A mother’s night…
is filled with many things. It is easy enough to discuss the stumble to the kitchen to pour another bottle of milk before the crying baby wakes the other children, or the heavier stumble back to the kitchen for a graham cracker because the milk was not enough for the now acrobatting in your arms baby. We can talk about accidentally stepping in a wet, or worse, diaper from the baby’s previous waking wherein he received a quick and efficient diaper change from your husband. We can talk about the courage it takes to blindly fill a medicine dropper with tylenol because you have done it nightly for the past six days while the baby is teething. Babies are always teething.
All of these moments have their share of hilarity and pity. Most mothers in the first world can relate to these mini crises that our precious babies create for us and the undeniable exhaustation, or even the sense of being ruled by a tiny tyrant, that comes with them.
But what about the moment when the crisis is over and our backs hit the rocking chair one more time? The milk is poured, the baby’s cries die down, and we settle in for the big rock. Perhaps we sing or perhaps we are too tired to sing. We close our eyes, we take a breath, and we begin what may be our truest moments of motherhood. Moments that cross worlds and hit mothers in the heart no matter where they are. It is the moment when we gaze into tiny faces, button noses, pillowy cheeks, and resting eyelids. And we think. We plan. We pray. In fact, many of us offer our most sincere prayers at this point. Many times through tears.
Because being a mom is tough and requires a flexible mixture of toughness and gentility.
No matter how many lovely things we have in our lives, there are big moments of life that continue to happen with no thought to the lack of sleep or the tiny sticky faces or the spinning and tripping over toys in the living room. Life happens whether we are mothers or not.
When my daugher was born, my second child, I brought her to church on her second Sunday of life outside the womb. The congregation sang a modern version of “It Is Well With My Soul.” As the singers carried the tune “the wind and waves still know your name,” I wept at the thought of all the times my dear, now fragile daughter would have to sing this song throughout her life. These moments of singing “when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot thou has taught me to say, ‘it is well. It is well with my soul” are the very moments that will strengthen her spirit and her faith. But they are also the moments that will pain her, sometimes with deep and long-lasting cuts. And so I dread singing this song even while resting in the truth that creation knows the voice of the creator, that the creator is near and speaking and guarding, that the creator is sovereignly presiding over the world.
That night when I rocked my daughter back to sleep, and many nights after that, I sang this song to both our souls. I began to pray over my two week old daughter that she would be filled with faith and strength to navigate the sometimes incredibly stormy days and nights of life. While she slept in my arms, I prayed for her.
But we know that motherhood doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop at praying for your child. Nor does it stop at the kindergarten door. Or the lunch table. Or the bath. Or the tidying. Being a mother also includes profound changes in one’s own life. These changes are not merely physical or even emotional, although those things play a part. These changes swirl around us, run straight into us, and sometimes even double us over. They are everywhere and all the time. And they affect us differently than they did before motherhood precisely because we are are wrapped up together with our children. In blankets, in crisis, in prayers, in hopes, in joys, in all the bigness of life.
We lose a friend. We become ill. We sink into depression. We start a business. We move across the country. We discover faith. We lose faith. We start a new hobby. We write a book.
We do and are done to and we have to deal with it, not only as women, but also as mothers.
I am not here talking about how we make decisions differently because we have to consider how it will affect our children. While we do that, and it has its own stresses and joys, what I am talking about is how we process all the big events of life so differently because we are mothers. Being a mother, in and of itself, changes us and changes the way we process our worlds.
For many of us, this processing takes place in the rocking chair. I cannot count how many significant moments I have encountered while a child was sleeping in my arms.
I decided to forgive a friend. I decided to have another baby. I figured out how to homeschool the kids. I decided to read up on Catholicism. I decided my husband really did love me. I decided to act like it. I realized how full of pride I am. I prayed for humility. I dug into a grudge. I caressed my feelings of inadequacy. I wrote a litany of offenses. And memorized it. I forgave again. I course corrected. I dove off the deep end.
I am finding that these are the moments that are making me who I am. When the lights are off and everyone is sleeping, when all I hear is the refrigerator humming and the baby snoring, my life bubbles up to be mothered. To be mothered by me.
My own mother, bless her, is loving me from a distance, but this is not her time anymore. She can love and encourage, but it is really up to me to preside over my own moments. To discipline myself when needed. To exhort. To plan for the morning. To wield my own sword of motherhood against the vigilante temptations of life, trying to push me off course.
I guess when you become a mother, there is a sense in which you become your own mother, too.
You sort of scoop up all that responsibility that you had lying around for years and start putting yourself in a new order. Some goes to the kids and some goes to yourself, which in turn gets poured out to the kids because as you mother yourself, you mother them again. In each recreation of yourself, you are recreating someone else’s childhood. A bad day, a midnight adjustment, a new day, a new memory deposited for the next generation of you.
Our kids have no idea how much we are going through when we pick them up and rock them back to sleep. For them, it is a simple comfort that lays a foundation for security in life. For mothers, it is a choice to love again and a chance to love better tomorrow. A choice to be humble and selfless. A choice to be fulfilled in knowing that she is crafting someone’s life. It is also a chance to process her own life and create her own middlehood.
I am a mother and it is hard, but it is not meant to disable or lesson a me as a person or a woman. It is meant to be a source of strength, a source of power, faithfulness, fearlessness, determination, order, levity, joy, fulfillment, and many more things I probably have not yet encountered.