The Mark of a Mother

“Please get your feet off the wall, they leave a mark.”

“Don’t lean back in your chair, you could get hurt.”

“Please push in the piano bench when you are done.”

I hear echoes of my mother’s voice every time I say these things. It’s a strange thing, motherhood. To be raised by a woman, to become one yourself, and then to train up others. It can still surprise me that I’m a mom, even seven and a half years into this whole gig. Sometimes I’m still taken aback when I see my reflection on the way into the grocery store followed by my three, small people. How did I become a mother? I feel like I want my own mommy most of the time.

I have had the privilege of learning how to be a mom alongside an armful of mommy friends. I don’t know a single one of them who thinks they’re doing a great job at mothering, and yet I’m constantly amazed at how all of us are finding our own way as mothers. Perhaps the biggest marker of motherhood is selflessness. This week when I walked my kids’ home from school, I passed my friend carrying a child-sized umbrella while her daughter sauntered behind her, hoisting an adult-sized one. I laughed at the sight and she just sighed, smiled, and explained, “She said she was getting wet.” It struck me what a powerful thing that small selfless moment was, and how many of them occur on a daily basis for moms.

I’m reminded how often my own mother saved the last cookie for me or let me chew the last stick of gum. When I was still a relatively new mom I was visiting back home and we all had to pile into a car for a long drive. There was an incredibly uncomfortable, hard seat in the middle that had a belt buckle digging into my fleshy post-pregnancy side. I remember complaining about how uncomfortable it was and my mom offered to take my place without hesitation. Moms never stop mothering. And they never stop wanting the best for their children.

Mom’s don’t stop wanting good things for themselves. They don’t all of sudden stop minding uncomfortable seats, stop wanting to stay dry in a rainstorm, or stop desiring the last serving at dinner. But they love their children. And love often means going without so the person you love can go with. But we aren’t perfect in our selflessness, obviously. We see the thousands of times a day where we put ourselves first and most of us feel guilty every single time. Even if we die to self and put our kids first 9 times out 10, that one time is enough to derail our confidence and make us feel like failures. That’s why we can all tend to feel like we fall short as moms.

Thankfully, we aren’t supposed to be perfect. And the measure of our success as mothers isn’t in the quantity of our selflessness. It’s in the little moments that we offer up ourselves, press on through our weaknesses and keep choosing to give of ourselves for our children. I’m pretty sure the mark of a good mother is one who thinks she isn’t that great at it. Because she’s still sensitive to the areas she needs to grow and wants to keep doing better, being better for the people entrusted to her care.

I’ve tried all week to finish this piece. For some reason, it just doesn’t feel like it’s coming together like I want it to. I think it’s because I feel too close to it. I’m very much in the thick of mothering and in the midst of feeling like a failure at the end of most days. And yet I want to say something about it. To let my friends know I think they are doing a fantastic job. To tell my mom I’m astounded by how she mothered me when she was my age. To let moms everywhere know they are not alone and we are all trying to figure this out together. And to maybe in those moments of my own failure to take a deep breath, offer myself some grace, and trust that my love for my kids will outweigh my weaknesses and moments of selfishness.


Glass Beads

I used to be better at being a perfectionist. Somehow over the years I’ve started taking shortcuts here and there. Shhh. Don’t tell my mom. It’s funny how sometimes in an effort to save yourself a step you end up adding way more. Like today. Me and the jar of decorative glass. 

The lilac trees blossomed early this year. And oh, how I love lilacs. It’s become part of my spring ritual to clip the light purple bunches and to arrange them on my table for as long as they last. But they don’t last long. Three days usually. Then they start to shrivel and wilt, so I replace them with the next bunch. I’ve created a bi-weekly habit of washing out the vase, which is really a small hurricane for candles. Then comes the clipping, arranging, filling with water, and admiring my creation. But lilacs are floppy and need support to look their best. Enter the glass beads. 

I fill up my jar, past the halfway point, with these clear beads that I’ve had since I was first married. Most likely something I picked up at Michaels, trying to spruce up our first one bedroom apartment. Being a first-time homemaker filled me with such glee in those day. At times the beads have been covered in candle wax, after a candle or two has been left burning for too long. They’ve even been used at the bottom of a fish bowl to our ill-fated Beta fish. But mostly they’ve served as a base to countless bouquets of flowers. Flowers for birthdays. For anniversaries. For no reason at all. 

When you go through a divorce, after sharing a life with someone for ten years you have to make decisions about every little thing. You can’t scrap everything you own and start over, atleast I couldn’t, not on my budget. So you prioritize. You get rid of the jewelry and the photo albums and the framed vows. Then you slowly replace the gifts of wallets and watches. You rotate out clothes that you wore to special occasions as new clothes fill your closet. But things like these glass beads? They are the sort of thing that are too meaningless to throw away, even though they’ve been present for thousands of meaningful days. 

Today my lilacs were wilted, time to start the cycle of replacing them with new ones. The vase water had taken on a strong slimy odor, so I knew it needed a good scrubbing. The smart thing would’ve been to get a sieve and pour out the beads. But no, I wanted a short cut. Just fill the base with water and a squirt of my favorite dish soap. Swirl the beads around in my hands and then slightly spread my fingers, holding it against the top of the vase, allowing the water to drain. But the rim is wider than my hands and I spread my fingers too far, the beads slipping through and pinging against the stainless steel sink. 

A smarter gal than I would stop. But not me. Determined to skip that step, I persist in my endeavor. The soap bubbles continue to rise to the surface with more water added. I pour out the water again and again, more beads sneaking through my fingers each time. The dishwasher had been full of clean dishes, so this morning’s milky breakfast bowls are now sharing the sink with an ever growing pile of glass beads. 

I don’t know why life has to be so hard. I don’t know why we deliberately make decisions that make it harder. I don’t know why we persist in those decisions, why we refuse to change course for our own good. I don’t know why cutting corners and cleaning those glass beads nearly brought me to tears today. Or why it felt healing to watch them slide through my hands. Years of memories being scrubbed clean, and falling away. 

I’m not as good at being a perfectionist as I used to be. Life is messier than I ever imagined. But sometimes on the round about route, the one that is complicated and filled with missteps, you find yourself.