One for the Rest of Us (An Unlikely Mother's Day Ad)

I spend my lunch hour eating leftover soup resurrected from the back of the freezer.  It was the batch of soup no one liked but me, and really I was mostly claiming to like it out of a selfish defiance because when you don't cook very often and you decide to whip up a batch of soup you can get a little defensive that no one else likes your culinary masterpiece.  So I've eaten roughly 14 bowls of this terribly mediocre soup over the last few months, pulling a portion out of the freezer whenever I think I can stand having another go at it and doctoring it with hot sauce that will give me heartburn later just to make it taste different than the last 12 times I've eaten it.

This is the last bowl of the stuff, and to celebrate I am dropping in the crushed remnants of an almost empty bag of Fritos.  I insist on eating from real dishes even when I am just eating at my desk in front of my computer because I tell myself real dishes feel so much nicer than paper plates and because I can't stop thinking about that documentary I watched about the garbage island floating out in the Pacific Ocean.  In a while, I will have to decide between washing my soup bowl in the tiny kitchen that has been caked with the film of decades of grad student use or washing my bowl in the cleaner but just as unappealing bathroom sink down the hall.

Ah, the glamour of a Friday lunch hour, sitting in my office chair, trying to drown out the ticking industrial clock that reminds me how quickly each second is flying as I steal an hour to write.

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Today is Field Day at the boys' school, and I am worried whether they were dressed warm enough to spend hours outside in this strange late spring cold snap.  Next week is Lincoln's big pre-kindergarten ARD meeting at his school, and I am debating whether I should take half a day off work to attend in person or beam myself in virtually and participate through FaceTime.  I make a note on my calendar to remind myself to make the boys a dentist appointment this summer.  The writing stalls out, overrun no doubt by the stream of mundane reminders and responsibilities running through my mind, and I take a few minutes to do some Mother's Day shopping online.

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I know my kids will hear about, will learn and remember the big things I did for them.  Stories of long labor, the love at first sight moments when I cried at their bloody, red-faced arrivals.  The way I insisted that my nurse put me in a wheelchair and take me to see Lincoln in the NICU so soon after my c-section that my legs were still frozen from the anesthesia.  How I made ugly but delicious cakes for their big, themed birthday parties.  The way Christmas was always a big honking deal in our house, and I was always all in on the magic and the whimsy of that season right along with them.  The time when Lincoln was in the children's hospital and I stayed up all night holding him upright because when he laid down, his oxygen saturation would drop and the monitors in his room would start beeping urgently.

I know they will hear about these little family legends, and in hearing them will be reminded that their mother loves them deeply.  But sometimes I wonder if they will ever quite understand how many thousand upon thousand moments of quiet drudgery I survived for them.  I wonder if they will ever know how many torturous hours I spent at boring jobs working to pay for the roof over their heads when all I really wanted was to be home under that roof with them, holding them in my arms.  I wonder if they will know how many plates of leftovers I ate to keep our grocery bill low enough that we could take them to the toy store every now and then.  I wonder if they will ever know how many times I picked up the same pair of their jeans from the floor of the bathroom, threw those jeans in the hamper, sorted them by color and moved them to the washer, how many times I pulled those jeans from the dryer, folded them, put them away, and lifted the same pair of jeans out of the drawer to be worn to school the next morning.

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The Mother's Day ads tell me to treat mom, to pamper her, to buy her something shiny because she's earned it. They make me cringe, these ads, and I'm not sure if it's because I know the hollowness of trying to repay love with things or if it's because I have never quite felt that those ads were about me, too.  And I know it is only my own sick internalization of the Mommy Wars that leads me to say this, but I have never quite felt mom enough to be eligible for acceptance into the picture painted by those ads.

Because it seems most of the moms I know are people for whom motherhood is their life's work.  Women who do the cooking and cleaning and butt wiping, and often also the teaching and the shopping and the discipline.  Or I see people who, like me, drag themselves to work because it's better for their family, but who, unlike me, have to come home to a second shift of cooking and cleaning with negligible help from their partner.

But I leave for work while the boys are still in their pajamas, knowing their father will get up and feed them breakfast, put them in the clothes I laid out the night before, pack their lunches, and get them to school before the tardy bell rings.  And I am still at work when my husband picks them up from school, cleans out their lunch boxes, and gets them started on homework.  Friends ask me "How did you get your husband to start cooking?" like it is some sort of magic trick they are desperate to recreate in their own overworked kitchens.  At a Women's Retreat this fall, I sat silent at Sunday breakfast, staring at my bacon with a guilty lump in my throat while the other women wondered aloud how their husbands would manage to get the kids to church alone, laughing at how many children would be showing up that morning with mismatched clothes and uncombed hair.

Somewhere along the line, I realize, I bought into the idea that Mother's Day is for those moms, for the incredible women who do so much with so little help. I got this mixed up idea in my head that Mother's Day is not for mothers like me who still cry in the car on the way to work sometimes because it's so hard to leave on the mornings when your family is all tucked under the covers of the big bed, snuggling against the unseasonable cold together.  Somehow I bought into the idea that I'm not enough of a mother because the best thing I can give to my kids right now is a decent, steady job that is sometimes mind numbingly boring, a job that I get up and go to every day even when I want to stay home and crawl into bed with them.  Somehow I decided that it wasn't enough that my boys had an adoring parent to walk them through their weekday routines, that it wasn't enough unless that parent was me.

And yes, believe me, I know that way of thinking is backwards at best and outright disrespectful to my incredible husband at worst.

Today I read the truth of my backwards thinking in the dregs of my soup the way fortune tellers read it in tea leaves left at the bottom of a cup.  I decide on the bathroom to wash my soup bowl because, sadly, the smell in there is better than what's coming out of the sink in that tiny grad student kitchen upstairs.  And there, in the sticky residue of broth, I see my own Mother's Day ad, and it reads something like this:

Even though the sacrifices I make for my children don't always look like the sacrifices made by the moms in the commercials, they are still acts of love, faithfully carried out, done at the expense of my own time and freedom, and they are worthy of recognition and thanks.  I am no less a real mom because I have help, no less a real mom because I work outside the home, no less a real mom because the way I mother doesn't match the way someone else does it.  So, happy early Mother's Day to me.  And to you, you know, if that applies.

{Chances are you may have known all of that already, but I guess I needed to hear it.  And maybe some of you did, too.}

Image Credit, used under Creative Commons License. 


  1. Andrew CarmichaelMay 5, 2013 at 3:03 PM

    You are certainly no less a real mom. I think your sons and husband are very blessed to have such a wife and mother. Your life may not be like glamorous women in the ads, but it is being well-invested.


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