Wednesday, May 27, 2009
I am not the mother I wanted to be
You don't need me to tell you this, but here goes:
People can--and will--say the darndest things.
Out loud, even.
I was at the Y yesterday, signing Oliver and Manolin out of childcare just after my 45 minute biking marathon with Jo. It's a wonderful Mother-Daughter bonding time; if you've got the means to work out with your daughter, I highly, highly recommend it. The conversations we've had in those 45 minutes have been some of the ones I know I will cherish thirty years from now. The big boys are in Karate at that time, the little guys are in childcare and it's just Jo and me, racking up miles on those stationary bikes while everyone around us wonders what in the world we're finding so stinking hilarious.
But I digress.
As I said, I was at the Y. Manolin had already been handed over the counter and was grinding his face into my collarbone with every ounce of his being. Oliver was being led--in protest, mind you--away from the playdough table and towards the little green exit gate. I wrote my name on the register with a flourish, and turned my attention to signing dramatically so that Oliver knew it was time to head home.
"You've got, what? Three boys? Holy cow," said the worker, a woman about my age.
"You missed one," I offered helpfully, taking a step to the side. Sure enough, Atticus was hidden just behind me in the tight reception area.
"Four boys? I couldn't do that. No way. They would drive me nuts."
I smiled broadly and nodded. This woman, after all, goes to my church. And you know ... she really ought to know better.
"I like raising boys," I said. "These guys are awesome. I can't imagine how boring life would be without every single one of them."
You think that's it, don't you? You're saying to yourself--"This is a post about how people are always bashing on little boys." Well, it could be. But no. This woman just didn't know how to quit when she was ahead. Just then, Jo came through the door carrying our workout gear in our oversized blue duffel.
"Oh my gosh, I totally forgot! You have, like, five kids. All those boys and a girl."
Great math skills, I thought. You must be so proud. My sunshiney thoughts had turned decidedly sour. Because at this point, let's face it: the woman has already basically told my sons that they are a burden to their mother. Now she's going to harp on our family size. This keeps getting better!
The woman then shook her head and delivered the jewel:
"I couldn't have that many kids. There's no way. I just couldn't be the mother I want to be with that many of them."
And you know what? I told her she was absolutely right.
"I can't either!" I admitted. "And I'm so thankful!"
Now before you look at me like I've grown ten heads (which is precisely the look she delivered, by the way) let me tell you why I feel the way I do.
I am not the mother I wanted to be with these children. Can't be. It's not possible. There's only one of me ... and five of them. Do the math. I can not be all things to every child.
The world says I am failing. I have chosen quantity over quality. I can't possibly be a good enough mother. Needs will not be met. There are just too many kids.
Praise God, I say.
Because I have come to realize that the things I want to do and be for my children are not necessarily the best for them.
I want to kiss every boo-boo. Fawn over every picture. Brush every head of hair. Trim every finger nail. Hold the back of each bike seat as the training wheels come off. Stop the hurts before they come. Be the ear for every heartache. Bake every afternoon snack. Cheer at every game. Warn of every danger. Read every book. Watch every impromptu performance. Be a part of every game. Lead every troop. Sing every song. I want to right the wrongs. Hold off the enemies.
I want to be their world.
With one child, I could do that. No problem. With two, I think I could manage pretty nicely. But with three, five, seven? No way.
Instead, what my kids get is something different. Maybe not better--the Lord's plans are different for each family, and I respect that. But at the very least, what my children have is equal. It's not some lesser thing. It's not worthy of pity. It's just different.
It's not about me, The Perfect Mother, this growing up thing. No matter how much I always dreamed it would be, it just isn't. It's about God and the family He provided to meet every need.
Do boo-boos get kissed? Of course! But a portion of the time, it is a big brother who kisses the baby's head after he's tried to fit underneath the coffee table for the fifth time in an hour. Do cookies get baked? Yes. I admit, though, that Jo is turning into quite the chef thanks to being blessed with the opportunity to experiment in the kitchen without my hovering. And do you know who taught Logan to balance on his big boy bike when he shed the training wheels? It was Atticus, running behind him and shouting, "Brother! Brother! You're doing it!" in a voice so full of pride and utter joy that I get a catch in my throat just remembering. I cried from the curb, my hands busy plaiting Jo's hair to fit under her helmet. It was a gorgeous moment, burned into my mind, my heart, my soul.
"Brother! Brother! You're doing it!"
Are there sweeter words?
My children have a cheering section, not a number one fan. They have a chorus of voices that sing their praises and hands that reach out to help no matter the hour of the day. Will they walk through adulthood with this same closeness? There are no guarantees, of course. My own mother is the youngest of seven children, and I wouldn't call their family particularly close-knit. There is no formula, no one perfect thing that will bind these little personalities into a warm quilt that they will want to stay wrapped in throughout their lives.
But there is love. Abounding love. More love than I, the mother who has been entrusted with them, could ever offer on my own.
I am not the mother I wanted to be. I do not make it to every event. I am sometimes preoccupied with a diaper or a math problem when a milestone flies past me at the speed of light. My children will not remember me in the foreground, chairing every committee, meeting every need and wiping every nose.
But I am the mother God wants me to be. I am in the background, usually. One voice among many in the sea of encouragement. Cheering. Praising. And witnessing the miracle that is our family.