Happy Mother’s Day to all of you amazing women who make me both a better mother and a better person! For all of the emptying you do, may your hearts be full today! ~ love, Lara
After the aerobic chase of cajoling my teenager into a 15-second photoshoot to memorialize the first day of his senior year in high school, I comfortably settled myself back into my morning routine. Only my husband kept interrupting my coffee euphoria by lamenting how sad it was that our son had reached this milestone that would leave us empty nesters in a year’s time.
“It’s so sad. Aren’t you sad?” he repeatedly asked. Half-jokingly I responded, “I’m always sad. So today is just another day for me.”
And, while I don’t really think of myself as a sad person, I have long recognized the loss that comes with motherhood. It’s been a long journey in grief that began sometime around the loss of my belly button during pregnancy. I’ve been grieving the first of countless lasts since when only mere days after their birth the umbilical cord, the lifeline that once tied their lives to mine, unceremoniously crusted over and lost itself under the rumple of sheets. From there, the lasts continued without any fanfare of formal goodbyes. There was the last time I nursed; the last time I read them a good night story; the last time they slept in bed with me; the last time I packed a lunch; the last time I volunteered in the classroom; the last time I patiently waited while bored in the toy aisle; the last story time at the library; the last time I carried them on my hip; the last time I spent weeks planning a themed birthday party.
I could write volumes on the lasts of motherhood and yes, it would make me sad. But because I’ve been told that it’s important to get out of bed in the morning, I try not to look back. Still, I recognize the inherent imbalance in parenting. Sometimes it feels eerily akin to a bad middle school crush where you live, breathe, and surely would die for that cute boy across the room. Only he meets your unmatched devotion with a vague and indifferent acknowledgment of your existence that is somehow associated with being fed.
It hardly seems romantic, much less fair. But motherhood was never meant to be a two-way street. It’s inherently a giving away of self. It’s sacrifice and sleepless nights. Motherhood is exhaustive and exhausting. It’s frustrating and formidable. It’s all the scary and confusing words you can muster and then a few more that exist in some unknown-to-you language experienced as stomach spasms, migraines, mental breakdowns, or garden-variety heart attacks.
When your newborn spikes a fever, your toddler crawls out of their bed for the umpteenth time, your middle schooler struggles with making friends, your teenager does something epically stupid that’s immortalized on social media, or your adult child experiences a profound loss that you can’t fix, you realize just how much words fail to capture the spectrum of patience, unconditional love, and black coffee which motherhood demands. Being a mama is not a frilly experience of poetic endearment. I’ve never seen a greeting card that describes the supernatural strength, courage, endurance, and overwhelmingly raw ache that it encompasses.
And yet, being a mother has allowed me to experience the deepest most joyful love I’ve known. The emptying of self we experience in motherhood fills us with something far greater. Mothers embrace sacrifice with an uncanny enthusiasm to unravel the best parts of ourselves so that our children can be wrapped in the silky threads of our love. Becoming a mother fundamentally and unalterably changes our identities. Motherhood isn’t about putting our children’s needs before our own, it’s that inexplicable way that their needs supersede our own. No matter how fulfilling or engaging my other life pursuits are, none of them can erode the core component of my maternal identity. Foremost, I am a mother. I have a primal need to nurture, protect, and ensure my children’s future. Whatever I must lose to accomplish that, I lose with joy. This isn’t an either/or experience of good or bad; easy or hard; happy or sad. It’s ands that go on forever linking the coexistence of love’s joy with the sacrifice and loss it entails.
I may get less of them as they grow older, but they remain the biggest part of me. So, whether it’s their first day of school or their last, I’m used to being sad. But the paradox of motherhood, of love itself, is that in the end, this sadness, emptying, and sacrifice ends up being one more thing to be happy about. So, yeah today is just another day for me.