I wanted to write something flowery for Mother’s Day. I wanted to honor my grandmothers, who were strong, morally upright women, or my kind, resilient aunts, or my mother, who has been a relentless cheerleader throughout my life. I tried to do it. I stared at the page, typed, deleted, typed, deleted, while time ticked away. But the words would not get in line. When I tried to write about the glory of motherhood, my quiet thoughts were drowned by a louder refrain: Life is so stinking hard sometimes.
It’s weird, I know, but I typically write with only a vague sense of where I am going. I don’t check the map and I don’t chase the words. Ideas approach, and some are shy and scuffle away, and some unpack and make themselves comfortable. Then words push and shove their way to the front and, if I’m gentle, they allow me to sculpt them like clay.
So far, they haven’t failed me.
So maybe this is what I’m supposed to write this Mother’s Day. Maybe I’m supposed to say to you that life is hard sometimes. Like really, REALLY hard sometimes. Maybe I’m supposed to say to you that Mother’s Day is nice, but it is not enough. Maybe I’m supposed to acknowledge that you may be cherishing a new grandchild this Mother’s Day or you might be grieving the loss of your own mother this year or you may be celebrating joyously with all of your children in a few days or you may be spending Sunday on your knees, praying that your child will be walking a better path by the time the next Mother’s Day rolls around. Maybe I’m supposed to say that I see you, that I hear you, that I know that motherhood is fun and rewarding but also the greatest challenge of your life.
Maybe I’m supposed to tell you that when the waves are crashing against your family and they are so high and you are so afraid, I know that YOU are the one who battens down the hatches and selflessly fights so hard to keep that ship afloat.
That’s what you do, Moms. I know it. I SEE you.
Not just on Mother’s Day. On every day.
When you feel like you could vomit every minute of the day and your insides are being karate chopped by tiny knees and elbows, you are the one who drags herself to work so that your coworkers aren’t inconvenienced and the family has insurance.
When you smell like baby puke and your shirt is wet because you forgot to grab a nursing pad and you wonder if you will ever feel like your cute self again, you are the one who sacrifices yet another shower because the baby won’t stop crying.
When you feel like a completely inadequate parent and wonder if your child will not go to college because you are swaddling him wrong, you are the one who reads another book or attends another parenting class or calls on your mom squad for help, even though you are probably doing just fine.
When your toddler throws up all over everything in the middle of the night, you are the one who is gagging while washing the sheets at 3 a.m. and scrubbing the carpet when you would rather just sell the house tomorrow instead.
When your preschooler is throwing the mother of all fits in the checkout line and you have $200 of groceries piled high in the cart, you are the one who refuses to buy the Milky Way despite the glares of customers who have forgotten that preschoolers are little monsters with cute faces.
When a person your kids love drives you within a minute of insanity, you are the one who remains calm and composed so that those important relationships can flourish.
When you are so worried about paying the bills that you feel physically sick, you are the one who makes sure that your children feel safe and secure and unaware of the gravity of your concerns.
When you are so tired that you can barely stand but your child has an important project that everyone forgot, you are the one who runs to the store to buy the glitter glue for the finishing touch.
When it is cold and wet and you want to curl up with a book by the fire, you are the one who slogs through the mud to sit in the pouring rain to cheer for your kid who’s playing soccer.
When you feel broken and empty and unable to give one more thing, you are the one who digs deep to find an internal spring of love and kindness and compassion.
When you are sure that your head will explode at the thump of one more bottle flipping onto the ground, you are the one who redirects your kid’s attention to his equally annoying spinners.
When you are overwhelmed with guilt because your kids have exceeded the pediatrician’s recommendations for screen time almost every day of their entire lives AND they don’t eat enough vegetables, you are the one who packs everyone up for a healthy picnic and a hike at the park instead of going to your book club.
When it’s clear that your child just isn’t cut out for the band or the basketball team or the drama club, you are the one who cheers just a little too loudly and gives her a standing ovation from the crowd.
When your heart is pained because your child has been treated unfairly, you are the one who grits your teeth and calmly advises him even though you would possibly derive more satisfaction from punching someone in the face.
When you are emotionally exhausted from constantly fighting for your child’s unique needs to be met, you are the one who refuses to settle and takes more time off work to meet with his teachers about the accommodations outlined in his IEP.
When your child’s skin is so hot and she is so sick and she breathes those germs right into your face, you are the one who pulls her in closer knowing that you will be taking some sick time in just a few days.
When your child’s teacher calls to tell you that she cheated on a test, you are the one who says, “Thank you for telling me” when your internal mama bear wants to scream, “I know you are wrong because my child would never . . .”
When your child or another loved one is in the hospital and you really aren’t sure if everything will be okay, you are the one who holds your kids tightly and tells them that you will get through this together.
When your faith hits a rough patch and you question who God really is, you are the one who loads everyone in the car to go to church and models a commitment to spiritual growth even through adversity.
When you know the family vacation is more work than fun for you, you are the one who makes all of the reservations and packs all of the snacks and stuffs all of the suitcases and then handles the complaints because you bought the wrong colored Gatorade and you didn’t grab the right bottle of hair gel.
When your teenager’s attitude toward you is hurtful and disrespectful, you are the one who suppresses your tears and takes the phone and the car keys, knowing this will make the next week like hell for you.
When your daughter cries and questions her decision when you leave her at college, you are the one who hugs her and reassures her she is doing the right thing and then sobs for five hours on the drive home.
When your child disappoints you by doing something you never ever thought he would do, you are the one who sits down with the principal or pays for the rehab or visits the jail cell and offers that son or daughter the purest and most sincere love and grace.
When you are hurting deeply because your child rarely calls or visits, you are the one who waits with a broken heart but with arms that are always wide open.
When you cry because you miss the innocence and dependence of your kids, you are the one who remembers that your job was never to maintain little children at all but was always to raise strong men and women who would leave you.
Yes, motherhood is an amazing journey of incredible highs, but it is also a journey that is peppered with the most gut-wrenching of lows. The emotions are extraordinarily sharp on both ends. We idealize motherhood and spend a lot of energy projecting the bright spots in our journey to others, so it is easy for really good moms to feel alone and insecure when times are tough. But the truth is that you are probably your most impressive when you FEEL like you are at your worst. Because those are the times when your ability to handle motherhood was really put to the test. And you didn’t quit. You may not have showered. You may not have fed your kids vegetables. You may not have said exactly the right words. But you did not give up.
If you are a mom, I hope that you are honored this Mother’s Day. I hope that someone buys you some flowers, and I hope your kids write a nice note in a pretty pink card. I hope that you celebrate the special women in your life, and I hope that you are reminded to congratulate your fellow moms every single time you see their kids accomplishing goals, sharing their talents, or, most importantly, just being good people.
But if you really want to honor special women this Mother’s Day, look for the mom who is tired. Look for the mom whose son or daughter is struggling. Look for the mom who is nursing a sick child or the mom who is grieving a loss or the new mom who is just now adjusting to this mysterious new identity of mother. Look for the mom who has to fight every single day for the rights of her kid.
Remind her that she is doing the most selfless and important work in the world.
Then jump on her ship with a bucket, and help her keep that thing afloat.