community, standards, surviving

Extra hands

This is me.

(Well, it’s not, of course. It’s Nora.)

But it could be me this week…bedhead, still in her pajamas, a child on each hip with another one clinging dangerously to her ankle and about to be stepped on, holding the phone and frantically trying to return a call while the fourth child drapes himself over the furniture, about to pass out from hunger because he’s had to wait so long for his snack. And just look at the mess!

This week feels a little like climbing, hand over hand, out of a well, without the use of my legs. The rocks are slick, and as soon as I get a little way up, I slip back down a few feet. My arms and fingers are cramping. I can see the light at the top, and I know I’ll eventually get there, but climbing is hard, and I’m tired.

The problem with getting sick as a mother is that the mothering doesn’t stop. People still need to be fed, dressed, wiped, read to, and generally loved as much as possible. It doesn’t matter how much sleep I didn’t get or how whiny and self-pitying I am feeling. When the morning peeks through the blinds and announces herself, my children will be in the hallway for only a second before bursting in and announcing themselves, and breakfast has to show up shortly thereafter. It’s the way of things. This rhythm of mothering flows on, winding through the day, soothing and holding and cleaning and carrying, all the way until bedtime…sometimes through the night, too…and again the next day.

The further down we mamas get, the harder we have to work to get ourselves together. People are depending on us. They don’t stop needing just because we are worn out. I know this. My patience, though, is very thin despite my best efforts. I snap at them, say things in the worst possible ways (did I really ask her why she ruins everything? how could I? how much psychological damage did I just cause back there?) It’s hard not to yell at them to play more quietly, even though I know their volume would seem fine to me if my head weren’t aching. Headache or not, we have to keep on keeping on. There is always work to do.

But this martyrdom thing…this dragging our weary bodies around when all they need is rest? This is no way to care for anyone. This is not what I want my daughters to do when they are mothers. How can I drag myself back and forth in front of them, sighing heavily, pained grimace all over my face as if it is just what’s necessary when I know they are watching, taking it all in?

There are two lessons here I wish I could learn for next time. Or the time after that. Or hey, maybe I will spend my whole entire life trying to learn these lessons (but that’s another post for another day):

One: It will not kill me to lower my standards. Yes, it’s good to keep the house tidy. Yes, it’s good to get our schoolwork done. Yes, it’s good to serve nutritious, home-cooked meals with lots of different colored vegetables. But frozen pizza will not kill us if we eat it sometimes. And watching a movie instead of doing math will not make everyone’s brains rot instantly and drain out their ears. And leaving the lunch crumbs on the living room floor today during nap time so I can rest on the couch will not cause the Earth to stop spinning on its axis. It will be okay. Whatever I need to do to get by, it will be okay. I can stand to stop trying so hard all the time and let a few things slide for now.

Two: It will not kill me to ask for help. I am not SuperMama. You are not WonderMother. We are just doing the best we can, and sometimes, it’s not quite enough. No matter what the voices in my head tell us, that is okay. In these moments, what we really need is an extra set of hands…someone to fold a load of laundry, or clean the bathroom, or bring by some chicken broth when there’s none in the house. Another pair of willing hands to hold a child, read a story, wipe a nose, sweep a floor.

I can call my husband and tell him I’m at the end of my rope, and it doesn’t mean I’m weak or inept or failing at being a mother. I can call a friend and ask for a broth delivery, and it doesn’t mean I’m not doing a good job at managing this whole thing. It’s a lot to manage. Friends are made to help in time of need, after all.

I know I’m blessed among women to have such friends- friends who will encourage me to rest, who will offer to lighten the load, who will show up and ask what they can do. It is no small thing to have their hands to help me. And it is a gift to be able to offer my hands to them, too…somehow, bearing one another’s burdens is how we mothers make the whole load feel lighter.

I’ve heard it said many times that we are Christ’s hands in this world, put here to serve one another as we would serve Him, as He would serve us- to wash one another’s feet and one another’s dishes- and I believe it.

But when we serve one another like this- with food and warmth and holding and comfort- I think we are also the hands of Mary. When we nourish, soothe and encourage each other, we are mothering each other for Christ’s sake. 

We can and should do this for one another. Let’s not allow our ideas of self-sufficiency or our own impossible standards keep us from offering this gift to each other…or from accepting it when we need it.

with deep gratitude to George and Cori/Jason for being my extra hands today

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