by Jennifer Polk
When I was young and brash and full of dreams for the future (and in the process of making them come true), had anyone told me I would embrace motherhood joyfully, I would have scoffed. Could someone have enumerated the various episodes of vomit, crying, screaming, temper tantrums, refusals, Legos on the floor, suspect dried items of unknown origin stuck to the wall, load upon load of laundry, fatigue, and the acquisition of enough marks on my body that it resembles a world map, I would have turned up my nose and stormed away.
What is astonishing to me is the incredible joy and humor and depth to be found in such seeming banality. How when you feel the soft slump of a newborn melt into your chest, it is to brush up against the sublime.
Somehow, in these moments, you are finally in touch with a love so intense that you could not have imagined it existed. Somehow, when you hear childish peals of laughter after you blow raspberries on a chubby toddler stomach, your delight surpasses all other forms you have experienced. Somehow when you watch your first child walk out your front door for the last time, you will weep with the loss of that presence, that you will endure a period of grief as you bid adieu to the years of hard work and wish them back to do again, a little better this time, and you will bear witness to sadness as you contemplate your household one person quieter.
The magic of motherhood is found in the unique ability to kiss a boo boo and banish its pain, to comfort a child both from a bully and a broken heart, to cheer on a luckless child from yet another boring sideline for some unending sports event, to exchange a worldly identity which was once so important for the title “Johnny’s mom.”
If you have endured the stuttering, stammering first attempts as a small reader sits tucked next to you, you’re a mother.
If you have watched in dismay as a treasure trove of worms and bugs and rocks gets dumped triumphantly on a clean counter in an excited attempt to show you some precious thing collected that day, you are a mother.
If you sat up late at night, waiting for the slam of the front door that shakes the house, announcing the safe arrival of a new driver, you are a mother.
You might be a mother if, like Susanna Wesley coping with her large litter of children, you feel like dropping to your knees in the middle of the day and throwing an apron over your head in fervent prayer—even if it is only to pray that you are not tempted to hurt one of them. You might be a mother if, like Erma Bombeck, you declared emphatically each child your favorite and gave them each the reasons why. You might be a mother if, like yours and mine, they put up with us and our attitudes and our rebellion and self-made emergencies, and they loved us anyway.
If you have felt your knees go weak and dropped to them only to feel fat toddler arms encircle your neck in a hug and have marveled at the downy soft hair against your cheek, you are a mother.
If you stayed the desire to run after your children and cover their ears and their eyes with what the world would tell them and show them, you are a mother.
If you have cracked open a book, scanned online articles, called respected friends to search for advice on how to handle a troubling issue with a child, you are a mother.
If you have laughed so hard you cried when you really should have been angry at the little one for some transgression committed, you are a mother.
If worry could generate power like an electric plant, mothers could power the world.
If pride in our offspring could fill a space, the universe would have no voids.
If love could be felt as tangibly as our teenagers’ disapproval in our presence at times, we would have world peace.
If you’ve stood sentry at a too-small grave, clutching a handful of flowers, and still grieve for a life and possibilities lost . . . if you have had a lion’s share of time sitting beside a hospital bed in a pediatric unit, wishing that it was you instead of her . . . if you have been jealous for “normal” problems for your child instead of those granted to him . . . you are one of the most special kinds of mothers.
If you’ve known the dual pain and pleasure of watching a child cross a stage in a cap and gown and felt the excitement at the future and the sorrow at the years past, you know keenly what it is to be a mother.
If you’ve laughed at the remembrance of a too-bold proclamation uttered at an uninformed time (“My child would never . . . ”) and have found that a God who has a delightful sense of humor has taught you a lesson or two or three about such egoism, you are now a better mother.
If you’ve apologized after you lost your temper because your child just can’t seem to remember where to put her shoes away, or how to turn the lights off, or what time you told him to be home, you might be a wiser mother.
If you’ve thanked God for the painful mirror that is known as “Motherhood” that teaches so many necessary and useful lessons, you might be a more humble mother.
As we gaze back through our lives and relish memories of times gone by, it is easy to remember the grubby fists bringing handfuls of yellow dandelions for the most precious bouquet ever received. With tears, we recall the ghost of a child’s grin that shines through the spaces in his mouth where baby teeth have gone and adult ones haven’t yet been received. We smile with the remembrance of a phone call issued for the sole purpose of saying “I love you, Mom.” The memories flood, and we savor those veritable monuments to times past. Happy Mother’s Day to every woman who recognizes “Mother” as not just a job description but, rather, an explanation of who we are.
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Jennifer Polk is a writer and a mother of four living in South Carolina.