The other day I was working at a Starbucks instead of at home (it’s nice to get out, you know?) and this particular Starbucks has its bathroom located outside between it and another store.
When my phone buzzed to remind me that it was time to go pick up Dax from school (do NOT judge; sometimes I’m so engrossed in my work that I don’t notice what time it is) I packed up my things and headed to use the bathroom before I left.
While waiting my turn, I noticed a young couple — probably not much older than Dan and me — sitting at one of the outdoor cafe tables. The woman was carefully holding a brand new sleeping baby girl, obviously their first and only one. They had the words, “BRAND NEW PARENTS” written all over them in that they were accompanied by a huge, new stroller adorned in countless baby toys and teethers and an obnoxiously overflowing diaper bag. And they looked tired. Happy, but tired.
I just gawked at them. That time in my life seems like it was forever ago, but it really wasn’t. It was only just a little bit shy of three years ago.
My mind was reeling. That Baby Girl was so impossibly tiny. “Are babies really that tiny when they first come out?” I thought to myself. “I mean I guess they are, right?” But I can barely remember a time where it didn’t almost break my back and tear my biceps to shreds when I go to pick up my solid-as-a-rock toddler boy.
Finally the bathroom door swung open indicating it was my turn. I went inside, did my thing, washed my hands, and zoomed out of there. I had to pass the couple again on my way to my car. I wanted so badly to stop and talk to them, but I was already almost late picking up Dax. So I just thought about what I wanted to say to them in my head really hard, hoping that by some chance they were mind readers and could hear me through my skull.
“I just want you both to know,” I furrowed my brow hard as I thought these words, “in case no one has told you, that you’re doing a really great job.”
That’s it. That’s what I wanted to tell them.
I remember the first three months of my son’s life nearly killed me. The sleep-deprivation, the incessant colicky screams, the bleeding nipples, everything. It all sent me to the edge of my limits and I remember thinking at more than one point that I was doing a terrible job and that motherhood must not come as easily to me as it does every other woman and that I was doomed to fail. In those early months, all I wanted to hear from someone was just a small, quiet, unprompted, and sincere, “Hey, you’re doing a really great job with that boy. I’m proud of you.”
Two weeks ago was Mother’s Day. The night before, appropriately I guess, I couldn’t get much sleep because, well, that’s what happens when you’re 30+ weeks pregnant and it hurts to sit and also hurts to lie down and also hurts to stand. I had spent the night tossing and turning in our guest bed trying and failing to get some rest. (Our actual bed is a 20-year-old broken hand-me-down mattress and it has screwed my back up in ways I never knew possible, and our guest bed is newer so that’s why I was giving it a try.)
When my alarm went off to tell me to get up and get ready to go to church, I was already awake and angry about it. I shut off the alarm and went into our bedroom feeling quite defeated. I turned on the shower to begin getting ready and heard my husband stir.
“Hey! Happy Mother’s Day!”
My eyes filled with tears and I just flopped down on the bed and told him that no, I did NOT want him to tell me Happy Mother’s Day because I don’t deserve it because I’m not a good mother and you should only say those words to people who are good mothers.
“I feel like just a mom,” I went on to explain. “Not a mother. Mothers have their junk together. Mothers meal plan. Mothers pick out matching, cute clothes for their kids. Mothers actually, you know, clean their houses. Mothers know what they’re doing. I never know what I’m doing. I’m always flying by the seat of my pants. I’m just a mom; I’m not a mother.”
Ahem. Mothers don’t wait two weeks to write blog posts about their Mother’s Day. They sit down and write about them, you know, the day they happen. But here I am, writing about Mother’s Day two weeks later, because I’m just a mom. Not a mother.
I realize this is a ridiculous assertion. I am obviously a mother in the most basic, biological sense. I grew, birthed, and then fed another person with my body. And I’m working on doing that a second time. But while sleep-deprived and hormonal, it made perfect sense to me at the time. I was separating the sheep from the goats in my own head, the sheep being the mothers who make DIY presents for their sons’ preschool teachers and the goats being the moms who pick up a Starbucks gift card with their morning lattes because oh crap, is Teacher Appreciation Week THIS WEEK?
One of the earliest memories I have with my own mother is her chasing me around the house with a hairbrush while I dramatically hid from her with my hands covering my head, screaming. Yes, actually screaming. I hated to have my hair brushed. And teeth brushed. And I didn’t really bathe. I was kind of gross, actually.
Another vivid memory I have of my own mother is sitting with her on this bright orange velour chair we used to have (thanks, late 80s trends) and listening to her read a book to me. I can’t remember what book it was, but I remember it was one that I basically had memorized. I knew the story backward and forward but still insisted that she read it to me. And she did, because she loved me and was usually really good at hiding how annoyed with me she must have been.
My mom was (is) a single mom. And I’m sure she could have used a positive affirmation every now and again. I’m sure there were days when her drama queen of a daughter fought vehemently against the evils of, you know, basic hygiene and made her feel like she was failing, too.
I don’t really have a resolution for this post, but I’ll just end it with this:
Mothers — sheep and goats alike — you’re doing a really great job. I know it’s hard, and I know it’s thankless. And I know it isn’t glamorous. And it isn’t all Pinterest DIY projects and home-cooked meals. Sometimes it’s late birthday cards and pizza three nights in a row. But you’re doing a good job.