Ages ago (I won’t specify how many) in my fifth grade class I was once given an assignment to draw my future self in my ideal career. I set to work with my Crayolas on a large piece of Manila paper and drew a mom. I wasn’t thinking about pay scales or women’s equality at the time. I just knew I wanted to have the most important job in the world. Carefully I printed the word “Mother” at the top of my drawing in purple crayon.
I had read the entire series of Little House on the Prairie books so many times that the pages had begun to separate from their bindings. I knew mothers had a sort of magic that could turn terrible days into wonderful ones. Mothers had innate psychic powers that allowed them to know when you were fibbing and when you were thinking about misdeeds. Next to God, I was certain, were mothers. They could be as frightening as thunderstorms when you deserved it, and as refreshing as a rain soaked meadow when all was forgiven.
Sometimes I would dream about when I would get to take my honored place as a mother. Scores of beautiful, well-behaved children in white pinafores would be gathered around me, faces shining with adoration. I would glide among them, a beneficial queen, kissing boo boos and helping out with homework. When I finally had my first child, she was everything I had expected. Perfect and sweet, she lay like a miniature angel in my arms, and I was the epitome of motherhood. Then reality kicked in.
Reality found me fumbling with diaper pins at three in the morning wearing sweats that needed to be washed and hair that would have turned Medusa into stone. I found out that I wasn’t as patient as I had thought and that white pinafores were a horrible way to dress children. I went from maternal queen to grimy servant in less time than it took me to hit puberty. I threw out my Little House books and dug in for a long battle against perpetual sticky spots, stains and all things stinky.
By the time my third child came along I had learned a few tricks and could pass myself off as fairly capable. I knew which brand of sippy cups really were no-leak when turned upside down, to never put soda in a sippy cup and to avoid purple grape juice like the plague. I found out how many times I could sing Mister Golden Sun while dozing off and that Oreo cookies still taste pretty good after someone else scraped all the middle out.
Nature had to throw me for a loop, though, and gave me a boy the third time. Just when I had gotten it somewhat together, all the rules changed.
Boys, at least mine, are definitely different from girls. Their noses need more wiping, their clothes seem to stain quicker and there are always raspberry noises coming from some part of their body. My third son taught me that not only can any sippy cup leak, but it also makes a pretty good missile on boring car trips. The Power Ranger’s theme eclipsed Mister Golden Sun in my impromptu late night concerts and I gave up on Oreos after cleaning them out of the carpet for the hundredth time.
Sometimes, four children later, I wonder what I was thinking all those years ago when I wrote “Mother” as my career choice. The hours are terrible, the work is unsanitary and some days I’m not even sure who the boss is. I’m still wondering if I have vacation days accrued and if I’m earning overtime and hazardous duty pay. Wait – am I even getting paid for this?
The perfect housekeeping diva I was supposed to become has never materialized for me. As for the scores of children I was destined for, I’m throwing in the towel after four. This has got to be the hardest and most discouraging job I have ever had, and that includes being a dishwasher at a rat and roach infested tavern. But for all that, I wouldn’t trade a minute of my maternal mishaps for any other job.
I’ve grown a lot since those early idealistic days before momhood hit me like Tonka truck. The spills, crumbs and broken knick knacks has taught me that being a mother isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being there. I have been gifted with four energetic, independent and curious souls to try to guide into productive, happy adulthood. I’m less a queen of the house and more of a steward trying to manage all I’ve been blessed with. Indeed, my cup runneth over, but I no longer mind wiping up the mess.
Next to God, I’m still certain, are mothers. Whether male or female, biological moms or adopted, motherhood is the ultimate philanthropic work. Moms heal the sick, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, working miracles in their own way. It’s work only a mother could love, and love is the only way it can work.