A group of young mothers sat on the porch, talking about potty training and childhood illnesses and motherhood in general.
"It's not that the particular tasks I have to do each day are so difficult," one mom commented. "It's that I have to be mentally and emotionally and physically on-call, pretty much 24/7. I think always having to be available and aware - that is what makes this job so exhausting."
If you are a mom, you can probably relate.
The nights of deep, uninterrupted sleep end the day you bring Baby #1 home from the hospital. Even when the baby begins to sleep through the night, Mom rests somewhere in a state of semi-sleep, listening for the faint sound that tells her someone has had a bad dream, or fallen out of the bed, or just thrown up all over everywhere.
The listening and being aware and available continues during the day, too. You think, "The kids are playing quietly now. Maybe I have a few minutes to clean the downstairs bathroom. Hmm. come to think of it, the kids are too quiet." And so you race upstairs to find all of the sheets you folded yesterday pulled out of the linen closet and strewn all over the upstairs landing.
Or you start the day feeling unusually rested, and so you decide to run a few errands in town. In the drive-through book-drop at the library, the baby has a blow out diaper. After cleaning most of the poop off the baby and the car seat with all the diaper wipes you had left in the diaper bag, you resolve not to let this setback thwart your mission. Thankfully, the dry cleaner's has a drive-through, too.
At the Co-op, you have to unbuckle and unload. With a poopy-smelling baby on one hip, a suitcase-sized purse/diaper bag over one shoulder, and a toddler attached to your "free" hand, you make your way up the ramp to the loading dock so that you can order a bag of chicken feed. "Look, Mom!" Letting go of the toddler, you lurch to catch the four-year-old as he bolts after a fork-lift. Ouch! (You thought you had gotten rid of that catch in your back yesterday.)
At the grocery store, you realize that you did not actually get all of the poop with the diaper wipes and you now have a mustard-colored smear down your left side. Big deal. You're used to smelling like poop and spit up. Inside, the 4-year-old needs to go potty. Inspired, the 2-year-old wants to go potty, too. You wince at the pain in your back as your juggle the baby with one arm while trying to lift the toddler onto the toilet. "Jeffrey! Stop licking the edge of the sink!" Why is it that small children have an overwhelming urge to put their tongues on every shiny thing they see?!!
At the check-out counter, you realize the 2-year-old has only one shoe. Is it really worth retracing your trail through the entire store for a shoe? The 4-year-old needs to use the potty again, and the baby is shamelessly trying to find a way to access breast milk through the front of your poop-stained shirt.
At home, you change and nurse the baby. Down for the count, he looks like an angel nestled in his crib.
Lunch for the other two, then wash faces and use the potty. Nap-time story books. Another book. Another book.
You snort and wake yourself up, drool dribbling down your chin. Thankfully, both kiddos succumbed to sleep, too. Wiping slobber from your face, you put Max and Ruby back in their place on the bookshelf and tiptoe from the room.
Downstairs, you start a pot of coffee. Lunch: remains of two peanut-butter-&-jelly sandwiches and a handful of only slightly mauled goldfish crackers. You finish off two sippy-cups of lukewarm milk and carry the kids' dishes to the sink.
Ahhhh. The house is quiet. You finally have a moment to let your guard down and catch your breath. Pouring a cup of coffee, you celebrate the moment: Mom is Off-Duty!
And then the baby cries.
I have joked that I never actually drink coffee - I just pour it in a cup, let it get cold, and then reheat it repeatedly in the microwave. Ever have a 5-reheat morning? Yep, me, too. I've even found yesterday's forgotten cup of coffee, cold and forlorn, still waiting for me in the microwave the next morning.
My husband says that when the kids were little, I was a needy person. He was right: I was needy!
I was needing an hour off the clock. A small window of time when I didn't have to be listening, watching, aware. A few minutes when no one was sucking on me or clinging to me or anointing me with poop or sour milk. When I didn't have to be ready to catch throw up in my hands, or to launder sheets at 2:00 in the morning.
A few minutes to sit quietly at a table and drink hot coffee all the way to the bottom of the cup.
Moms, this is hard work - not because the job is particularly difficult, but because it is never-ending. No paid vacation, no end-of-year bonuses, no 3-day weekends, no Federal holidays.
But it is also a very good work, this work of mothering. Hang in there. Yours is an honorable calling.
3 months ago