Family Life,  motherhood,  Parenting

The unbearable lightness of motherhood

Is that plagiarism? I don’t know, it just seemed to fit the mood.

I was blessed to enjoy a solo weekend with just Evie doll by my side while the boys went camping with daddy – “we’re going to be stinky pigs when we come back, mommy!” (and they were) – and so I did what any self respecting mother to multiple small people would do in such a time of abundance: shopped like it was going out of style (Ikea! Walmart! Costco!), cleaned like an OCD tornado (baseboards! toilet bases! kitchen walls!) stayed up too late reading in dead silence, and then capped it all off with an oddly difficult Sunday mass filled with straight up b-slapping of my face, scratching of my neck and eyes, and multiple lie-on-your-back-w-feet-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care tantrums. (Way to step up your game to fill the fraternal void, Genevieve my sweet.)

And through it all, amidst the unfettered laundering and tidying, the leisurely wine-sipping and coffee drinking, the dinners I didn’t even bother to prepare and the luxurious shower I took completely alone…I missed them. So much.

I kept finding excuses to wander into their faintly urine-scented toddler barracks, remaking their beds “just so” with the special Superman sheets, tidying up their special top drawers filled with slightly horrifying collections of old earplugs, rocks, Euro coins, choking hazardous legos stashed from the baby, and occasional pieces of food. And as I missed them (and tried not to hyperventilate at the myriad worries that accompany weekends in the woods (bears, guns, mountain lions, falling down loft ladders, car accidents on mountain roads, food poisoning from Grandad’s meat preparation, etc.) I was so very grateful for the time away to separate from the daily grind and really to assess it with a more discerning (and well-slept) eye and declare it all “very good.”

It is so good.

It is so very good to be a mother, to do this whole motherhood gig, even in a culture that pronounces it lacking in some way, not quite enough to occupy a thinking woman’s intellectual reserves, not quite worth the investment of a young and middle adulthood spent changing diapers and driving carpools and cooking crappy meals (though they’re improving every year that goes by. And also there’s now a Trader Joe’s nearby…)

I don’t spend enough time thinking about the goodness of this vocation, but you know what? It’s because I’m drowning in it.

Which, it turns out, is a common feeling. It’s like drinking from a fire hydrant, these early years of parenting. Of continually feeling like you’re playing catch up, always on the defense and always struggling to find the right footing. And that’s not all it is, to be sure, but there’s a huge learning curve for sure. And survival mode, it turns out, extends far beyond the first few months postpartum.

And then a weekend like this one comes along, and in the unusually silent spaces of afternoon hours stretched out in quiet inactivity, you find your footing again.

I found myself wandering the house during Genevieve’s unaccustomedly silent nap times, searching for some need I must be failing to meet. And when I didn’t find one, I went and made one up. (Hence the clean baseboards. Not even trying to induce labor yet, sitting pretty at 26 weeks over here.)

I’d grown so accustomed to being continuously “on” that 48 hours without my brood felt completely strange. And even in the deep, deep relief of a bedtime punctuated by only one set of prayers + kisses + lights out, I felt unexpectedly lonesome for my tiny tyrants.

I wanted them with me, even in their neediness and endless demands for graham crackers and screen time and can-we-please-turn-on-the-sprinklers Mommy? (no, Colorado children, 65 is not the new 85)

And so in their absence, in the space of a brief and sometimes uncomfortable retreat weekend of sorts, I found a renewed sense of gratitude for my children, for the enormous amount of work their care requires, and even for the immense personal cost, all of it.

Even though it was heavenly to sleep in until 8:30 in the am and blink at Genevieve over my piping hot espresso, sitting silently in her high chair gnawing her toast, it was even more wonderful to have them back in my kitchen this morning, tripping me while I scrambled eggs and lobbying aggressively for starchier carbohydrates than were being offered.

And when I started to grit my teeth in frustration at the barely controlled chaos, my mind reached back for the memory of the loneliness of this past Saturday night, of wandering quiet hallways searching for something to clean, and of praying they were safe and sleeping well (the answer was yes to one of those things.)

And even though I’m still drowning? I’m getting to be a stronger swimmer, too, it turns out. And I miss the weight of them, literally and figuratively, when it is lifted from time to time.

So onward, mother soldier. I know this week will be filled with the sometimes simpering commercial messages about the specialness of being a mom, and while there is some truth in that, the deeper truth is heavier and harder. It’s the weight of this vocation that is sculpting us into the providers and caregivers we never could have dreamt of being when that little sausage roll of receiving blankets was first handed over in those precious new minutes at the hospital (or wherever.)

It’s heavy stuff, mama.

And I’ve got the arms to prove it.

(stay tuned for more to this tune this week. You know, because I never write about motherhood typically. Ahem.)

p.s. 6:45 pm, MST. Just in case it sounds like I know what the bleep I’m doing, let it be known that each and every time I write along those lines, somebody goes and ups the ante by a million kinds of crazy.

(Which is why I just spent the last 10 minutes scrubbing toddler shite out of the bathroom sink.)

week of motherhood


  • Lisa

    I had to smile at your young /middle adulthood motherhood comment.I got a wonderful surprise at 48, 12 years after the last. This comes with its own set of challenges, it’s lonely to be the only one having a baby at my age

  • melissa

    Thanks I really needed it this, particularly on this day. It definitely can be painful getting chiselled into the mom we need to be, but you are right, it is very good. Thanks for the reminder

  • Suzanne

    thank you for your words of commiseration. I smiled as I recalled I too was scrubbing baseboards during an unexpected two-hour-sick-child nap today. This is a good reminder to carve out space for a chance to renew perspective.

  • Ashley

    Survival mode has lasted awhile over here! It’s sad to think I default into overwhelmed, but your words have renewed the vigor to accept the pruning I desperately need.

  • Cami

    I apologize in advance for the inappropriately lengthy comment. Please forgive my venting. Feeling totally obliterated by my brood today… Well, the last week. Grandma went on vacation so we’ve been down a helper. I’ve had 3 kids in 3 1/2 years. My boys are only a year apart, the second being a “spirited child” which I’m still trying to understand how/why he is different and has an astronomical amount of needs beyond what you’d expect. Like today he wanted to take off his clothes to put back on yesterday’s pj pants but he didn’t just want a pair on his legs, he also wanted a pair on his upper body and would not take “no” or “they’re pants, not a shirt” or “I guess the leg part can go on your arms” for an answer. Insert 4th tantrum of the day and this was around noon. This child needs his own chaperone at all times. If he doesn’t get his way, watch out! He requires so much that I feel I can’t give while caring for my other two. He’s also brilliant- an unbelievable artist at just 2 1/2… Holding a variety of writing/drawing utensils in the proper tripod hold (always unassisted) and creating page after page of circles, triangles, rectangles, happy faces, and many other impressive and adorable doodles. He’s filled half a dozen notebooks in the last few months. I’m so amazed at what he can do. But I just want to be able to focus on my new 2 mo old daughter who is still working out how to be a more efficient nurser and can’t get a decent nap in with two loud brothers waking her up all day in our tiny condo. And don’t even ask about self care. What’s that? It’s days like this that I can’t help but question my ability to do this job, despite my desire to. It’s days like this that I feel like I’m being punished somehow. I give my life to this vocation and most days feel a failure, defeated. So, Thank you for sharing posts like these. I completely get it. I struggle, struggle, struggle. My boys are not napping these days and instead throw tantrums or just make life harder as retaliation and I’m just losing everyday. What can I do? They share a room. There’s no way to change that right now. So every afternoon, my angel-faced toddlers turn into dinosaurs and make the final hours of our day tremendously painful. I have learned humility in this work. More than I have ever imagined. I just pray that some way, some how, peace is restored.

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