The Call of Motherhood
I hear them, but pretend not to. They are shameless with their incessant demands. I’m hungry! Wipe me! I’m bored! Where’s my bunny?
Small feet race by the door, thumping like a stampede of elephants. I wait it out, hoping they’ll give up.
But they never do. They just get louder.
Mommy! Where ARE you?
I’m hiding, of course. Usually in the bathroom, but I’ve been known to stand in front of a sink full of dirty dishes, or lean against the washing machine, checking email and scrolling through Facebook.
I know my solitary moment is fleeting, but I steal it anyway because even a minute is a reprieve. Soon their footsteps grow louder. They’re onto me, like little bomb sniffing dogs.
When I finally appear, or am discovered, I try to sound pleasant. But sometimes the effort is too great and I snap at them. What? The sound of my voice makes me cringe, but I can’t help it. I can’t hide the fact that sometimes I’m dismayed to be needed. Again.
Take the other day, for example. I had to run errands with my two kids. After much cajoling and some bribery, I buckled them in, threw some snacks in the backseat, and started the car.
Then my three-year-old son began to scream, a blood curling sound that felt like someone was stabbing me in the ear with a knitting needle. I turned around thinking he was being strangled by his car seat strap, but he was red in the face crying because his shirt had ridden up in the back.
I unbuckled, contorting my body, and fixed it. With a sigh, I placed the car in reverse and it happened again. More screaming. This time because he dropped his water. Seconds after I buckled myself in for a third time, he called for me again. WHAT? I screamed, turning toward him, my face quivering with rage.
He froze, tears glazing his eyes. “I have to pee?”
It was his small voice that reminded me who I was talking to – or rather, who I was yelling at: a three year old, my last baby, who experiences bunched up shirts and fallen water bottles as emergencies. I’m the adult, the one who is supposed to soothe, calm, and reassure. To teach him what a real emergency is.
I stared at his stricken face and immediately apologized. Sometimes the lesson is for me.
Parenting is a humbling task.
It’s also fleeting. One day, not so far from now, I will strain my ears for my name and hear only silence.
This is important to remember, not just to maintain my sanity, but so I can strive to be better. I don’t want to look back on these early years with (too much) regret. I don’t want to realize, belatedly, that my snapping responses outweighed my kind ones.
I’m in the thick of it with a rambunctious preschooler and a headstrong yet sensitive seven-year-old, who reminds me, too much, of myself.
You’d think this would make me tread more carefully, and sometimes it does, but her tenderness also bruises my heart. Some days I wish she were different, tougher, a little more resilient. A little less like me.
My three-year-old son is easier in some ways, but he’s also a boundary pusher, limit tester, and on occasion, head butter.
But these are my children. It’s my job to accept them for who they are and help them become their best. To fill their hearts and minds and bodies with my love. Enough to last a lifetime.
On holidays and birthdays, I dash off my signature on their cards, Love Mommy. Several times a week I affix my name on homework folders, permission slips, and absence notes. Even after seven years, the title I hold, the name I am called, fills me with awe and wonder. I can’t believe that I am a mother, their mother.
My children still climb all over me. I am a mountain to be scaled, a soft place to land.
The push and pull of motherhood is tidal. I sneak away, I hide, but ultimately I want to be found.
Dana Schwartz lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. She has published short stories in several literary journals, was a contributor to The HerStories Project on female friendship, and will be in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness (November 2015). She also writes about motherhood and the creative process on her blog, Writing at the Table.