Well, it has come to this. Three years, three pregnancies, and one mama’s body screaming for mercy through the varicose veins I currently have to keep on ice as much as possible (and I am sitting on these ice packs, so yeah, you know now where the veins are). It is humbling, downright painful work sometimes, this baby-growing gig. It strips your body of its pride and does its best to be sure that you remember forever that your belly stretched beyond the maximum operating capacity to carry tiny little people inside. But I know that deep in this mess of stretch marks, veins, endless nights of interrupted sleep and a near-constant presence of anxiety about being responsible for the well being of someone else, there lies a beautiful truth about motherhood: sometimes the joy comes easy, and sometimes you have to choose it.
Now about these tiny little people—these amazingly beautiful creations that fit perfectly on our chest the minute they are no longer in our body. They are perfect, aren’t they? And the stroke of a baby’s flawless cheek has the potential to make you forget in a moment the soft spot of stretch marks down your midsection. Oh, and then they nurse, and coo, and figure out their little arms move on command and every single thing they do has us captivated and stricken with a beautiful forgetfulness: What morning sickness? It wasn’t even that bad. Nursing was painful? No, it took a day or so but she caught on right away. I don’t remember having cramps for three weeks after delivery, does that even happen? You see, sometimes the joy comes easy.
Then our babies turn two, and every single thing they do makes us crazy. Did you give the toddler the yellow cup instead of the red one? Might as well have kicked her puppy right in front of her, the reaction is the same. Or you may have casually mentioned that it is time to get ready for bed. Big mistake, because the throw down over getting the pull-up and pajamas on may take upwards of 45 minutes. (You see when its bedtime, you have to make them think it is their idea if you want any hope of making it back to the living room in time for The Voice to begin). Or did you make the mistake of giving one of your little people the iPad so you could have a few minutes to finish something? This never ends well in our home, because mama is always ready to confiscate the device before a certain toddler is ready to give it up. (We may or may not have ended this battle just recently with one of us face down on the tile floor). Sometimes the joy comes easy, and sometimes you have to choose it.
There are moments of motherhood that are impossibly hard and frustrating. Like when we just need two things at the grocery store, but someone has to go potty, and the other one wanted the blue cart, and forty-five minutes later you are home and only grabbed one thing you needed, so you blame your three year-old because in that moment, blaming someone feels justified. Or we could all commiserate over the endless battles of the will, the playdates with a mom you are just getting to know sabotaged by a mildly abusive child, or the fact that our sweet babies seem to think we don’t need to sleep at all—we are over here feeling like a crazy person and they don’t seem to notice and just continue to wake up at 4:30am. These moments sure don’t feel like joy, at least not on the surface.
But they could. If I just chose it, joy could be found even there. I could laugh at myself for forgetting the dishwasher soap and teach my babies that sometimes the long way to do things works just as well as the short, maybe even better. And when we get home from a playdate gone awry, we can talk about apologies and even write a note to our new friend for stealing her baby doll and hiding in the bathroom with it (the toddler did this, not me). I’ve certainly had to say a few apologies in my adult life, so maybe teaching my children to embrace the “I’m so sorry!” moments rather than shaming them to obedience would end up in a victory for us all. Pick a hard moment, mamas, any hard moment, and see it for the long-term impact it is making on both you and your little one, and all of a sudden it is lined with joy and not weaved with frustration. Motherhood certainly is a million hard minutes, but it is also one sweet long journey. And I think the world needs more joy-choosers on this journey. That starts with me.
Now back to the ice packs. In just a minute I am going to stand up from my chair and the temporary relief from the cold will fade within moments. But don’t let me complain, friends, because at the same time the entirety of the middle of my body aches all day long, a little boy is practicing his fist bumps and telling me “hi.” (He probably thinks I’m beautiful, too). And his life is such a gift. He reminds me with every wiggle to choose joy, and I’m not going to let him down. Any day now I will be stroking that flawless cheek and I'll be thinking, “What ice pack?”
We’ve been given the most precious thing on earth with the title of “mama.” The more we wear it proudly, and joyfully, the more we will really feel those things. There is no hard moment too big for at least a small spark of joy soon to follow.
(And that sad, broken soul lying face down on the tile floor? It was actually me. Lost the arm wrestling of the iPad to a toddler, strong little stinkers. Why I was even wrestling with her in the first place? I cannot answer. My finest moment of parenting I’d say).