People say motherhood is a lot of drudgery. Changing diapers, wiping noses, picking up toys and re-shelving books. Such mundanity is mind-numbing.
People also say motherhood is exalting. Wiping tears, coaxing smiles, sacrificing self, and witnessing the miracle of human development personally and profoundly.
“The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
“God couldn’t be everywhere so he created mothers.”
But really, just do your best. No pressure. Don’t lose any sleep over it.
There’s a bit of a gap between the two perspectives. And it’s the struggle to bring the two closer together that makes my life as a stay-at-home mom exciting, adventurous, and fulfilling. Some days I fight a good fight and come off feeling like a champion. Other days … well, I simply live to fight another day, with greater desire and resolve to be the mom — and the person — I know I have the potential to be. And when I am that person, my heart swells with joy and gratitude that this — changing diapers and wiping noses, watching first steps and teaching to read — is my life.
But, as I said, it’s a struggle. A constant challenge. A fight in which my kids are both my allies and my nemeses, in which I am buoyed or left to flounder by the comments and looks I get from strangers on the streets as I wrangle my little posse of three munchkins to the laundromat, library, grocery store, and train station. Every day is a delicate balancing act between being fun and being firm, serious and silly, or structured and whimsical.
On the good days — the days in which I come out on top, champion of the world (or at least of my world) — my balance is spot on. I weigh my need for space against my kids’ need to be close, my need to tackle the tasks of the day against their need to wander, explore, and rest. I may start by checking off the “prepare a healthy breakfast” box on my list, but later I let loose enough to feel joy instead of guilt when I give in to their demands for a “special treat.”
And when my schedule — which is usually completely manageable for one person — gets derailed by a toddler who, it seems, fears wearing shoes more than anything else in the world, I try to balance her screaming, kicking, wailing tantrum with a calm, cool hand. All the while I chase her down, pin her to the floor, and anticipate every movement of her kicking feet well enough to gently place her shoes upon them. (My kids are often kind enough to repay the favor, offering cool-headed advice, comforting words, and hugs when I’m about to blow my top.)
There are times when the challenge is isolation: when I feel like I am alone in the world, with only a pre-schooler and toddler for company. By 10 a.m., I am desperate for intelligent conversation and assurance that life goes on beyond the walls of our apartment and that, before too long, we might be able to join it. But I find that if I immerse myself in my kids’ world — reading stories, playing games, drawing pictures — rather than in my iPhone or computer searching for a connection — the time no longer matters. I would live unplugged like that forever, just me and them. Their easy laughs and genuine reactions, the thrill of recognition or discovery on their faces dispels any thought I have of escaping to the world outside, or even of checking my Instagram feed for signs of someone having a good time somewhere.
But of course there are still things that need to be done, and we can’t retreat into our books and games forever. We need food to eat and clean clothes to wear, and to pick up my older son from school every afternoon. There are friends I need to connect with, emails I need to send. I need to go running, to wash the dishes, to vacuum the floor. There must be some order to the day, something that I can look back on and say, “I finished something today.” Sneaking those things in, in just the right doses, with just the right amount of “help” from my little ones, is tricky and fraught with danger. Too much and we end up throwing tantrums in the vestibule of our building. Too little and I’m holed up in the kitchen, chomping dark chocolate and letting the kids fend for themselves in the play room.
At the end of the day, living this delicately balanced life feels, to me, like both an art and a science. It feels like I’m on a great adventure with unexpected turns and sheer drops, with stunning views that I have to endure tedious footwork to get to. It feels like the best thing I could be doing with my life arranged in such small bits of time as to seem both completely inconsequential and yet fearfully important. Knowing those views are coming, that the inconsequential time adds up, that one day I will be near the end of the journey and have a better idea of whether I succeeded or failed makes me determined to live every day on a quest for that balance, to immerse myself in what I’m doing, to embrace the dignity and joy in changing diapers and wiping noses.
If I do that, when night finally comes I can collapse into my bed — mind clear, heart full — and sleep the sleep of a champion.
photo: Lizzie Heiselt