After a long, hot shower, I stood at the end of the bed and fell backward, exhausted, onto the white down comforter. I was 24 years old, had a full time job, and was on my next to last day of watching the two girls I’d nannied for during college while their parents escaped for a long weekend.
Three years earlier, I’d added my name to the Available Babysitters list filed in a binder on the shelf of my nursing school admissions counselor's office. Within a week, a mother of two (a 15-month-old and three-month-old) called.
“I just need you a few hours every week. An extra set of hands ... ” she said.
“Sure. No problem,” I replied. I started babysitting when I was 13. I knew kids were wonderful. I also knew they were a challenge, especially if you had two that young and that close together. I was happy to get paid to do something I knew how to do.
On my first visit, the mother gave me a solid run-down of their family, a tour of the house, and what she expected of me. She ushered me into a cordoned off area of her small living room where I started to play peek-a-boo with the toddler while the baby laid on a blanket next to me. Then she walked up the stairs. A few minutes later, I heard the water running.
After reading endless books and playing a different game, the mom came down stairs with wet hair on top of her head and a laundry basket under her arm. I stayed on the floor with her girls, and she proceeded down into her basement. Again, water rushed through the pipes of the house.
In the coming weeks, the mother gave me more and more responsibilities with less and less supervision. Soon, she’d leave for the post office, then a longer trip to the grocery store, and eventually, an extended lunch with a friend.
My daytime help turned into intentional nights out. At first, the parents ate quick dinners, ones where they didn’t feel the need to tip 35 percent since no sugar packets or cheerios or macaroni had to be swept up off the floor. Then came movie nights. Followed by sessions of dance lessons when they’d unlock the door to the house laughing, show me their fresh box-step, solidly in each other’s arms and looking in each other’s eyes, with the corners of their mouths turned up as if saying Look what we’re doing! We’re together! We’re having fun!
Over the next 18 months, I’d drive to their house multiple times a week. Their girls became my girls. I knew how they woke up, went to sleep, ate, played. I knew their likes and dislikes. Personalities and preferences. I knew how to manage laundry and playtime and two kids crying at the same time for different reasons. I knew when they wanted snacks or when a walk around the block was just the thing. I knew how to manage bath time and bedtime; and how it felt to clean up a messy kitchen after a rushed dinner while those angelic pajama’d sweeties slept upstairs.
But I always drove home.
And then, I graduated and got a job. And they moved away.
We kept in touch, though. So when the parents called and asked if I’d be up for watching the girls over a long weekend, I jumped at the chance.
The first two days, we played around the house—puppet shows and playdoh, coloring pages and crafts. On our third day I wanted to go on an adventure. Let’s go to the beach!
For me, Beach Day started the night before—with hunting and gathering a comprehensive arsenal of snacks and diapers and extra sets of clothes; towels and toys, sunscreen, sandwiches, sliced fruit. I ran and re-ran the schedule in play-by-play fashion. I triple checked the directions.
Our beach day was a success. I’d planned for everything. My long shower and fall into bed were well-deserved.
I thought I knew what it was like to be a mom long before I was one.
I thought I knew, because I had years of practice. I’d listened and watched and copied (and eventually memorized) instructions that were written down on pieces of paper left on kitchen counters, ones with the number for poison control and the parents’ phones scratched on the top in purple crayon. I did what moms did.
But when I became a mom, it was like I knew nothing.
There is more than one kind of knowing, though. In fact, the Greek have multiple words for it.
Before I became a mother, I oida motherhood. Oida is to know something because you’ve seen it, you understand, appreciate it.
But when I became a mom, I ginosko motherhood: I knew it through personal experience.
Eight years after that beach day, it was me blowing kisses and peppering my in-laws with reminders, with my husband practically pushing me out the door as I waved to my two little kids one last time before our long anticipated time away. It was me who left emergency numbers and what I’d guess was 20 pages of notes on the counter (detailed daily schedule for each kid, printed maps for how to get to the park and the library and the hospital—should the need arise, medical release forms, suggested meals, snack options; I probably wrote out a list of friends to call for backup, how to turn on the TV, and maybe even how to run the dishwasher).
I ginosko motherhood, because I was a mother.
Everything I once knew (oida) about motherhood, I started to know (ginosko).
Before having my own children, I knew breastfeeding could be hard. While in nursing school I shadowed a lactation consultant and yes, I was the doe-eyed girl in white scrubs hunched over a new mom’s shoulder, encouraging her to sandwich her breast with her hand curved into a soft-but-firm “C” shape, and wait until that baby opened her mouth before gently-but-swiftly bringing the two together and Voila! Just like the book! Latch! Oida.
But I didn’t know what it felt like to try to get a screaming baby to attach to my own sore breast, unaccustomed to letting-down, while fumbling with cover-ups and pillows, with a body still sore from birth and sleepless nights all while crying myself. Tears over what? I don’t know. Over everything. Everything. I didn’t know I could cry about everything and nothing and all of it and none of it: every happiness and every sadness all while being half naked and holding a six-pound human dependent on your body for its survival. Ginosko.
I knew having multiple kids adds complexity to a family. Oida.
But I didn’t know what it would be like to cry on the toilet, shedding tears over ruining my daughter’s life, after my water broke near the end of my second pregnancy. And I didn’t know how readily the pain of longing and love and connection would bloom after being discharged from the hospital (to come home to the daughter I felt so sorry for just days before) while the son I just gave birth to stayed in the NICU. Ginosko.
I knew children could be hard on a marriage.
But I didn’t know how willingly I’d give the whole of my capacity for attention and care and gentleness to my kids. How easily I’d leave nothing for my husband, even if I swore I wanted to. I didn’t know the effort we’d have to make to simply speak kind words and intentionally not be our worst selves for each other.
I knew mothers got mad.
But I didn’t know I’d sometimes feel like I’m losing my mind with everything last thing I carry and hold together while, it seems, the very people I’m doing if for are actively trying to shred my sanity.
The other day I texted a friend, “I am the worst mother. I yelled like a crazy woman this morning.” [Emojis included: frown face, embarrassed face, prayer hands.]
“You’re not alone,” was the reply.
“No, really. It was ugly. This is a confession.”
“I know. But I mean it. You’re not alone. That was me yesterday. Call me later if you want to talk.”
In her understanding, I felt better. I felt known. She didn’t have to be in my kitchen to hear what I’d said to my children, or know how I felt about it afterwards—but she understood.
And guess what? In Greek, there's a word for this kind of knowing, too.
Epiginosko is a word for experiential knowing through relationship. It’s what we moms do naturally when we share our hearts, our lives, our stories with each other.
We epiginosko on park benches, at daycare drop offs, in the gym, via Instagram. We epiginosko each other with nods of solidarity in the grocery store when we pass each other with buckled in toddlers who are just barely holding on. We epiginosko with virtual high-fives given after preschool drop off, before racing to fit eight hours worth of life into three hours of actual time.
We know each other by exchanging smiles in the back rows of churches, offering an extra set of hands at the airport security line, and through quick texts: I'm here if you need me.
We may know (oida) it’s good to have friends or a community for support before having kids.
But it’s after we become moms when we really know (ginosko) just how live-giving, life-saving, and life-altering the support of other moms is. And it’s when we know and are known (in the epiginosko way) that motherhood shifts and deepens and doesn’t feel quite so lonely.
So when I fall into bed these nights, exhausted after these endless days, I know I’m not alone. And somehow—that makes all the difference.