Spirit and Life
“Look at me!” I announced to my bleary-eyed husband when he emerged from the bedroom one morning soon after our second child was born. Carefully, I shifted tiny Eamon in the crook of one arm as I scrambled eggs, buttered toast and poured juice with my free hand. “I can nurse the baby and cook breakfast at the same time!”
I was such a fool. What I didn't know is that it's not long after a young mother makes her first heroic efforts in the face of parental adversity that family members stop applauding her clever resourcefulness and just plain expect it.
By the time Eamon was 1 year old he could turn cartwheels and scale the curtains, but he still expected that I would pick him up whenever he demanded. This, of course, was most of the time. I soon became proficient at weeding the garden, cleaning the bathroom and changing my clothes without ever putting down the baby in my arms.
Eventually, I wound up at my doctor's office complaining of backache, occasional numbness and sharp pains in my legs. He suggested I might have pinched a nerve and asked if I had been doing any heavy lifting.
Reluctant to diagnose me with an acute case of motherhood, he wrote “sciatica” on my chart and sent me home with a dose of ibuprofen and a photocopied list of back-strengthening exercises.
Today, 7-year-old Eamon walks quite surely on his own two feet, but his younger brothers and sisters have claimed their rightful places in my arms, each in his own turn. On most mornings these days it takes me a full 20 minutes to unload the dishwasher, one glass at a time, with Baby Gabrielle clinging to me like a determined monkey.
I know I am not alone. The other day I noticed a woman in the parking lot of the grocery store. She had her pocket book, two bags of groceries and an infant car seat hanging from one arm and a kicking 3-year-old in the other as she struggled (I think with a third arm) to unlock her minivan. When I offered to help, she observed the flock of children hanging from my various limbs and smiled.
“I'll manage,” she answered.
In our brief exchange I recognized a level of appreciation and mutual understanding mothers can only get from other mothers.
It's sad but true. A valiant mother who slithers on her belly to extract a child's sneaker from the dust-bunny farm deep beneath the living-room couch probably won't emerge to rounds of applause. In fact, her efforts are likely to be greeted with, “I wanted to wear sandals and could you take another look under there for my G.I. Joe's ammunition belt?”
As the ever-present, behind-the-scenes family supporters, mothers are easily taken for granted. While I enjoy receiving flowers and construction-paper crafts as much as the next mom, outside of annual Mother's Day celebrations, I don't crave much official recognition. Rather than bemoan my circumstances, I like to think there is power in my hidden “mom nipotence.”
Mothers are the secret, silent force behind homemade birthday cakes and neatly folded piles of laundry that magically appear in dresser drawers. We kiss boo-boos better, mop up spills and whip up peanut butter and jellies. All with a smile on our face and a baby on our hip.
We might let our husbands and children take some of the credit, but most mothers know we are the ones who quietly shape our family's lives and run the universe. In fact, some might say we do it … single-handedly.
Danielle Bean writes from Center Harbor, New Hampshire.
- May 9-15, 2004