As I sit down to write this, I’m trying to think of the most honest thing I can say about motherhood. Or maybe not even thee most honest thing—but, frankly, one honest thing. Let me say it this way: I’m trying very hard to be honest with my words. To write honestly about this experience. But I find myself drawing a blank—and not the kind that comes from having nothing to say, but the kind that comes from having too much to say. On any given day, I am drinking out of an emotional firehose—I’m thrilled one moment, exhausted the next, obsessive one moment, defeated the next, enamored one moment, bored the next. (I was *this* close to replacing the word “bored” here with something that didn’t bring me as much fear of judgment—but, fuck it, I’m bored sometimes, folks. There’s only so much block-stacking, breastmilk-labeling, and banana-mashing one can do without, indeed, finding herself a bit bored.)
Toys, books, blankets, and bibs spilling out from the beautiful bins I attempt to house them in. A to-do list that expands and morphs at an incredible rate. A freezer packed to the brim with bags whose labels bear my clumsy, middle-of-the-night handwriting from days that feel like a lifetime ago (“no dairy,” “yes dairy,” “hind-milk heavy,” “sick baby,” “sick mom”). Onesies he never wears stuffed in drawers I never open. An untamable, unpredictable, unrecognizable love flowing through me in a way that makes me feel like the best kind of vessel.
And on the days when things go right—and when I allow myself to believe they just might have gone that way because of my prepping and planning, intuiting and interpreting—a brand of abounding pride akin to what I imagine a lioness who’s caught an antelope to feed her pride feels. Or maybe there’s no pride in her catch at all—only duty. I can’t be sure—but I like to think it’s a mix of pride and duty, of wanting to and having to, of courage and capability—the recipe moms, all across the animal kingdom, have memorized.
You may love it, hate it, or fear it. (I probably dabble in all three on any given day.) But to survive it, you accept it.
Motherhood has taught me all of the lessons a 10-year yoga practice attempted to teach me, but simply could not. You know the ones: acceptance and control, judgment and self worth, effort and ease. (The difference being I had the choice of ignoring these lessons—or at least only temporarily considering them—on my mat. The lessons motherhood carries with her and drops on your doorstep, on the other hand, are impossible to ignore and nothing if not permanent). Namely, I’m learning this (cliché-because-it’s true) gem: I am in control of nothing other than my reactions.
I cannot control what mood he wakes up in.
How long he’ll nurse for.
If, without warning, he’ll sink his two adorable teeth into my nipple as he does.
If he’ll nap silently through a client call or wake up crying.
If he’ll need to stay attached to my hip all day.
If he’ll smile and coo for eager visitors—or act aloof (why do I feel the need to apologize when the latter is true?).
If he’ll roll around entertaining himself or need me deeply as I push up against a tight deadline.
I accept and, on the days I really have my shit together and perhaps even snuck in some yoga, I remember the bit about my reactions being the only thing in my control—I respond deliberately, thoughtfully, consciously. And day by day, lesson by lesson, frustration by frustration, delight by delight—my fuse is longer, my patience more whole, my love wilder, my life far more fulfilled.
My husband sent me an incredible column by Amil Niazi a few weeks back: What We Never Say About Parenting. The point—which I’ll poorly paraphrase—was this: we parents tend to only share with others the hard parts of parenting (think sleepless nights, sickness, and meltdowns). We don’t share the good stuff because it’s too difficult to translate, too specific to us. It’s so much easier to rattle off a dramatic, “He woke up at 4am for no reason today” with an eye-roll than it is to explain how insanely cute the chewy babble sound my son makes when he’s teething is, how the wind in his face makes him giggle, or how he squeezes me tight when the garage door opens because the sound scares him—how I could live in those moments forever.
In a world where overworking and overextending are the norm, the language we speak to each other, whether parents or not, is one of stress—we connect by way of commiseration. When a grocery-store clerk asks how we’re doing, it’s much easier, more acceptable, more comfortable to say, “I’m counting down the days until Friday,” than it is to say “I had the most beautiful morning sitting in silence and staring at my rose bushes.”
I try to remember, though, that the struggle narrative we exchange with others like currency doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of this thing called life, called motherhood. The struggle is there, always. It’s a guarantee—and quite a boring one at that. I know there will be days where he struggles to nap well. Days where I wake up in crazy pain with clogged ducts. Days where I cancel an appointment I’ve already rescheduled twice. Days where my back aches and my hips scream and my wrists throb something fierce.
Here is what I don’t know, though:
I don’t know what will catch his eye and send him into the sweetest, purest trance on our morning walk tomorrow. I don’t know what game I’ll invent or jingle I’ll come up with this week to make him giggle. I don’t know what beautiful moment will catch me off guard and bring tears to my eyes. I don’t know when the next wave of the most immense gratitude for this life will wash over me. I don’t know what countless hilarities, absurdities, sweet nothings, stolen glances, milestones, and monumental moments await me.
And so I come back to the goal I mentioned in the beginning (if you’ve made it this far, bravo): to write honestly about motherhood. My honesty is this: it is both expected struggle and unpredictable bliss. You walk through a door each morning knowing, without a doubt, hardship awaits you on the other side. But you also know there is magic there—major magic. You don’t know what form it will take, but you are certain it will be intoxicating in its beauty. You are certain it will make the struggle worth it in the now. And you are certain when you string these moments together decades from now, you will remember it as pockets of struggle amidst a long storyline of magic—rather than the other way around.