And as for you . . . sisters, never tire of doing what is good.
2 Thessalonians 3:13
Inspired by many late night talks with my sister, Semelle. I love mothering alongside you.
I am blessed with a family who shows up in full-force for sporting events, award ceremonies, and graduations. They boom and scream, even when they’re not supposed to. They bring bullhorns. It. Is. Awesome. Even as a teenager feigning a “too cool for school” attitude when they erupted into applause, I secretly delighted in my crazy cheer section.
Something funny happened after I became a mom, though. After all of those years of awards ceremonies and graduations, followed by bridal showers, a wedding, then a baby shower, the baby came home.
Bleeding nipples, sleep deprivation, sleep walking through diaper changes, navigating a breast pump torture device, and loving a husband who may sympathize and help but cannot replace me, paled every other work I had ever done. I looked around me in shock, realizing for the first time that this is the work of motherhood: backbreaking, torturous joy on repeat, day in, day out.
Pouring my self into this tiny being who sleeps and spits up and fills his pants without a care, who never seems to be particularly grateful, is the deepest, most raw giving I have ever done. I stare at him nursing, in the midnights, rock him until he burps, tears running at the marvel of love so much bigger and harder than anyone could have ever explained to me. I marvel at how I am being pushed through this sieve of motherhood, my selfish nature stripping away, my orders of importance tossed and rearranged into this child’s wellbeing. I burp him, lay him in his bed. I crawl under the covers and watch my husband sleep deeply (really?), and wonder if there is anyone else awake in the whole dark night right now. I smile as I try to fall asleep, confident there is another mama out there doing the exact same thing at this weary moment.
And where are the cheer sections? After all, there is more grit in breastfeeding through one bout of mastitis than any AP exam I ever took. Why aren’t there cheer sections everywhere, complete with bullhorns and “Way to Go, Mom!” signs, following moms around throughout their days? “It should be, it should be, it should be like that,” Dr. Seuss says (Horton Hatches an Egg).
I listen for the cheer section sometimes. But there is no clapping audience present in the midnights. There is no cheer section in the kitchen when my heart baby throws up all the milk I’ve pumped for him along with all of his meds. There is no “Way to Go” sign in the hospital room at 5am when he wakes me up to restart Dumbo again. No one applauds me in this deep, naked work of mothering. I stand in their room at night after a rub-you-raw day, and I wonder if I’m doing this right. I kneel and I pray; I cry and I beg for grace. Mostly, I pray I won’t screw them up.
Morning keeps coming, and Exhaustion shuffles down the hall alongside me as I make my way to their bedrooms. I squint at Day filtering through the curtains, cruel and harsh, until I see the sun rising in their faces, bursting with delight at the sight of me. Me: tired, sieved, broken, greasy-haired, who loses her temper and shrieks like a banshee and hides in the bathroom when she just needs a minute of peace. Me, who used to knot at the sound of a baby crying because I have never wanted anything—anyone—more.
“Mama!” That’s what they call me as I pull them out of their beds. They cling gratefully, and I inhale their little boy smells, their first words of the day, their still-smallness. Exhaustion slinks back down the hallway as my two rising sons fling joy wide across my world. There are no plastic gold trophies, no bullhorns, in this little boy’s nursery. No one will remember how many times I woke up with them last night. And yet, I’d trade every shiny affirmation in the world for their beaming faces. They wrap around me like a couple of koala bears, and I maneuver down the stairs cloaked in chubby arms and luscious kisses. Who needs a cheer section, anyways?
God bless every mother, at midnight and early morning, especially on your rub-you-raw days.
With a full heart,