I don’t have the technical know-how for artwork or sound effects on my blog – I trust you can use your imagination.)
Fine! I’ll admit it. I can’t do this on my own! (This is a big statement coming from a reformed, or should I say reforming, type A, do-it-myself, never say “help” perfectionista!) But, blessedly illness has given my pride a severe blow and knocked-out much of my pathological self-sufficiency. I have had the humble blessing of receiving help from many incredible people, particularly women. I was once told that my little boys have more “mothers” than anyone they knew. I smiled and thanked God as there is nothing better I could imagine for my boys than to be loved on by various nanas, grandmas, aunties, friends, neighbors, childcare workers… you get the picture. And, better yet, I – the mommy – get to be mothered as well.
I didn’t always feel this way. I wanted to be the one and only, don’t-ask-for-help Mama Bear. Then my first son was born – a tiny bundle of joy! Okay, let’s get real. He was a tiny, screaming, crying, needy parasite who sucked the life out of me! For the first couple weeks I pretended I was okay. I got this! I’m an educated, capable woman – I had a degree if child psychology for crying out loud! Of course I could handle my own baby. But secretly, I was panicked. My anxiety was spiraling out of control. After an intense three-day labor the nurses handed me this tiny screaming baby and I felt… numb. Exhausted. Completely out of it. I don’t even remember the first two days of his life. It took me awhile to admit that. I would not speak it out loud, but I was ashamed that I did not feel instantly bonded to this baby. I felt like I was babysitting, and I really wished someone would just come pick him up so I could sleep. I grieved my old life and my loss of freedom, and I felt guilty for feeling that way. He was an all-night, don’t put me down, must keep moving screamer, and thus my panic would rise as night would fall. I would fight the tears and urge to run away. Then it happened… my college roommate called to see how I was doing. “Oh fine! Great!” I lied. My wise, already mom of one toddler, friend called my bluff, “No, tell me how you REALLY are.” And at that, I burst into sobs as it all spilled out. She listened, consoled, commiserated and told me the best piece of wisdom I heard as a new mom, “You know, hon, it’s OKAY if you don’t like your baby.” What????!!!! It is? I’m not a horrible mother? I am not doomed to a tumultuous relationship with this child? I won’t ruin him forever and make it impossible for him to become securely attached? In that one sentence, she lifted the load of guilt off my shoulders. She reassured me I would grow to love, and yes, even like, this screaming child. And, of course, she was right – I am madly in love with him today. In that moment, when I was supposed to be the mother, I needed to be mothered. And my dear friend Beth mothered me. Soon after, post-partum depression hit, sleep deprivation and severe colic — we moved in with my parents so my family could help. It was a blow to my ego, but I was realizing that what was best for my boys was to be raised in community – to have as many Other Mothers to love on them (and me) as possible!
In the past few years, God has blessed me with two incredible little boys (one planned, quickly followed by one oops-what-do-you-mean-birth-control-isn’t-100%-effective) who I am happy to say I do like. For reasons unknown to me, God has chosen to let my health deteriorate. My human logic assumes it would be best for my boys to have a healthy mama who can have all the energy in the world for them, but I trust God knows better. Instead, multiple times a week, sometimes even daily, my body calls the shots and I have to go to bed or to another doctor’s appointment, and in come the Other Mothers. These incredible women have stepped in and kissed boo boos, taken my children to their activities, endured tantrums, changed stinky diapers, and loved and cuddled my boys when I have been humbly sidelined. A special few have the ability to gauge how I am feeling with once glance or by the tone of my voice and, without me having to ask, swoop in and take the kids for a couple hours so I can get a much needed nap to keep pressing forward. These women make me a better mother by affording me rest and reassurance that when Mommy is sick my children are well taken care of.
To all of the women in my life who mother my boys and who even mother me (God knows I still need it!), I want to say THANK YOU! Particularly dear to me are the couple women in my life that for one reason or another have not had children of their own. I know this can be such a painful and sensitive topic for women who long to have their own children and struggle with the “Why” of unfulfilled dreams. My heart cries for them as I don’t understand either. But, as my wise neighbor says, “We all have our own journey.” My journey of chronic illness, two toddlers and the need for help has intersected with others who seem to have been divinely appointed to be the “Other Mother” to my boys and to me. The role these women play leave a legacy, as they pour out their love and help two little boys feel secure when mommy is not well. Their service of meals, childcare, errands, friendship and encouragement has an eternal impact. Their support doesn’t just check off my “To Do” list, but it helps save a marriage by decreasing stress and creating time for a stressed wife and husband to reconnect; it lessens financial burdens stretched thin by medical bills; it creates a calm home that can be a haven when life feels out of control… I could go on to describe how seemingly small acts of service have such a monumental impact.
I don’t know the rest of our journey – for me, my family, or our Other Mothers. We take things one day at a time here – there’s no other choice. I am so blessed to be surrounded by so many women who have allowed God to use them to sustain and build up my family and myself. It is a humbling honor. And to those women (you know who you are!) I say…
Happy Other Mother’s Day!