I used to think that when I became a mother I would be in control of my mothering-life.
I’d be in control of my kids, of my temper, of my laundry. I’d be the organized mom, y’all (how hard could it be?). I’d be the patient one, the one with crafty activities and delightfully playful discipline that my children would respond to without hesitation.
Last night I put the kids to bed by myself again.
My husband’s job demands his time at random and unpredictable hours. He is a flight instructor, and since he flies small airplanes (4-seaters, generally) and is teaching students who are just learning to fly, he is at the mercy of the weather.
I often don’t know if he will be home for dinner that night until 3pm or so, and I certainly cannot predict what the days ahead will be like. This is the case six days out of the week – he books flights as much as possible those days so he has the greatest chance of making enough income to pay the bills (he only gets paid when he flies, plus a little for ground briefings).
Right now, his students are working on their night ratings. It gets dark from about 5pm onward at this time of year, so while I’m bouncing the fussy 5-month-old in the Ergo on my chest and accepting “help” from the 2 and 4-year-olds in making gluten-free pancakes from scratch, tapioca starch goes poof all over the counter and my laptop.
I frantically blow it off the “asdf” keys whilst watching my last shreds of patience wearing thin and slipping through my fingers, melting like butter in the sizzling cast-iron pan, heating on the stove.
It was a slow falling, beginning earlier in the day. Heck, it began the night I woke up with raging heartburn in my first pregnancy and wondered what in God’s name I’d done to myself.
(My death began that night. A slow dying to selfish self. Stinking, gritty inward-gazing self. I had kept up appearances well, and still do, but now that I’ve been provided with three separate-human-being mirrors that reflect me back to myself, I can see a little more clearly.)
I breathe. In and out. In and out.
Motherhood is my calling. Motherhood is my mission. Motherhood is harder than my pre-kid self could have possibly conceived. The dirty nature of my self-centered humanity comes to a gory and terrible clash of metal scraping metal and wrestling of natures as I nearly lose it on a sticky-faced toddler staring me down, decidedly her own person separate from the one who birthed her.
Here, life goes to slow-motion and the battle commences. Usually I am too tired, too rushed to notice. To even see that I am under attack, that I battle with my own self instead of the perceived pint-sized target.
Aghhhhhhhhh! I beat my chest with tarzan-esque gutteral frustration and the epic battle comes to a head. I choose now, right now. Another moment of cosmic significance, and here times stands still for a few seconds. In the midst of my strangled and primal cry I am thrashed about and slayed down in my surrender. Bleeding and defeated, I have chosen other, died to self. Gasping for breath, I have just barely managed to thrown off Anger and Impatience and I stand up naked and weak and heaving for breath, dripping with the sweat of effort, glory hallelujah to the Christ in me.
The Imago Dei in me rises above the fray and I am grateful. I’ve won a tiny battle that is but one of billions more and it seems like nothing but it is everything and I can’t breathe for the gratefulness that winds its way into my heart and nearly crushes me in the glowing aftermath.
No time for glorying in my victory now though, little teeth need brushed and poopy diapers changed and wet bath-time eyelashes admired. And the girl-child is gearing up for another round with her (perfectly appropriate) childishness.
I have come to a certain conclusion, and it is this: that in this motherhood gig, I am doing a terrible job. Except for when I am dying. I die to selfishness and I glory in selflessness and it’s all a glorious mystery of Christ in me and over me and through me. One moment’s victory is worth a hundred thousand more battles and worth dancing for and I sing and sway and stretch my arms out and weep, thankful for the One who rescues me from myself.
I am a mother.
I am a good mother.
Breathe. Breathe. Patience. Breathe.
Later when bellies are full and jammies are on and sleep is in sight, I sit right where we are in the hallway, and read Little Blue Truck while wiping drool from the teething baby’s chin. I announce that it’s bedtime, they tumble into my bed while I sit in the chair and nurse the baby in the dark.
They giggle and roll over and announce in very loud whispers that they are “firsty” and need a “dwink”, then the firstborn needs to pee, and the baby is distracted and I lose my shiz.
Sighs and whispered yelling give way to arghhhghh and STOP IT RIGHT NOW AND BE QUIET and finally I stop, I pause, I sigh. I deflate like a pinpricked balloon, and I begin to die again.
Another minute, another battle. Each time is a teeny-tiny bit easier, and I breathe deep, more oxygen into this heaving chest that beats with this wretchedly gory love.
I am a good mother.
I carry on in this glorious mystery.