My son, he’s 5. He asked me this morning, “mom, why are you so old?” Now, before I let you know my response to this question, this is my perspective through the lens of simply being a mom. Let me set the scene for you.
It was barely 7:00 a.m. I had been awake since 5:50 a.m. which I have been doing a few days a week for about two months now to meet an online early bird fitness club. After finishing my usual stationary bike ride, I was on my office floor, stretching and thinking about a glorious cup of coffee when a bed-headed little boy shows up talking breathlessly in a not totally awake state wondering what I was doing. I had wanted to say, “I am enjoying my alone time, but I guess not anymore.” Instead I answered, “I’m stretching bud. What are you doing up so early?” To which he responded he wanted to see if I was downstairs and what I was doing and did I ride my bike. His eyes seemed so big and dreamy in the moment and I admired his tenacity for wanting to check in on his mom. Although seriously, sometimes I swear that with your children the umbilical cord never really gets cut. There is a tethered energy that binds you together forever. If I wake up early or break away for some me time, even if they are soundly asleep or intently playing in their own worlds, they suddenly need to know, oh hey where’s mom? And just like a mechanical robot autopilot takes over in which they must find you and be with you. The target has moved, attack!
“Mom, why are you so old?” he asks as I am clamoring for my walker to steady myself as I try to get up from the floor.
Laughing, “I’m not old, bud. what makes you think I’m old?”
“Because you can’t move your legs normally and you use a walker. Old people use those things.”
“I can’t use my legs normally because I have MS. Not because I am old. I am far from old [right?!].”
“When are you going to use your legs normally again and not use a walker? In a few days?”
“I wish, bubba. The truthful answer is I don’t know. According to your sister I will walk again in 15 years. I hope it doesn’t take that long, but it might.”
“Maybe in 1 year?”
“That would be wonderful! I hope in one year, but until then I just have to keep working hard.”
And he stared off, curled up on a sitting chair in my office. His mind switched gears and just like that he disappeared into the subtle morning light that was only dimly lighting the rest of the house.
My daughter Tori told me a month or so ago that a friend of hers had a wishing Squinkie. Squinkies are among the many little collectible thingys that line the shelves of stores like Target next to Nom Nums, and Shopkins, and Twozies, and Calico Critters and Woodland Friends and Littlest Pet Shop and… There are seasons and special editions and ultra rare kinds. All the buzzwords that they get hooked on and excited about and ‘have to have’. Anyway, apparently there is a ladybug Squinkie in the newest collection of Squinkie ‘Do Drops that a friend said was the wishing kind. Tori told me a story about how she held this little ladybug and made a wish. And to her surprise the ladybug whispered back! Which of course meant the wish would come true! Except she didn’t wish for something for herself, she wished for me. She wished for my MS to heal and for my legs to work again. I opened my eyes wide to stop any tears from welling up when she told me about this. She followed with, but there is some bad news. Wait, what? How could there be bad news? The wishing ladybug who whispered back seemed like a pretty spectacular good news giver. I will walk again! She says, well it is going to take 15 years. Yikes, I will be 56! Well, she says, the MS didn’t happen overnight so I cannot expect to heal overnight. And yes, my wise child, you have a point. Still, I was so touched, and oddly optimistic with her words. Her determined energy makes nothing seem impossible.
Will is only laying his foundation in beginning to understand my disability. He gets free rides on my scooter. That is the distance of his perception about it all right now. I’m OK with that because it is not the center of our world. Yes, as a family we have to plan more carefully and contemplate accessibility needs and bring a bunch of extra stuff and equipment for me to get around as independently as possible. It is a big thing and nothing at the same time. This is my normal, and therefore, this is their normal too. And totally off topic, I will call my son Bubba til the day I leave this earth. He was 10 lbs. 9 oz. at birth and it was the first word that slipped out of my mouth when he was placed in my arms.
This is a 1 minute glimpse into my life as a mother. I share the same triumphs and struggles that all moms (and dads) everywhere share, all the time. I sit back in awe when my children voice their imaginations and then bring them to life. I hug them tight when motherly love comes pouring over me. I say I love you every morning as they bounce out of the car to go to school, and as many other times that I think to say it during the day. I spend hours turning their clothes right side out from balls of mangled fabric so they actually get clean in the wash. I incessantly look for all the pieces to toy sets in an effort to keep them all together, even when my kids could care less. Why do I? I don’t know, OCD I guess. I sometimes slip around a corner in panicked rage bordering on tears when their bad days spill into mine and it seems like a never ending bad trip of whining and exhaustion. I raise my voice to them only to feel cowardly and ashamed at myself later. I laugh with them, and I laugh at them. Even during times of discipline when faced with the choice to yell, cry or laugh. I often times laugh. My natural instinct is to laugh when life gets ridiculous and too much to handle. I can’t help it. I giggle at their bathroom humor, I make silly faces with them. It is possible at this point that our silly face selfies out number the smiling ones. I read to them almost every day. Reading is extremely important to me, and it is part of our routine, the last snuggles (or squirms) of the day. I make up songs and sing to them even when I don’t feel like it, but because they ask me to. And the whining, oh the whining. Make it stop, please. I wonder if I am even doing a good job. Are they involved in enough. Am I giving them enough space to be kids. Am I playing with them enough. Am I teaching them enough. There are always questions, sometimes doubt and a lot of faith. And these questions are all I know right now. With every age will come new questions, new doubt and new faith. I lay in bed at night and tell myself, I did the best I could. And for whatever it is worth, and through cherishing the good and wanting to erase bad, tomorrow is a new day.
Is there an art to motherhood? I don’t really think so. I just think it is like an episode of Survivor each and every day but there is no fame, no riches, no fancy trip and no crowd cheering you on. No cameras to stop and start each scene. There’s no falling to your knees as the winner with relief washing over you that it’s done and you’ve won. There’s never an end really. At least in my 8 1/2 years of experience so far. Some days you paint a Picasso, other days your canvas looks like a giant smear of poop. And quite possibly, it literally is. A giant smear of poop.
The reality is, we are waking up each and every day and doing the best we can with what we have. You show up every day, even though you may not feel like you are. You are present every day, even though you may not feel like you are. You are doing the best you can, even though you may not feel like you are.
I sometimes feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. I know I am not alone balancing my needs, the kid’s needs, my husband’s needs, work, chores. I’m lucky to have the support of a village, and a wonderful partner by my side. Whatever your support system, and sometimes it might be you and your kid making a great team, cut yourself some slack. Be gentle with yourself. Your feelings are real. Their feelings are real. When it seems like there is so much pressure to be present, actually living in the present moment is not necessarily all roses. You’re given a conscious choice on how to react which sometimes feels good and sometimes does not. The point is not to look back. And more importantly drop your judgment of yourself. Hindsight is not a healthy place to be and every passing moment is a renewal. I recently wrote about courage here and all I want to simply say is that recognizing your courage and moving forward, even one tiny step at a time, eliminates the angst of the outcome. When I feel the weight of the world, especially in motherhood, it is paralyzing. Like I’m a deer in headlights staring blindly at a to-do list with no power to move. That heaviness is hard to break through. I’ve learned to just do something. Anything. Well, sort of. The anything needs to be something that eases the load I am carrying. I don’t know why I get stuck sometimes, but I do. And again, I do not think I am alone. I try to put one foot in front of the other that doesn’t feel like an escape. Even when there is a sink full of dishes, just five minutes hand-washing two or three things or even partially filling the dishwasher makes the next approach to the giant task a little easier. Plus, it feels good. I know that may not sound courageous, but it is. Courage hides in the nooks and crannies of your mind. The fact that I felt productive for 5 minutes rather than spending those 5 minutes, which addictively become 10 then 15 and many more hiding from my to-do list in my Instagram account, is empowering. Remember, I said tiny steps. Little accomplishments lead to big accomplishments.
But before you make that leap, an accomplishment is an accomplishment. Period. Narrow your gap between perception and reality. Although this discussion about courage is a bit of a departure from whining and the art of motherhood, I think being a mom takes a lot of courage every single moment and this is my longer way of saying, I try not to beat myself up over the small stuff anymore. Like forgetting to wash the soccer jersey for this weekend’s game. Was it ideal? No. Did it affect the way I encouraged #1 daughter to play her game? No. Did it prevent her from leaving any less heart on the field? No. Will I most definitely wash it this week? Of course. Because, well, hygiene. I’ve let go of my expectation of the outcome. This is true in both motherhood and my acceptance of my disability. I am never going to know unless I try. Like, I never knew how much it would suck taking a toddler to Target at 8 p.m. on a Friday night unless I tried it for myself. Am I right? I stay close to the mantra, focus on you can do, instead of what you can’t. And I pretty much think I can do anything. Except maybe run, I know I cannot run any more. Obvious. But I can still fill the void of loving exercise, being physical and possibly racing again. Those are what I loved about running. I can still love those, expressed in a different action. I can still love going to Target with my kid, just not at 8 p.m. on a Friday night. I learned that lesson. Quickly. This is my messy canvas and my point is that I make the brushstrokes that work for me, and with the best intention for the kids. Am I right all the time? No, no, no, no. Definitely no.
The real art lies in the unconditional love and infinite bond. No strings attached. My son had no idea the impact of his question, “why are you so old?” He was asking a basic question based on the connection of what he sees to what he can verbalize. On my mother’s day card that they made at school he put my age as 7. My daughter thanked me for giving birth to her. The riches lie in the privilege of being a parent. The victories are the smiles, the hugs, the laughter that erupts from their belly. It is the glitter and spark in their eyes. It is not glamorous, it’s dirty. Just beneath those eyes full of life are sticky hands, stained clothes, scraped knees, scuffed shoes and quite possibly pockets full of treasures. Only a parent can truly appreciate the word treasure. Pockets loaded with bugs, rocks, some food, a crumpled flower, a Barbie head, a broken piece of a toy. I remember my daughter would secretly stuff her pockets with macaroni and cheese, to save for later. Ew. My son brings home shards of plastic found under the mulch of his playground at preschool. He digs, he finds things. They become treasures. And yesterday I found a used bandaid in his pocket that I know was not his. Boy are they proud when they intend for it to be a gift for you. So special. That child, and all their treasures, is the crowd cheering you on.
What is your idea of fine wine? Does it have a price tag or a special grape? Is it a special edition or the ultra rare kind? It might even come in a box. Shhhhhh…that’s OK. Does it look like a cup of hot tea, sipped alone in solitude? A deep breath in quite possibly the quietest place in your home, a closet? Or maybe it is just an evening enjoying any kind of wine without an h after the w. This my friends is the fine w(h)ine in the art of motherhood.
Congratulations, you survived another day. xo, JJ