This is me and #4. She is recovering from pneumonia. We are in Key West. This is one of my mom stories – the time I took care of her all day in an interior cabin (no sunlight) on a cruise ship and no food for me. She slept. On the TV in the room, there was one channel available and the movie “Transformers 2” was the only thing to watch. All day long. The rest of the family was on a day trip to a beach in Cozumel, Mexico. They came back saying they had the best fish tacos ever and the beach was beautiful. I told them all about Transformers 2.
That is one of my many mom stories.
Here is another one. The following is a poem I wrote on February 3, 1998 – exactly two months before my first daughter was born but the sentiment was applied to each and every one of them.
How is it that I can be so in love with someone that I’ve never met?
Pure bliss has been a foreign concept – until now.
Your very existence rejuvenates my soul and makes my heart vulnerable. Finally.
We are one as you grow.
I breathe, you breathe.
I cherish the this time, this precious time,
In which we are connected,
This most intimate bond in Nature.
You are shielded from the outside –
Unaware of all the hate in this world.
Can I keep you safe in my womb forever?
But then you would never know
What it means to love and be loved.
You are a part of me.
I am a part of something
That I never imagined possible:
To be this close to someone,
To love freely without reserve
Or expectation of reciprocity.
The pressure is heavy but welcomed.
If I lose everything except you –
I’ve lost nothing.
Today’s post is about the stuff we mothers talk about, the stuff no one told me, and some of my own honest confessions and observations. Motherhood can be a story of polarities. The tired/not tired days. The good/bad (and so ugly you can’t bare to look at) days. The proud/ashamed moments. The certainty/uncertainty of it all. The empty and the fullness of it all. It can also be a narrative you use to define your life and your choices. I have written and re-written my motherhood tale several times. And I will keep going back to edit this protagonist/antagonist role throughout my life with our children. As I reflect on my own story of motherhood, I have learned many lessons.
30 things I’ve learned about motherhood that no one told me about.
(They may not all apply to all mothers, as we all have our own story, but these are things that have surfaced in my own story of motherhood. And I had to limit it to 30…there are so many more on my list.)
1. No one told me that whenever I am doing something pleasurable that doesn’t involve the kids, I will be interrupted incessantly.
It could be reading, sitting down with a coffee staring out the window, writing, sewing, talking on the phone with a friend or in person, they flock to me.
As I write this post, I have been stopped to assemble something, asked how to draw an ampersand, settled a dispute, looked for a book, answered question after question, reminded to buy a new brush that has been broken for a month, asked what is for lunch and dinner and then a follow-up question about tomorrow’s meals, asked to find something again, and have lost my train of thought at least a dozen times. An hour on this laptop and I only have these two paragraphs written.
2. No one told me that when I do chores, they vanish.
As soon as I sit to fold laundry or clean the kitchen or move the table to sweep or clean the floor, they disappear. But of course, the moment I sit to write, taking a break from folding laundry or any other chore, they magically re-appear.
3. No one told me how car rides can make or break you as a mother.
I just had this discussion a few days ago with other mothers. The dreaded LONG CAR RIDE. Fighting siblings, crying babies, car sick children, whining toddlers, and teenagers sullen in the front seat – you are trapped with it all in a contained space for what seems to be an eternity. Rides longer than 20 minutes can test your patience and stamina. Noise levels that can’t be escaped. Crying that can’t be consoled. Music that soothes everyone but you…if I hear Katy Perry’s “Roar” one more time…
You know what happens next. The yelling. The threats to pull the car over. The pleas. The tears – just your own of course. Then one by one, they drop to sleep…just as you roll into your driveway. And then the next challenge begins: Getting them into their beds without waking them up.
4. No one tells you how much your body will change…especially after the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
It’s like I’ve been on a yo-yo diet for the last 17 years except that I haven’t actually been on a diet – I’ve just given birth to 5 children. Gaining weight, losing weight. Breasts inflate, breasts deflate. Skin becomes loose than looser. Rivers of stretch marks become tributaries and before you know it, it looks like someone engraved an intricate wood grain pattern right on your stomach, thighs, and butt. My feet grew a half size and then another half size. Some years exercise felt more like rehab and learning how to carry this body again. The proportions of your body change and the wardrobe needs to adjust to the new curves. You find yourself poking and prodding parts that look funny in the mirror. There are days when I so desperately want my body to just snap back like a rubber band. Ever-Patient reminds me that I went through 15 years of changes with pregnancy and nursing and it’s only been 2 years since my body has become my own again. He tells me to be patient and to focus on getting strong. Most times I do. Then there are times when I am self-conscious and see battle scars, but there are times when I am proud and see them as badges of honour.
5. No one tells you how the first pregnancy, first child, and first brush with motherhood is so sweet and so daunting.
Inevitably, your first is your guinea pig. The poor first child. You are scared of every misstep. They remember when they were the only one. They will always need you just a little bit more.
6. No one tells you how mothers have trouble asking for and accepting help.
I can be guilty of this. We are so generous with our time and our gifts to our partner, our children, and even to other mothers who need it. Sometimes I don’t want to admit to anyone, and to myself, that I can’t do everything.
7. No one tells you that mothers don’t like admitting that sometimes, just sometimes, they really don’t like being a mother.
Oh there are days. There are days when it feels like they take turns walking on my face. There are days when I don’t know see beyond that hour, that minute. I fantasize about what it would be like to live my day in absolute silence and stillness. Then there’s a break in the breakdowns and for a moment, they get along. For a moment, they laugh together. And for a moment, they smile back at you. Then I can’t even imagine not being a mother.
8. No one tells you that mothers need secrets and a past that is their own.
It’s ok to keep some details to yourself, to safeguard a piece of your identity, and keep a place for you to retreat to when motherhood is overwhelming. As they get older, especially my teenage daughter, they are more curious about your past and your stories before they existed. It is a way for them to relate and I tell her what story she needs to hear but there are stories that I will always keep for me. When I give and share everything with my children, I just want to keep one thing all mine.
9. No one told me how much I would have to keep silent.
I bite my tongue everyday. I hold back lectures, rants, and I-told-you-so’s. I warn only once then I watch as they don’t listen, keeping my second and third warnings to myself.
10. No one told me how fast the stage from ages 0-6 would fly.
These first six years of life are so full. When you are in the midst of mothering this stage, it feels so long and as though these years of littles never end. But they do. The nursing stops. The naps stop. Then you find you can’t carry them up the stairs anymore. They no longer hold your hand when you cross the street. They stop looking to see if you’re watching them.
11. No one told me that it’s ok to take time for yourself even when they are little.
Stop feeling guilty. Sign up for that class. Join that team. Take that walk. When mama is happy, the household is happy. Whether you like it our not, you set the tone.
12. No one told me how much children remember and to prepare myself for the day that they would confront me about all of my failures as their mother.
No one told me about the laundry list of mess-ups they would remember or how they would recall moments when you thought they weren’t listening or were too little to understand. They will ask you to piece together the fragments of these memories. You will get defensive and say, “I did my best.” And it won’t be enough. Until they have their own children. Then they will know what those four words really mean.
13. No one told me how, when they were little, I wanted to be seen as more than “just” a mother.
I wrote in my journals about my desire to have an identity outside of “mother” over and over again especially when each child was a newborn. It was so difficult to accept that this was me. Mother = me. There had to be more to me, right? So I worked for a little while and felt torn. I wanted to stay home. Working while mothering 3 then 4 then 5 children wasn’t right for me.
14. No one told me how I’d want to go back in time and tell myself that there was plenty of time for that and being a mother can be enough. (See #10.)
15. No one told me how motherhood could be at odds with having a partner/husband. No one told me/us that we’d have more time just in a little while.
When I had young children climbing on top of me, touching me, feeding off me, and needing me all day, I had nothing left at the end of the day for anyone else. I just wanted to crawl into bed and try to sleep before the next feeding. I had nothing left to say because I had been talking and singing preschool songs all day long. I didn’t want to go on dates with my husband because I was too tired. It was difficult to make any effort in our marriage. We had to really trust that we would have more time. And now we do.
16. No one told me how small gestures can heal and show them how much I love them.
Saying sorry to my children for irrational angry outbursts. Extra time in their bed to talk a little before bedtime. Taking a child onto my lap for a quick cuddle no matter how old. Baking a favourite treat as a peace offering. Just randomly whispering, “I love you and I am proud of who you are. ” Picking up a book on hold at the library that they really wanted to read and they thought I wasn’t listening when they told me about it. Recognizing an act of kindness that they thought I didn’t see. Playing ‘eagle eye’ or ‘hawk and mouse tribe’ with them for the entire afternoon.
17. No one told me that I really shouldn’t expect reciprocity. Really. Don’t expect it. And sometimes, you really want it.
I knew intellectually that my love would be unconditional. I would love them no matter what. I just wasn’t expected for the true extent of this non-reciprocal relationship. It is completely one-sided. Multiply that by 5 and it’s a wonder that I stand upright as they all lean on me. We pick them up and dust them off. Sometimes there is a thanks but most times there isn’t – it’s just our job. We are behind-the-scenes and they are the stars of the show. They take the credit for their successes and put the blame on you for their failures. All of it. They give us bits here and there – a Thank You for a wonderful day, an I Love You at bedtime, and the gentlest whisper of Mama when you comfort them.
The kicker is that sometimes I want them to give me it. That unconditional love. To forgive me completely for all my transgressions and shower me with gratitude. It’s ridiculous.
18. No one told me that other moms’ honest stories would be so valuable and both give a sense of relief and motivation to keep trying.
In the same breath, I didn’t know my story would have the same effect.
19. No one told me that I wouldn’t need anything for my babies except clothes, diapers, a car seat, a sling/wrap/carrier, and my willingness to be there when s/he needed me.
With the first, I had a lot of second-hand baby equipment and clothing and my family bought me a swing. Then as we had more children, the stuff lessened partly because we lived in small spaces and partly because I wanted life to be simpler.
20. No one told me how siblings can be so hurtful and so full of love for each other in the same minute.
In the same breath, I’ve heard the yelling and the laughing. I’ve learned not to overreact and let things sort itself out. They always come to me if they need to but I encourage them to sort out their disagreements trying to use the most gentle words possible. And if they can’t, I encourage both parties to take a break from each other. I remind them of their unique bond and how later in life I hope they will understand why I had so many of them.
21. No one told me how physical fatigue would morph into emotional and psychological fatigue.
I remember physically running after each toddler and steering them away from trouble. I would go up two flights of stairs with a baby in a wrap while carrying a full load of laundry. I didn’t get a full night’s sleep between 2002 and 2012. Tired and physically drained. Now that they aren’t keeping me up at night anymore or making me chase them, I keep myself awake with thoughts of how to meet them where they’re at, how to talk to them, how to support them, how to help them figure out who they are. I answer questions now with: “Hold on. Let me think about that one. I need to get back to you on that.”
22. No one told me that the amount of worry I feel is proportional to the age of the child.
#1 leaves the house and I still hold my breath a little bit until she comes home. The kids bike around the block now and I hold my breath until I see them round the corner of our street.
23. No one told me how as they get older, you doubt your abilities even more.
Why? Because they are entering young adulthood, it’s now a big test to see if you did your job. Did I equip them with all they need to thrive out there?
24. No one told me how you would spend a lot of time playing detective work with your child as they grow.
Who are they like? Why are they like that? Why does she do that? Why does he always do that?
25. No one told me how I will miss their noise, interruptions, and attention.
I will miss it. If you ask me now, I will deny it. But deep down, I know I will miss the pitter patter, the stomps, the shrieks, the hundreds of questions, and the cuddles. I will even miss the bickering, the whining, and the cries. I will miss it all.
26. No one told me how you will forget how hard it all was in the early years and simply remember it all like perfect snapshots:
There was 1…
27. No one told me how motherhood brings the rawest of emotions and leaves your heart vulnerable the entire time.
I have given each of them a piece of my heart and instead of protecting it by locking it away somewhere, they’ve pinned it on the outside and have left it exposed. Every time they hurt, that piece of my heart feels it.
28. No one told me that I should have asked my grandmother questions.
I have so many questions for her now. I sometimes wonder what her motherhood story was like because I only have my mother’s perspective. I wonder if it was similar to mine. I wonder what stories and secrets she kept to herself.
29. No one told me how grateful I would be that I wrote it all down.
I have written in journals for most of my years as a mother. Memories are fading and all I have are the photos and words that captured my stories. The photos are lovely but the words tell the truth. The words tell the truth of a moment in time. They reveal a real emotion and authentic feelings. They give me credibility. I can talk about the past confidently because my journals corroborate my story. My journals from the past have changed my relationships in the present. They have shone a light where there has been a dark hole of uncertainty and doubt. I write in case they need to know the truth of our journey.
30. No one told me how hard it would be to accept this truth:
“But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” – Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs In Heaven
They have all been on their own whether it’s for three weeks on the other side of the world, a weekend at winter camp, or a night at the grandparents’ house. My oldest is in the planning stages of leaving again. My other children will progress to week-long camp and more weekends away from me. I am proud of them. But when they say goodbye, for weeks or even a day, and they give me that one last hug or last wave before they leave, I always want them to stay with me. I want to call out and tell them to come back because I need them. But I bite my tongue (see #9) and I wave back because I know that wherever they go, they will always have a piece of my heart pinned to them (see #27).
Can I keep you safe in my womb forever?
But then you would never know
What it means to love and be loved.
I’d love to hear about anything you’ve learned as a mother. Was there anything you wished someone had told you? Do you relate to any of the above points?