I have often wondered if there’s something wrong with me, as a mother. I look around in awe at my peers, these superhero moms with unbelievable powers of patience and domestication. The ones that show up to school drop off with time to spare and pants that don’t have an elastic waistband. Their children with fresh, trendy haircuts and not a jam-hand-smear in sight. Apparently “napkin pants” are only a thing at our house.
Hikes and exotic family vacations, tackling Pinterest projects that somehow don’t end in yelling and glitter bits in someone’s eye. Spearheading PTA meetings and birthing tiny Picassos while I’m just struggling to find leggings that still fit and don’t have a tiny hole in the bum seam.
These women, these incredible women, portraying the exact type of mother that I always imagined that I would be. Gentle and affectionate. Thoughtful, patient and creative. Watching them with awe, I’m somehow hyper-aware of the contrasts in our pictures. How do they do it? Balance it all, juggling the life and the chaos and still make it look so effortless? Then there’s me, over here feeling exhausted.
Inadequate, dehydrated and almost always with at least a tinge of a headache.
Trying to hide in the linen closet, leaning against the sloppy stacks of bedding just to catch my breath. The noise! The mess! The constant need for my attention or my service or my touch. Sometimes it’s suffocating. Saturation of tiny hands pulling at mine, making me feel desperate for solitude.
What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be one of those superhero moms? The endlessly patient, gentle and loving ones? Well, see, here’s the thing.
My first baby went through a period of traumatic purple crying. Mysterious screaming lasting morning, noon and night, explained by several different medical professionals as nothing more than a “developmental milestone” that would simply pass when it was over. A phase that mercilessly threw me into the deep end without a life jacket, brand new mom to a baby that screamed from the age of three weeks until six months old.
The peaceful bliss that followed lasted little more than a week before I was hit with a thick wave of morning sickness from my next pregnancy. Chasing after a scuttling new crawler with a puke bucket in one hand, the exhaustion was only just beginning. Watching my baby boy grow while I worked hard to grow his brother, then I did it all over again. I had my first baby when I was 22 and had my third little boy less than three years later.
I could hardly take care of myself at that point in my life. I was practically a child when I was graced with three of my own, so close together, and the learning curve was steep. My initiation into motherhood was fierce and unapologetic, the most demanding role of my life overwhelming me from the very beginning. My childhood. My adolescence. My young adulthood and my journey into motherhood, they’re all unique. My experiences may be similar to those of others, but they’re mine. The ways that I interpret them, the effects that they have on me. The lessons that I take and the ways that I choose to use them … all unique to me.
So, I can compare myself all I want, I guess. I can question why my best doesn’t seem as good as someone else’s best, beat myself up about who and what I’m not. Or I can just acknowledge what I am. How far I have come and the richness that my experiences bring to my life and the lives of my babies.
My boys may not have sparkling baseboards or a mom that can bake healthy brownies that don’t end up tasting like lawn trimmings. I raise my voice more often than I’d like to admit and my minivan smells a little bit like compost. But my babies know the joy of a spontaneous tickle fight. They know that the secret to giving the best hugs is how tight you squeeze and that having a good cry is never something to be ashamed of. They get to inherit the gifts of both my mistakes and my victories, deciphering them in their own style.
I can weather the brutality of my own self-judgment and the obscure opinions of others by simply understanding my journey to get here. Always looking to better myself, but remembering that my kids think I’m pretty freaking awesome just as I am. They know that they’re loved fiercely and cherished indefinitely. For those reasons alone, I can hold my head high, knowing that I am exactly the mom my kids need me to be. Even when I’m tucked away in the linen closet.
Mommy’s Inside Voice is a bi-weekly column by Amie Jay, a local mother of three.