N.B. I wrote this piece initially for Mother’s Day, but I hesitated to publish it because, well, writer-y hesitation. You get it. Maybe. Anyway, I hope it speaks even in August.
I had one child today. For an hour while my younger girls were at their respective schools, I had the care of my oldest child. He is the one who can play at an enclosed playground without constant hawk eyes and spotting hands.
I sat on a bench, darted my eyes, fidgeted with my hands, fumbled with my coffee cup.
What do I do with myself? Stare blankly back at my phone? Half-read the news? Play Candy Crush?
Do you ever forget how to be you?
Eight years of parenting three stair-step babies and three years of homeschooling have made me a mother machine. I have loved it, not because motherhood was my dream job, but because I love my children.
But in these few fleeting moments, I find I cannot easily switch gears. I do not know how to hold my hands.
Strangely, I see that coming return of an identity outside of mother. My youngest is only two, but maturing quickly. The years are beginning to slip faster, like your grandma always said they would. Sooner than I realize, all three of them will be playing independently, taking themselves to the restroom, and getting their own snacks. They will drive cars and work jobs and apply for colleges, mostly without my hawk eyes and spotting hands.
And I am scared.
I am scared I will not remember who I was. I am scared I will not know who I am.
At 25 I was sharp and vibrant and accomplished. I had toughed my way through the first years of teaching. I was a leader in my field – I was confident in my intellect and abilities.
I happily walked away so I could walk hand-in-hand with my children during their formative years. It remains the best choice I have ever made.
But as any veteran will tell you, motherhood is like going to war. My body is worn and damaged. My mental and emotional reserves are depleted daily. I cannot remember my last uninterrupted night of sleep. I have survived in the muddy trenches of potty training and stomach viruses. I have been hit, kicked, pelted, and poked with regular frequency. Every ounce of personal dignity has been lost.
How can we hold on to the pieces of ourselves while in the midst of the battle?
Motherhood is an all-consuming calling, particularly in those early years. Friends, it is vital for us to not only honor the love of a mother, but the sacrifice she makes. Do not give us flowers to hold in our already full hands, but help us pick up the pieces of ourselves we have had to drop. Help us to unclench our fists for a moment that we might see their strength again.
Let us help the mothers in the trenches to survive the battles and not lose themselves. Let us help each other to emerge stronger from the fight. Let us remind each other that the sacrifices we make have rewards that reach far into the coming generations. And let us honor the veteran mothers who have carried us on their strong shoulders.
Let us all be reminded of the strength and sacrifice it takes to exchange your life for the call of motherhood.