As a young mother I remember reading an article written for Mother’s Day in our local paper that was an homage to a mom that had it all figured out. A lot of the details are vague as my children were quite young and there is a very large haze that covers many of my memories of that time. But at the time I was struggling a bit with motherhood. Certainly the actual physical and mental demands, but also, my finding my footing.
Not to sound dramatic, but, alas, dear friend, my own mother left something to be desired. Woe is me! Seriously though, it’s complicated. So I struggled with what defines a mother, or more specifically, what defines me as a mother. And, it must be said, I knew that definition for me would be nothing like my mother.
So back to the article. The story introduced her as a mother of three kids, they were older than mine at the time but not a lot. She gave a breakdown of her day which included her job, her kids, her own school work as she pursued her degree, exercising, she was a runner, as well as all the chores that come with a house and a family. While a lot of the details were vague, I remember quite clearly that she slept four hours per night.
I remember thinking, “That’s it! Sleep less! That’s the key!”
With this new Super Woman as my role model, I went about pursuing motherhood like a boss! Stellar mom… capable of bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan…Loving wife…Clean, no!, pristine house… girlfriends, volunteer, put together and able. I didn’t need sleep. I was amazing. Seriously. Freaking. Amazing! People asked me, how do you do it? I’d laugh it off, “What, this?” like it was nothing. I ran with the gazelles.
Need a volunteer? I can do that! Kids want to take music, art, sports, basket weaving lessons? Yes, yes, yes and oh yes! Couples night out? Yes! Work? Yes! New client? Yes! Another volunteer project? Definitely yes! I had it all going on.
But there were signs that this was not sustainable.
Every so often I would have an epic breakdown which required massive quantities of antibiotics and two solid days of sleep. I had absolutely no patience, with anyone, my answer was, “Just give it to me! I’ll do it myself!” That haze that surrounded me, totally explainable.
We had a car accident on the way to soccer one Saturday morning. Some other woman ran a stop sign – I swear she was on her phone though she says no. Don’t text and drive people – Thankfully we were okay. But, we had things to do, a schedule as long as my arm. I had my husband meet us at the accident and bring both daughters to soccer. My brother picked me up and brought me home. A friend drove me to the soccer field so I could catch the game while the tow truck took my car. I still managed to go home, finish decorating the cake for the bake sale, jump in my husband’s truck and drop off the cake. Nothing was stopping me. I had it all! Including a giant bruise on my leg and a throbbing head ache, but that could wait. Super Woman at work! Inside I was shaking my head at myself. Super Woman? Try crazy woman! Who was I pleasing?
Another time I remember sitting in my (new) car at the grocery store. I was seriously staving off having an anxiety attack with the thought I just didn’t have time to have an anxiety attack all the while thinking something has got to give.
I didn’t get it. I was doing all the things I was supposed to do. My kids were over scheduled engaged, I owned my own business though I only worked 25 or 30 hours a week, my house was clean (mostly), I had friends, relationships, I only slept four hours a night. Why didn’t I feel happy? Why were my kids always so cranky? Why weren’t we having fun?
I don’t recall exactly what the final straw was (that haze). I just knew I couldn’t sustain this level of activity. We couldn’t sustain it as a family. But it was the summer of R&R (I named our summers, a theme of sorts. Don’t judge me, I was crazy and clearly had no idea what I was doing!) The summer had been restful. We didn’t schedule anything, or at least by comparison. We spent a lot of time in the backyard. As we got closer and closer to the new school year, I could feel my anxiety ratcheting up. I couldn’t do it, not another ten months of the hamster wheel. But I had no idea how to get off.
I asked my husband if we could move. If we moved somewhere else then we could start fresh. I wouldn’t have to be the go-to girl. The words were barely out of my mouth when the thought popped into my head, “You can’t run away from your problems.” I knew I had to face them.
What is motherhood? When did it become this crazy race to the finish line, wearing
platform wedges while rocking killer abs and a tight butt, carrying the bag you sewed up clutched in nails designed by Pinterest, your ear bud in so you can schedule pediatrician appointments and board meetings with your perfectly coifed children in tow?
Are we outperforming each other? Our selves? Our own mothers? Did we go from June Cleaver to Gloria Steinem to Madonna to Sheryl Sandberg with some Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray thrown in for good measure?
When is okay to let ourselves off the hook? To stop being Super Woman and just be?
I can’t answer these questions for you, only me. And for me, I started with no. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable the first time I said it. I inwardly cringed waiting for the backlash.
But it didn’t come.
The person I said no to said okay and moved on. It was like going deaf for a minute, my whole world imploded. Just say no? Was it really that simple? Nancy Reagan, you were so wise. It didn’t just apply to drugs, it applied to expectations too!
As the summer wound down, I said it a few more times. When it came time to sign up for fall activities, we gave each kid a limit on how many days they could commit between all their activities. We actually had a few days that had NO activities. And do you know what we did with those days? Nothing.
We were bored. We learned to be bored. And to be quiet. And if we are being honest, sometimes my girls chose to bicker with each other because it was kind of entertaining until we caught on and starting ignoring them, then it lost its appeal. But we all learned the art of, well, just being.
It’s been a couple of years now. And I am starting to figure some things out. Nothing about my kids. Once I figure something out with them, they change and it’s a whole new ball game. But I am learning about myself.
I’ve learned that in order to be a good mom, I don’t have to be the opposite of my mom. I’ve learned that motherhood is not cookie cutter either. There is no recipe or flowchart that spells it all out. What works for me may not work for anyone else. In fact, what works today, may not work tomorrow. But it’s all good if I only worry about today.
I have also learned I like quiet. Being in the middle of a crowd exhausts me. I used to like that pat on the back for a job well done, but it doesn’t seem to bring the same satisfaction it once did. Sitting and watching my kids brings me a level of satisfaction that can’t compare to anything else I have ever done. We read books together. Sometimes the same book out loud, sometimes we cuddle up in our bed and read our own books. I like playing games and doing puzzles as a family. When there is no rush, it’s so fun.
I think of that woman in the paper from time to time. I wonder if she still sleeps only four hours per night. Was that the way motherhood made sense for her? Did it really work for her or was she buying into that ideal just like I did? Maybe she read something about another woman that slept only four hours and it changed her idea of motherhood. Maybe.