My thoughts are interrupted by glassy tearful eyes and pouting lips. For the past week, each time my two-year-old bumps into something or gets a scrape or a bruise, he immediately, in total desperation, requests a kiss. Each time I kiss his boo-boo, he smiles up at me and says “All better now, thank you, Mama”.
He shows me his latest injury, pointing to a spot on his knee.
“Are you hurt? I’m so sorry, Elliot. I’m right here. You’re okay.”
Another kiss. Another smile. “All better, Mama.”
“You’re so brave. You’re so strong.” I tell him.
He believes me.
I used to think it was silly when kids wanted their boo-boos kissed. Now, I understand.
There’s something healing about having our wounds acknowledged.
There’s something healing about another person getting up close to our pain and touching it.
There’s something healing about having our hurt seen and validated.
I feel my cheeks fill with heat as I blink back the tears. I know that if I speak, my voice will crack. We will both have to stop pretending I’m not crying. I stay silent. For a moment, we stay quiet together. My friend, Mia, breaks the silence: “What you’re feeling is totally valid.” A sense of relief washes over me. I breathe in deeply. I exhale slowly.
I first met Mia months earlier, while our boys were playing together in the nursery at church. My husband and I had just moved across the country, a thousand miles away from our friends and family, a thousand miles away from our support system, our village. I had just found out I was pregnant. I was thrilled to have another baby, but also absolutely terrified.
Amidst our first surface level conversation, my friend and I talked about our birth stories. As she listened and asked questions, she noticed my feelings and validated them.
Over the next few months, Mia and I met for several playdates. We got to know each other through interrupted conversations over lukewarm lattes. We developed a deep friendship amidst toddler tantrums and dirty dishes. I learned that she was kind, thoughtful, and empathetic. I learned that she was logical and passionate, peaceful and bold. I learned that she was a birth doula.
I knew I wanted her there with me for my birth.
Now we are meeting to go over my birth plan. It is just a few weeks before my due date and she is sitting across the table from me, listening and validating and encouraging just like she has been for months. The tears are rolling down my cheeks. I tell her the truth.
The truth is, I had a difficult first birth experience. I labored long and hard. I pushed with all my might – nothing was working. A cesarean was suggested. The beautiful birth I had envisioned for months suddenly slipped through my fingers as my husband put on scrubs and I was wheeled away to the operating room. After the surgery, I laid shivering on the cold table listening to the doctors and nurses discuss an episode of Breaking Bad. I wondered where my baby was. I longed to hold him in my arms, longed to breathe him in. I remember feeling so afraid. Yes, my birth experience gave me the most beautiful baby boy. Yes, it made me a mother. But it was difficult.
Experiencing childbirth again absolutely terrifies me.
The truth is I believe I am incapable – of birth, of mothering. I believe there is something wrong with me.
The truth is I imagine the worst-case scenarios. I imagine my baby limp and lifeless, cold and blue. I’m imagine too much blood loss, my own life cut short. I imagine chaos and my inability to cope with it. I feel out of control. I feel alone. I feel afraid.
Once again, my scattered rushing thoughts are interrupted by her voice: “What you went through was difficult – it was trauma. It’s totally valid to feel the way that you’re feeling.”
I swallow the tears. I feel my body begin to relax. I feel seen, understood. A weight is lifted off my shoulders, the burden I carried alone is now shared with another person.
“You are capable. You were made to do this. Your voice matters, and I will be right there with you.”
There’s something healing about having your hurt acknowledged.
We decide together to imagine something different. We imagine me holding my fresh new baby, naked and screaming on my chest. We imagine he is healthy. We imagine a beautiful birth.
Three weeks later.
“I can’t do this!” I scream in a voice that doesn’t sound like my own. I live in the space between contractions, between pushes, between my traumatic first birth experience and the unknown that lies ahead.
Mia is there with every contraction, noticing them by the tightening of my jaw, the quickening of my breath. She is there applying counter pressure and aromatherapy. She is there to reassure my husband that he’s supporting me perfectly, that I’m going to be okay. She is there speaking words of life, as if she can read the thoughts replaying in my mind.
“You are doing this.”
“This is not Elliot’s birth.”
“This is completely normal.”
“You are strong. You are capable.”
I believe her.
I summon the strength within me that I never knew was there. I push with all that I am. I feel the strength rush out of me and suddenly he is there on my chest, crying, beautiful.
She was right.
Selena May lives just outside of Portland, Oregon with her husband Andrew and their adorable sons Elliot and Jude. She enjoys reading overdramatic teen novels, knitting cozy infinity scarfs, and drinking massive amounts of coffee. Her writing has been featured on Coffee + Crumbs, Parent Co, The Mighty, and Upwrite Magazine. Selena writes about motherhood, healing, and hope at selenamay.weebly.com.
For almost 15 years, the little blue index card hung conspicuously above the landline phone attached to the wall in my kitchen. Whenever I talked on the phone, I glanced at the inspirational words that danced across the small rectangle, hoping they would lodge in my brain and settle in my heart. On the best of days, the words echoed my certitude in my calling as a full-time mother. On the worst of days, the quote served as my battle cry as I fought through the challenges of taking care of six active children.
The words, penned by Dr. Deborah Fallows, spoke of the great pride she has in women who pursue full-time motherhood. “They come through the very difficult task of raising children riding only on a deep belief that what they are doing is worthy and important,” she eloquently wrote.
As a mother of a large family, I was moved along day to day by the mundane rituals that have defined motherhood for generations. I changed diapers, taught potty training, prepared meals and snacks, washed dishes, did laundry, folded clothes, supervised homework, drove kids to activities, cleaned house, running the home from morning to night.
Repetitive and never ending, the tasks of raising my children were the drumbeat of motherhood. They patterned my life and marched my family through the years as I pursued the mission of motherhood with passion and purpose.
As a family of eight, we found our own tempo, mostly ignoring the crescendo of the Mommy Wars in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, although social gatherings often were uncomfortable for me. At a women’s symposium I attended while my mother watched the children, I met a pregnant television executive who said she worked 70 to 80 hours per week.
“When I have the baby, I will probably cut back to 60 hours per week,” she blithely said. “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m a full-time mother,” I answered.
A tall woman, she immediately started looking over my head around the room to find a more interesting person to engage in conversation. To her, motherhood must have appeared as a series of mundane tasks – nothing worthy or important. Perhaps how we choose to define those words determines how we view motherhood and whether our choices confine or refine us.
During the many times that my role as a stay-at-home mom seemed to demote my status in the face of working mothers, I would recall the quote on my wall near the telephone. I had it memorized for I had often read it during the day. At the busiest times, I would see it as I answered a dinnertime phone call. Longing to speak to another adult, I would cradle the receiver to my ear, hold the small baby in the crook of my arm, and breastfeed as I stirred the spaghetti sauce on the stove.
I could multitask with the best of them whether at the office or home. Interestingly, in the 1700’s, the word “office” was the general term for any workspace. To me, my laundry room and kitchen were office spaces. They were the places where I ensured the health and well-being of my children, where I kept them adequately dressed for the weather and robust play, where I prepared home cooked meals, and where many a night I instilled a love of learning as we did homework or read together around the kitchen table.
Those tasks I did at home, in my offices, but I never thought of myself as a stay-at-home mom. We ventured far from the house on many occasions: to the library, to the pool, to the park, to baseball and dance practice, and to violin and flute lessons. We played at the homes of friends, went ice-skating at the local rink, chased lightening bugs, trekked through the woods, and visited grandparents.
The tasks in the home and the excursions outside of the home were all part of the routine of motherhood. They gave a flow and direction to my life and the lives of my children. I believed that even in their simplicity and mundaneness, they were worthy and important. I rode on that belief for thirty years as I pursued motherhood with a passion.
Today, the children are happy well-adjusted adults leading their own lives. The landline phone with the long chord no longer exists. The frayed blue card with Dr. Fallows’ words of encouragement resides in a scrapbook of memories and reads like a caption for all the pictures of family life: “worthy and important.”
Lori Rosenlof Drake is the mother of six grown children and the founder and former Headmistress of Roseleaf Academy, which was the only girls’ school in eastern North Carolina. Her writing has appeared in Mothers Always Write, San Diego Woman, Daily Nebraskan, Gaithersburg Gazette in Maryland and the Daily Reflector and Farmville Enterprise in North Carolina. The recipient of three Honorable Mentions in the Writers’ Digest National Competition, Lori currently works as an educational consultant and freelance writer.
I sometimes feel like I’m the only person in the world who still gets confused by all the different comic book heroes and movies. Which is better DC or Marvel? Batman or Spiderman? I decided to ask the only expert who knew: my son Ethan.
“Marvel sucks. DC comics are superior, man.” This was supposed to be a quick question, but I could already tell that this was going to be a long discussion.
“Batman is basically the best, most altruistic superhero there is. Spiderman is just a dumb kid. “
“Ethan you are just a kid, too. You’re only 12.”
But he was clearly on a roll. I sighed and rubbed the spot on my neck where earlier a knot had formed during a phone call with a coworker.
“Ok, I admit the Marvel movies have been better in recent years, but the DC comic books blow Marvel comic books clean out of the water!”
I looked at him, and he was on fire. This wasn’t silly to him. This was something he really thought about. Cared about. I suddenly wanted to hug him and touch his spiked hair.
I did hug him. Thank God he is mine. Thank God he is my boy.
He pulled away but not before squeezing me hard around my soft middle. He grabbed his cell phone and reclined on the couch again, a tangle of limbs that seemed suddenly long. It was like his bones had stretched far beyond their normal little boy length all in the time it took for him to rattle off why DC was superior to Marvel. I stood at the doorway and watched his eyes dart from cell phone to TV and back again. His one hand hung off the edge of the couch to pet the dog. Did Batman have a dog? I wondered. I knew Batman didn’t have a mother, and the thought made me melancholy.
He was changing so fast. It was overwhelming to see skin tighten over jawline and feet outgrow shoes at a rate that was beyond even the toddler years. His doctor had also noticed the rapid change. And something more, too. The pediatrician felt there was something just a little off with Ethan’s back. To him, Ethan’s spine seemed a bit “crooked.” He sent us to a scoliosis specialist.
The orthopedics office buzzed with efficiency and before long several nurses had measured and scanned and poked at his tender hips and sharp shoulder blades. The doctor walked in the examination room with a flourish and immediately started joking with his young patient like they were old buddies. He made my son walk back and forth, bend over, stand on one foot. He pulled up the x-rays on the computer and studied them for a long minute.
“He doesn’t have scoliosis. No, one leg is just longer than the other.” The doctor said all of this as he pointed to the black and white image on the screen. My child’s spine glowed liked a Halloween skeleton, and it made him seem at once vulnerable yet strong, grounded.
“See, his longer leg just tilts him to the side a bit so that he lists like a wobbly table.”
I thought about sugar packets then, about how people stuck them under shaky table legs to get them to stand straight and firm. Maybe if I fed him sugar from a spoon like a baby bird his shorter leg would catch up to the other. Maybe I could fix this.
“But it isn’t a big deal actually. Almost everyone is like this. He is unmistakably normal. Go have fun and play outside and be a kid. There is nothing wrong.” Nothing wrong.
I remembered that doctor’s visit while I watched his bare legs stretch across the couch. The fine blond hairs on his shin glowed a little in the blue TV light, and I imagined that the hair was baby soft like the down on a newly hatched robin.
By the time Bruce Wayne –the most famous of DC comic book heroes — was twelve, the age my son is now, he had been motherless for two years. When young Bruce was only ten, a criminal named Joe Chill accosted his family as they walked home from a screening of TheMark of Zorro. Chill killed Mr. and Mrs. Wayne leaving Bruce alone and traumatized. He had no mother to stroke his hair or take him to doctor appointments. She wasn’t there to witness him transform from little boy to adolescent to teenager to man.
Did Batman lean to one side when he was twelve? Does he lean to one side now? Does one of his clunky black boots have a small heel lift to help him stand straight as he fights crime and attempts to avenge the loss of his parents? These thoughts flood my mind all at once and I leave the room so Ethan won’t see my tears. I don’t want him to see me cry with nostalgia and love and grief over the loss of the Waynes. I want him to read his comic books (DC of course) and play with the dog and do his homework. I want him to stand tall and proud even if he does lean to one side.
Christine Green is a freelance writer in Brockport, NY. She also writes a Literary Arts column for Rochester’s 585 Magazine. Green hosts a monthly literary reading, Words on the Verge, at A Different Path Gallery. She grew up in San Jose, CA and holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UC Berkeley and a master’s degree in historical archaeology from the College of William and Mary. Green is a 2016 Pink Door Literary Fellow.
She’s wearing that red sweater again, I think as my daughter sashays through the room in her favorite 35-year-old red hand-me-down sweater. The sweater that I’ve been dubious about since the beginning. The sweater I’d already removed the drawstring from when she wasn’t looking.
I tell myself that it wasn’t enough.
I watch my children enjoy their bedtime ritual of dress-up, but I can’t see how cute they are. I can’t appreciate the innovation in the little game they made up.
I’m eyeing the zipper on that red sweater.
And the paint on their tea set, the toy cars, the baking dish I donated to their play kitchen, their tambourine, and that basket I got such a great deal on a few weeks ago.
As they play, I sink deeper and deeper into a pit of guilt.
Just a few hours earlier, I’d read an article about the lead on a sippy cup too similar to the ones we use for me to not see the obvious connection. I read about the lead in the seam of stainless steel water bottles like the ones in our cabinets and the label of flip-flops that looked so innocent.
And I wonder how I hadn’t thought to check.
I tell myself I’m not doing enough (again).
Of course it’s not really about the lead in the end, just like it wasn’t really about the botched birthday cake a few months ago, the pile of unfolded laundry last week, or all that screen time this weekend.
(Okay, maybe it’s a little about the lead. You can’t un-see the brazen red lead test results looking you right in the eye.)
It’s really about all the what if’s and what-this-says-about-me’s and what-would-others-think’s.
It’s about being enough and all the ways that I’m, well, not.
Clearly, there’s so much more I could be doing.
The thing is, there’s always been so much more. My whole life has been about enough and more, and I wonder if I wasn’t enough then as a daughter, a sister, a student, a newlywed, a young new mom of one, how will I ever be enough for a family of five? How will I be enough now that I’m older and more worn out? How will I ever be enough when it seems like there’s even less time?
Maybe you know this train of runaway thoughts.
It’s the one that eventually leads to I’m not exercising enough. Definitely not sleeping enough. I’m not writing enough. I’m not prepared enough. I’m not saving enough. I’m not home enough. I’m not patient enough. I don’t eat enough vegetables. I’m not organized enough. The house is most certainly not clean enough.
At any given moment, how many of us are tallying up our shortcomings and reciting that familiar list of ways we’ve let everyone down?
When did enough stop being enough?
As I sit there plotting how to get my daughter out of that sweater, I think of the unfiltered reactions I get when people find out that my husband is still at home with the kids, that we’ve decided to have a third child (I don’t know, maybe we are crazy), or that we have no idea when we’re moving back closer to home.
There’s always more, and it’s never enough.
More to be. More to feel. More to experience. More to plan. More to do. More to earn. More to achieve. More to remember. More to share. More to change. More to prevent.
By now I’ve identified with more and enough. They’ve become a part of that greatest hits playlist in my head. They feel like they’re a part of me, so letting them go seems unthinkable.
We’ve all internalized our own version of more and enough.
We’ve spent a lifetime steeping in sensational headlines, stories our parents told us about “those people,” unsolicited advice from strangers, and the “I’m just trying to be a good friend when I say this” comments from people we’ve just entrusted with the most private details of our lives.
Together, these tell the story of us, the person who’s only playing the part of someone who knows what they’re doing.
My 2 and 4-year-old play happily, totally oblivious this hidden world of more and enough that I’m currently engulfed in.
I think about the day they won’t need to hold my hand when we cross the street. The day they’re embarrassed to hug me in front of their school. The day they’ll roll their eyes at me and say, “Whatever, Mom.” And the day I watch them drive off in the family car without adult supervision.
I think about first dates and first jobs.
I picture them growing up, moving out, and eventually having kids of their own.
And I wonder if I will have been enough.
Because it really isn’t about the lead. It’s about being enough.
It’s about knowing I encouraged them enough. Taught them enough. Loved them enough. Believed I them enough. Protected them enough.
When did it stop being enough to simply encourage and teach and love and believe and protect?
When did we need to become beyond perfect?
When did enough stop being enough?
It’s always about more, and the more we do, the less it feels like enough so that one day you’re riding that runaway train of enough and more and prying the red sweater off your daughter.
To be clear, testing your kids’ toys for toxins is not the problem here.
The problem is that spell we’ve been put under by more and enough. It’s seductive and very convincing.
The problem is that enough is NOT the same as perfect, and more doesn’t always mean better.
I watch them play and take a deep breath. Yes, I will probably test that sweater (and the tea set and the toy cars…), but I’ll need to sort through a lot more than lead in the house if I’m going to teach them anything from all this.
Maybe instead of worrying about if I’ve taught them enough, I’ll focus on teaching them the truth.
Instead of teaching them about more, I’ll teach them about our values.
When I encourage them, I’ll encourage them to be happy and free, not more and good enough. And I’ll vow to keep my own expectations and fears of inadequacy in check while I do.
I will hug them and love them and protect them.
I will do all of this while remembering what matters most to us. What fills me up. What makes me feel free and happy. What kind of adults I want them to grow up to be. And what actually makes me a better parent.
Because, seriously, enough is enough.
LeslieRalph is the author of the blog, A Year of Happy, where she’s encouraging mothers to nurture themselves, be present in body, heart and mind, and bottle up the good stuff for rainy days and bumpy roads with her signature blend of joyful projects, guided journals, and delectable meditations. You can get your year of happy started now with the 2-minute revitalizing meditation on the house at https://www.ayearofhappy.com/revitalize.