As another Mother’s Day nears and my kids grow another year closer to adulthood, I am thinking back on it all. The tattered hard copy of Goodnight Moon recited by heart. Bath/book/bed routines. Play groups. Walking through the grocery store when they were littles and feeling SO proud of myself for getting a shower in and dressing up in something other than sweat pants, the kids well behaved in the cart and I thought – yeah, I’m on it! I got it all together today! Go me!
And then in the checkout lane, the woman behind me whispered, “Excuse me, but did you know that you have a lollipop stuck on the back of your skirt?”
Motherhoood is a sticky business.
When I first announced to the world that I was pregnant, there is one phrase I heard most often: “Your life is going to change!” This was usually followed by knowing smiles or laughter. I remember saying, “Yeah, I know.”
I didn’t know shit.
Seventeen years and two kids later, I get it. I’m going to try to capture just how life-changing motherhood has been for me and a few of the lessons I’ve been humbled to learn in no particular order. For mother’s day. For moms everywhere who show up every day fighting the good fight.
You don’t have to be perfect. Just be you. And be there.
Really be there. In sickness and in health. Yeah, I’ve been coughed on, sneezed on, thrown up on. When my son was born, they placed him on my stomach and he pooped on my stomach. I remember thinking – Oh shit. Here we go.
No matter what their age, you dry the tears. Hug until it stops hurting. Bring them chicken soup with the oyster crackers they like on the special tray so they can eat in bed and heal. Know when it’s time to crack a joke to lighten the mood. Stay up until 2AM listening. Be there when they need you most. No matter what.
You hold their heartache in your hands as if it were your own.
Books and experts are okay. But no one knows your kids better than you.
In the beginning, I read all the books. (In my defense, I’m a writer and researcher.) I listened to the doctors. I checked with other moms – is this normal?? I tried all the schedules, rituals, recommendations. I was terrified to mess up these little people entrusted to my care.
Eventually I did what worked for my child. Sometimes I made it up as I went along. Whatever it took. It was really uncomfortable for me, someone who loves order and process. There was no owner manual. No one-size-fits-all solution. But over time, I found my groove. I came to know each of their unique stories.
Now when things come up, I thumb back through my internal encyclopedia of their lives. I trust the answers will appear when I need them.
When kids are acting most unlovable is when they need love the most.
It’s hard. It’s really fucking hard. Especially on days when you’re not feeling so lovable. Tantrums. Slammed doors. Yelling. Anger. Sometimes I’m not sure what’s worse, the anger or the silence.
But you get better at it. You toughen up. You start using muscles you’ve never used before. You learn when to let go, when to barge in and when to just shut the hell up.
All you know is, you can’t give up. Ever.
No matter how old they are, they love to be taken care of.
Especially when they are sick. They love to see Dr. Mom coming with the little white plastic basket from Target of over-the-counter medications; the heating pad; the extra blankets. I ignore being called weird because I tuck the blankets around them while chanting snug as a bug in a rug. I feel foreheads. I hug. I kiss. I know I will get whatever virus it is they have but 3x worse. It may be midnight. It may be 4AM. I may have a Big Important Meeting the next day. Most likely I do.
Seems to be how this motherhood thing works.
Kids need to see the real you. And how you handle it when things go wrong.
I lose my shit sometimes. Most recently, it happened when we were all stressed and pressed to be somewhere important. We all ran out to the car but no one grabbed the keys. We were locked out.
And…I lost it. I pulled it together but it wasn’t pretty getting there. After I found a solution, I talked to them, apologized, explained why I was so stressed – the person we were going to see would be so disappointed if we weren’t there to support them for this important event. And I don’t like to disappoint people. But we were trying to do too much in a short period of time. And that was my fault.
My daughter hugged me. My son said it was everyone’s fault. My daughter cracked a joke and made us all laugh – a classic Christy move – while we waited for the spare key to arrive. My son held my hand in the car during the drive.
We got there on time. In our own way. Together.
You are stronger than you ever thought you were. Because you have to be.
These two former little people who are now taller than me still rely on me. I can’t fuck this up. I have had to step up my game. So I set the limits. I insist on meeting the parents at the houses they visit. I wait up every night for them to come home. I ask who’s going to be at the party and verify that a parent is there. I make my house open to friends with all the rules in place. My daughter tells everyone I am overprotective. She says this with a hint of pride.
I have learned that this is a good thing. I am the boundary between them and the world until they learn how to build one for themselves. Until.
Listen more than you talk.
This is hard for me. I say to myself, Christy – do they need a lesson or a listen right now? Sometimes it works. 🙂 Mostly I talk too much and blow it. But I recover because I am good with the funny memes which I text or Snapchat later.
Kids are never too old for gushing.
Taking time to say – I love watching you do “Fill in the blank!” Telling them everything I love about them. Handwritten letters when they are going through a difficult time. The handmade birthday posters on their doors. Every gesture, letter, poster saying over and over:
I care. You matter. You are loved. Forever and always.
It goes way too fast.
I had a Mom tradition I started on nights when we had money to get a good deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s, a Chicago tradition. I called it the Pizza Polka. What can I say, my parents were ballroom dancers and after enough long, dark Chicago winter days cooped up in a house working and taking care of little kids, you tend to get
It went down like this: While we waited for our pizza to cool, I played polka music as loud as the stereo would go. We danced through every room of the house, my girl in my arms, her little girl fingers clutched onto my sleeve; my boy clinging to my shirt behind me trying to keep step. Two big dogs barking and chasing us. We laughed so hard.
I remember the laughing most of all.
A heart can expand beyond logic, reason or science.
Now my kids are working, driving and building lives that don’t always include me. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to see every achievement and milestone just as much as I was in the early days. But I feel new changes coming. They will always need me but in different ways. I have to be prepared.
This is motherhood. A delicate dance of letting go yet holding on. Meeting these people you tend to so carefully where they are in any given moment.
Confession: I still make their sandwiches every morning for school. I know what they like and just how they like it. And I still write notes on their napkins. No one has asked me to stop. I know that someday, I won’t have anyone to make sandwiches for anymore. So I’m getting all my PB&J’s, ham on wheat bread plain and napkin notes in while I still can.
Grateful for all of it. Every last drop.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone. 🙂
PS: In case you need a bit of polka in your life…