On Motherhood

Last week, a bleary eyed, exhausted me pulled my miserably sick daughter into my room after hours of tossing and turning, after sitting up worrying about why she was crying and if her pain would subside enough to find sleep.  I gave up; I gave up and I pulled her into my bed around 2:30 in the morning.  Both of us were deliriously tired; she wrapped her arms around me and asked me to hold her tighter.  We laid together until I felt her breathing ease and I thought she'd finally drifted off.  Once I knew her Motrin had kicked in, once I knew she was comfortable and sound, then I could find sleep myself.

Because that, the sleepless nights, the worry, the never ending cycle children in my bed...that is motherhood.

As I drifted off, I felt her little hand on my tummy.  She rubbed my stomach, much like I rub hers when she's tired or sad to calm her, and I smiled with the realization that she'd been waiting for me to sleep, too.  Her fingers fell into the deep grooves of the stretch marks 27 months of pregnancy have left on me and she paused.  She backtracked slightly.  She took the tip of her finger and began tracing the marks, the lines marking the roads on the map of our lives together.  At that moment I realized something I'd not honestly grasped in 11 years of parenting; that I am hers.  I am this thing, this pile of bones and skin that belongs to her.  To them.  That I am not just a 30 something girl with big hips covered in silvering tracks; I am an extension of three people, and I belong to them completely.

And that, the giving over of myself to someone else, well...that is motherhood.

If you asked me what motherhood was, I could give you the obvious answer.  I could tell you it's 9 months of puking and 18 years of mumbling to yourself.  It's hardly having enough time and never having enough for yourself.  It's diapers and bottles and boo boos.  It's dishes and laundry and grocery bills and college tuition.  And I'd be lying to you with every word.

Motherhood is none of those things.  Those are merely the minute details of life.  If I didn't have these children I'd still have grocery bills and bank accounts and I'd probably have some career that required much of my time. I'd have work to bring home and deadlines to meet and maybe a dog to feed and walk.  I'd be busy, I'd be frazzled and I'd be distracted.  None of that changes with or without having my children, just how it plays out does.

So I take all of that out of the equation and what I'm left is what happens on the sidelines.  I'm left with falling into bed and knowing that my daughter is so intertwined in my soul that she could dare trace the lines of my body while she thought I slept simply because she wanted to, which is something I'd never had dared do with my own mother.  That is motherhood. 

I brought a basket of clothes to my boys' room the other day and when I opened my oldest son's top drawer to put his socks and boxers away, I realized that he'd unfolded all of his boxers and re-folded them differently.  He'd moved his socks from the right to the left, the t-shirts to the back and laid his boxers out like I'd never think to.  I stood for a little too long staring at that drawer, smiling, realizing that my son had taken an idea I'd given him and made it into something uniquely his own.  That he was moving away from me and he knew which direction he was heading and he didn't need to ask for my permission or my seek my validation anymore..  That is motherhood.

I cook dinner at night and my middle son helps, no matter what we're making.  He does a really crappy job of chopping the parsley and he over-salts the sauce and he sets the table all wrong and we laugh our asses off the whole time we're getting ready to eat.  We talk about Pokemon or skateboarding or the new video game and  I listen to his stories, his tales, his experiences that have nothing to do with me and I learn something about that little boy who does still need me to validate him, who wants to be in the kitchen with me because I love to cook and he wants to be a part of what I love.  I listen to his silly stories, I nod at the things I honestly don't understand, because he loves those things and I want to know about the thing he loves.  That is motherhood.

My daughter climbs into the pile of dirty laundry that is now taller than she is.  She burrows into it until she finds the buried basket and she makes us all find her.  Sometimes she lunges out at us, sometimes she just peeks an eye out and whispers, "boo."  Then she leaps out and we run around the living room, tripping over piles of clothes, through the kitchen, jumping over bags of groceries still not put away, playing tag and laughing until it hurts.  That is motherhood.

Motherhood is a tide, ebbing and flowing in my life.  It is a push and a pull, a give and a take.  It's me giving all I have to these people and me taking everything I can from them while I have them.  It's them holding on to me while they push me away.  It's watching them learn and grow, it's mourning the loss of their dependence and celebrating the independent people they are becoming.  It's getting flustered because the dust is piling up and the floors are a mess but me not being able to bring myself to windex the little handprints off the windows because I want to savour them for as long as I can.  It's that it's been so long since I've had a minute, a day, a week to myself that I can hardly remember what that's like and it's the way 11 years just blew past me right then when I blinked and the next 15 are going to be over before I can blink again.  It's running on three hours of sleep, grieving for the loss of a child not my own and at the exact same moment finding a fleeting moment of pure peace in the eyes of another child.

Baby Colby



It's who I have become to my core.  It's the space in between the mistakes I make, between what isn't getting done in my day or my life, it's the touch and the sight and the sound of something bigger than me and better than me unfolding before my eyes.  It is a gift, being able to look at a child and see more than a short human; being able to see the roads that connect you to her to me to them.  It's living less in fear and more in the moment.  It's how I realize slightly more with every day that passes exactly how wrong, how tragically horrifying my own childhood was and realizing more with every day that passes that it doesn't matter anymore, that I am not that child, and neither are my children, and neither are anyone else's.  That I can learn from it and let it go.  That I don't have to forgive or forget or understand, but I am ready to accept it and leave it behind.  That I have the power to give it meaning, to make it right, to cancel the whole thing out.

It has nothing to do with what I'm doing, and everything to do with what I'm becoming.

David and Catharine are hosting Around the World in 80 Clicks: 80 stories of motherhood from around the globe.  Ree asked me, Kelley asked Ree, Tanis asked Kelley, Catharine asked Tanis and I'd like to ask X Box.  Who isn't a mother, but who's quest to become a parent is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking.  If you'd like to contribute, please let Catharine know about your post so she and David can add it to the "itinerary."
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