There are some phrases that you are destined to hear countless times over the course of your life. I certainly have a few, and sadly none of them involve people pointing out my striking resemblance to Fiona Apple. My birthday is December 23rd, and I usually follow up this announcement with a quick, defensive “Yeah, it is really close to Christmas, but I don’t find sharing my birthday with the season in which we celebrate the birth of our Savior the least bit annoying. Thanks for asking.”
Being a stay-at-home mom of four kids has added a new set of rhetorical questions to the public’s repertoire: “You’ve sure got your hands full, don’t you?” “You sure are busy, aren’t you?” (People sure are sure of things, aren’t they?) I usually smile wryly and answer with some platitude, depending on how well the kids are behaving. But there is one phrase lately that has begun to rub me the wrong way. I will be standing in line at the grocery store, trying to act like I don’t know those children who are methodically destroying the carefully crafted displays meant to turn them into avid materialists by age two (not that I’m bitter), and the cashier will strike up a conversation in hopes that I won’t notice the overpriced total for my groceries (not that I’m bitter) and then ask if I am a stay-at-home mom. I swallow my scathing reply that “No, my children are off at daycare. I just like to pick up children at random and let them slowly torture me through the aisles of this lovely establishment.” Instead, I say “yes,” smiling and trying to look fulfilled and content. The cashier will then smile condescendingly and shake her head, saying “I could never do what you do.”
Perhaps I am not the most rational creature at this point in the day, after having traversed myriad aisles chanting, “Don’t touch that. Put that back. No, it’s not on the list. Don’t touch that. Put that back. No, it’s not on the list.” But nonetheless, this seemingly complimentary phrase acknowledging the difficulty of my vocation feels more like a backhanded insult than a compliment. What I hear sounds more like “I would never want to do what you do.” And frankly there are plenty of days I would share this sentiment. But there are a lot of other days when I think my job is pretty cool and has more than a few fringe benefits not offered in other professions. For example I can show up for duty in my pajamas and remain that way for most of the day. I am the dictator of my workplace; our entire schedule is determined by me including our activities and menu. I spend the day with four very interesting people who think I am really great (except when I am making them brush their teeth, clean up their room, or do their long division).
Beyond these obvious advantages, motherhood is highly spiritually profitable, though more for myself than for my kids, I fear. There is method in the madness of the daily grind of sharing of yourself, your time and your energy (not to mention anything that might look good on your plate or any drink you were really looking forward to consuming). What I find frustrating about being a mom is that often people seem to put you in the category of saint, just below Mother Theresa and Saint Francis but definitely on the road to perfection. I don’t do this because I am some unearthly creature without selfish ambition or pride. To put mothers in that category demeans the sacrifices they are making. We aren’t called to be mothers because we are without fault; we become less flawed because we are moms. We aren’t the making of motherhood; it is motherhood that makes us.
When I started out in this whole mother business some nine and half years ago, I must confess that I thought Jim and I had a great deal to offer anyone fortunate enough to be our offspring. I had all the theories of discipline and nurture worked out and was frankly quite surprised that others hadn’t been able to figure out the mysteries of producing perfect children long before now. I am not sure when all that pride fell away in shriveled heaps, but somewhere between that first blessed smile and that first toddler tantrum I had my first lesson in humility. I have had many since and am sure more are to follow. So with Mother’s Day approaching, be sure to appreciate your mom and her hard work; not because she does her job perfectly but because she does the job despite her imperfections.