Being a mom isn’t like anything I thought it would be. When, as a young girl, I dreamed of motherhood, I pictured a smiling mommy, tirelessly playing with her children, reading to them, teaching them, patiently answering their questions, and watching them fall asleep with angelic halos above their heads. Once the little darlings were asleep, I would sit with my husband on the couch, perhaps watching the television, or maybe talking together about our future.
Yeah. That didn’t happen.
Oh, there were times I played with my kids, but there were also many times I was just too tired to do so, causing me to send them away to play by themselves or watch a video. There were times I read to them. In fact, some books I read so often, I knew them by heart. There were times my poor little boy couldn’t find Hand Hand Fingers Thumb because mommy, entirely sick of those rhymes of Dr. Seuss, hid the book in the chair cushions, forcing my son to choose another book. There were times I taught them. In fact, I went one step farther and homeschooled them. I wish I could say I was a good homeschooling mom, but the truth is there were many days I just couldn’t find the energy to spend the day trying for the fiftieth time to help them understand how to solve a math word problem. As for those angelic halos–there were times they fell asleep and I would look at them and think they were the most perfect children on earth. Those times were not the norm. Most of the time I would put them to bed, wanting nothing more than to go climb into my own bed and collapse from exhaustion. I knew that most likely they were reading with a flashlight way past the time they should have been asleep. And I didn’t really care. I was too tired to argue with them about how early they had to get up the next morning. And while my husband and I often watched television after the kids were in bed, we didn’t sit on the couch together romantically like I had seen in movies. He sat in his chair, and I sat in mine. He was exhausted from his workday, and even though I was sure he didn’t understand it, I was exhausted from mine.
One other aspect of motherhood that I could not understand or anticipate was the gentle shift of its effects in my heart and everyday life. I used to dream of the day when all had grown into adulthood, moved out on their own, successful in the career they chose. I assumed once that happened, my mothering days would be over.
Yeah. That didn’t happen either.
One thing I could not prepare for was how the days sped up as each day passed. I remember when I was a child, how long the week before Christmas seemed. The days seemed to drag on forever! Once I reached adulthood, the days seemed to pick up speed. That speed increased ever more once I became a mom. Endless days of diapers, spit up, sleepless nights, and long, fussy days with a baby turned into endless days of chasing toddlers, picking up Cheerios, putting away toys for the hundredth time, and trying to reason with a two year old to eat the somewhat healthy food on the tray of the high chair. Those days turned into long days of getting kids up and out of bed, fed, dressed, with lunches and backpacks in hand out the door to school. Once gone, if I wasn’t working a job outside of the home, I faced mountains of laundry, some in hampers, but most scattered on bedroom floors. I faced bathrooms that needed to be cleaned, rugs that needed to be vacuumed, dishes that needed to be washed, floors that needed to be mopped, groceries that needed to be bought and put away, and I can’t forget the chore that most moms struggle with on a daily basis: what the heck am I going to serve for dinner tonight that someone won’t complain about. Those days turned into long nights, waiting for the newly licensed teenager to come home from a late night gathering at a friend’s house. That teen didn’t care that there was snow on the roads and the house he was going to was on an ice covered dirt road. There were late nights of worry when thirty minutes past curfew arrived and no teen was home, and no phone call had come asking for yet another curfew extension. Mothering was physically exhausting for all those years, and yet, I woke up one morning and it was the day of my baby’s high school graduation party. How did all those years pass so quickly? Where was the little boy who wanted to climb up on mommy’s lap to listen to a story? Where was the little girl who wanted mommy to sit on the floor so she could brush her hair and put makeup on her? I felt like I blinked and the years were gone.
I have now traded the physical exhaustion of motherhood for the emotional exhaustion. This was also something that blindsided me. I was not prepared for the change that would take place once my babies were all grown up on my nest was empty. Now, I have the time and peace to get the sleep I missed out on for many years. I have time to sit and relax, read a book or work on my newest Charles Wysocki puzzles. But the years spent mothering four children play like a never ending movie in my head. Sometimes I lie in my bed at night, tears threatening to force their way out of my eyes, and remember all the ways I screwed up as a mom. There are too many to list. They haunt me as demons that dance inside my head. I could not be prepared for the emotional toll having adult children would take on my heart. It used to be mom that they would come and talk to when they had a problem or needed advice. Now, that is seldom the case. In fact, much of the time, they don’t want me involved n their problems at all. Perhaps that is how God intended it, for I am no longer able to solve their problems. My babies are now adults, and adults have adult problems, much bigger than a problem of yesteryear such as forgetting their instrument on a day they had band. Still, it is hard. I cried many tears when my kids were little. When their heart was broken because they didn’t make the team they wanted or someone called them a bad name on the playground, my heart was broken as well. The truth, though, is I cry just as many, if not more, tears now that my kids are adults and have their own lives. It’s a different relationship, one that I am still trying to figure out how to navigate.
I can’t say that I always did my best. If I were to be honest, there were many times I selfishly redirected them (remember the whole hiding the book in the chair cushion thing?) so that I could do what I wanted to do, and even though sometimes what I wanted to do was really what I needed to do, I handled much of it all wrong. Too often I reacted in anger or impatience instead of staying calm and being the adult they needed at the moment.
In spite of the incredible failure I feel as a mom, I hope my kids know that I love them. I always have, and I always will.