The meaning of motherhood


You are a mother, and that means something.

But it’s best, child, not to know all the gory details.  So you hide in the closet and pull at your own hair. Because it hurts and sometimes pain is the only thing that reaches deep down inside. You cry so much your eyes are encased with dark circles.  My god look at you.  You lost ten pounds but not the good kind where you look toned and tanned but the droopy, caved out hollow look. You put on makeup because you want to paint some color back into these worn-out cheeks.  You best take a shower and get up from that fetal position because time waits for no one. Is anyone feeling sorry for you? There is no one here to listen.

Because you are a mother, and that means something.

And there’s dinner, always dinner.  All the time these kids want to eat and there’s dishes and clothes on the floor and they hate asparagus.  Why do you kids need to eat so damn much? When we were little, you’d say, asparagus was a delicacy at Christmas.  Grandmother would pull it out of a can and serve it like gold yet here you are complaining about it when it’s freshly steamed with sea salt.  You have no idea how good you have it.  But they have no frame of reference so they look at you like you are speaking Italian and you let them eat macaroni because whatever.  You will not submit to the Zanax prescription hanging on your refrigerator door or drink too much wine.  You are better than this.  Pull your shit together, woman. If anything, do it for them.  They are becoming your singular focus these days, the reason you get up and keep on drinking coffee.

Because you are a mother, and that means something.

So you walk in and you get that job because you gotta work to pay for that school they are used to and clothes and legal bills and this mortgage that you need to refinance along with the lawn that needs to be mowed every two weeks.  Stupid weeds.  They cost $100 to handle. And when you get the job you cry in your car and ask God if you really have the strength to do all of these things.  He says yes and you just nod and haul your tear-streaked face back home through the traffic and through the recycled NPR stories and through the sinus headache. And then you see your kids and you just can’t wait to smell their hair and touch their faces and put them in your massive and empty bed to cuddle together because if you hold them really tight they won’t disappear.

You are their mother.  That’s what you tell yourself at night as the tears well up.

And it turns out all this pain permeates like clouds in the air so your kids grow sad and you think to yourself I’ve ruined them so you work so hard to create a happy home and do all the amazing things that mothers do to make children happy like ice cream nights and sand castles and building forts out of blankets.  You begin to wear makeup and start to puff your cheeks like a fish and make up stories about women in New Jersey who yell at imaginary taxi drivers. And they start to crack a smile so you breathe a little like Mary Tyler Moore thank you Jesus we’re going to make it after all.  And instead of macaroni you start to cook pork roast because you want to eat whatever the hell you want who cares that it’s only Tuesday you run this home.

You are a mother.  And by God that means something.

You start to move on and find a place again in life.  A wonderful unique place that you didn’t know was even there, that fits like a little glove over your fingers.   And this new place has new people and you end up with a partner who thinks you don’t even need under eye concealer because your eyes are more beautiful than diamonds and your heart is what he’s after and you ride this happy little train with your hair blowing out of the side window.

But you turn around and your kids are not having it because what is this life you are contemplating. There is a NOT APPROVED stamp. Not having any part in it. Sorry, return this life thanks but no thanks.  We want the old one, the one we thought was normal until it wasn’t, where they were the center of the universe and Daddy sometimes came home for dinner after work.  Because in the memory of a child things are always beautiful and sweet, as they should be. But oh my loves, there is no going back.  The old life is over can’t you see? Can’t you see how it’s fading away?

I am your mother, the one who loves you.  Doesn’t that mean something?

So you put a jacket on that strong back of yours and let them pounce upon it, attack it, claw at it.  You turn around and let them.  You watch in horror as they rip up the love notes and sabotage all you’ve build up inside this neat-fitted glove. But it’s a phase and it will pass and soon enough they will see you had to move on, because of your sanity and because of your dignity and because of that Zanax prescription you managed to fight off out of sheer will. Well you may deserve another chance at love but what you actually get is another fight about bedtime and getting out the door in the morning and there’s a spider in the bath and suddenly we’re back in pull-ups again. They cling and cry and cling and cry and you are a ping pong ball just being bounced around between emotions. They physically insert themselves in between you and the new life thinking they can be a human shield warding off the new. Yes I know you hate me but you have to take a shower and wash your hair and brush your teeth.

Because you remain a mother, and that means something.

And there are expectations, for special breakfasts and funny faces and singing random instructions and chess games, proving to them you’re still you, you’ve still got it, you’re not abandoning them, you’re rock of all things in this shifting sand.  Even when they glare and yell and cling and cry.  You just bounce back up. But who are we kidding you’re not God so you drag around sometimes and yell and feel guilty about the yelling. There’s school projects and homework and dinner and trying to get them to school on time and movie nights.  And then you get sick but mom can’t get sick so you push through and still do all the things but sometimes they eat Granola bars instead. And you get better but they don’t notice because they are children, just glad to have you back making French toast because granola bars get old, everyone knows this.

Sometimes you sit on a girlfriend’s couch and drink wine until all the words fall out until you apologize for always talking about your life and never theirs and you are filled with guilt for being so selfish.  They tell you it’s fine and they love you but you never quite believe them. Why or how is that possible after so much of your bitching. Your kid then says they don’t want a therapist because they’re fine and it’s you that’s the problem.

It’s hard being a mother.

You sit down one day and realize that you are a hair’s breath from giving up because your back is getting bruised and bloody from taking it all the time. But you don’t have the luxury of giving up so you stand up and shuffle down the hallway like an old lady with arthritis.  But seriously your muscles hurt. You listen to some jazz because that seems to loosen things up and you drink hot tea with lemon. And when your kid forgets their school project you drive it back up to the school.  They know this about you, because you’re YOU and this is what you are around for.

And at the end of every day you still look at them and your heart melts, the smell of their hair and the way it feels when they curl up to you at night when you read to them.  They are you, from you, born on earth a part of you.  Someday they will look back and think my mom made a decent dish of mashed potatoes and sometimes laughed and gave us gifts on Wednesdays.  And they will have odd memories of all this mixed together in a blender, some good and some sad and some flat-out weird. And they will know you’re always there and never left and sometimes had a droopy eye.  But if they wanted to talk you did and if they wanted to sing you did and if they wanted to take a long walk that was just fine too.

Because you were their mother, and that meant everything.





  1. Absolutely gorgeous, Amanda. And I am so sorry for this season of struggle. Somehow, I know that ‘this, too, shall pass,’ but in the meantime? Just plain sh**ty. No other word for it.

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