It’s all been said before I suppose; hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of mothers have put pen to paper – or more currently, finger to key – in some desperate, yet wholly inadequate, attempt to summarize motherhood. To grasp for a tangible explanation, searching for sentences among the unending diaper changes and middle-of-the-night feedings, and all those events that transpire between first haircuts and first dates. So we piece together the wonder and frustration, the sacrifice and the reward – the overwhelming juxtaposition that defines motherhood. But I, like those before, must ultimately raise hands in defeat.
It sounds trite to say, but I know it now as truth, that there are no words, nor collection of words, that can completely describe what it is to mother. The act of mothering – a verb – is an action and thus in its truest sense can only be lived first hand. These concepts are admittedly abstract in a world that demands the concrete – action plans and step-by-step guidelines complete with glossy pictures. So we acquiesce and strain for words. We write books and blogs and journal entries. We weave stories about being stretched – sometimes wrenched – beyond comfort zones; we compose love sonnets about dewy skin and dimpled elbows; we describe tales of skinned knees and spelling bees and reading stories under the covers at midnight. And they’re true, every story told. And inspiring and insightful. But they always fall short – because no one conception or articulation can come close to summarizing the experience that, intuitively enough, must be experienced.
As incomplete as our renderings may be, each story of motherhood is so unique and beautiful that they deserve to be told. Honestly. And as I sit here now, watching my own little girl sitting askew under her rudimentary fort, set up haphazardly along the outskirts of our living room, I can’t help but notice she’s already mothering. She sits, concentrating hard, tending faithfully to her menagerie of penguins and monkeys and lambs. And some day, Lord willing, she’ll experience this mothering gig first hand. And I’ll sit down, wrinkled and grey and still as much in love with her as I am now, and grab a steaming cup of tea and listen to her story. Because she’ll have a good one to tell – one all her own.
I guess that brings me to my own story. I always loved that portion of Luke (2:19) that describes how Mary, after the pain and the birth and the exhaustion and the triumph and the glorious announcements by angels and bowed knees of shepherds – after all of that – “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Other translations say she “remembered them often.” I’ve been doing a lot of pondering lately, mulling over my treasures, and absorbing the lessons learned and the distance come. Memories of two years past – two years that have brought the most dramatic change in my life. Motherhood.
The preface to this story was the swollen belly where life was nourished for nine months. This awe-filled, Divinely-orchestrated, mind-boggling span of growth. Dizzying mitosis takes us from two celled blob to an eye-lashed infant with opposable thumbs. Some mothers sit in rapt wonder at the process. I was too busy studying the inside of the nearest toilet. As the prenatal term drew to a close, I felt…unprepared. Not physically or logistically – I was surprisingly calm about the birthing process, and had read the requisite books (mostly to conform to some culturally-implemented ideal that new mothers must consume a certain ration of public opinion and advice before birthing can commence; also a cultural construct…that any of this reading will be worth a nickel once the screaming child is in arms). I washed the onesies and folded them neatly in the drawer, but I felt emotionally stunted. My detachment, neutrality even, was maddening. I enlisted the help of my sister – a veteran mom with three kids and another on the way. I sought encouragement and she delivered. Why, I asked, was there no flurry of excitement. No welling of anxiety. No wild love and unhindered connection to the life inside. “I’ve felt the same way” she assured me, “but trust me, once your little one is placed in your arms, you’ll feel it.”
So I waited. Pregnancy passed like one surreal dream. Suddenly the dream – and the quiet – was punctuated by loud, hearty cries. She was here, and just like that we were parents. And I waited some more. For that feeling. That magical feeling you read about in books and watch on TLC shows. That feeling that deep down I know I was dreaming about all along. Expecting while I was expecting. But it didn’t come. Those first days, weeks, and even months I felt like I was caring for a stranger – nourishing, bathing, changing, rocking what seemed, at best, a distant relative. Flesh-and-blood instincts failed me, and I felt betrayed, and worse, guilty. I felt as though I had been denied that love-at-first sight experience that any good mother would surely feel. I willed myself to feel. To experience uninhibited love. Why is this so hard I lamented, shamefully at first?
I know now. God orchestrated all those emotions and experiences to demonstrate just how complete my love could become. And with less than two weeks to go until the birthday descends on our abode, I can’t find the words to say how much I love her. To the moon and back sounds like a good start (thanks Sam McBratney). Motherhood is all those things you’d expect. All the things the books tell you. Exhausting and terrifying and hilarious and wonderful. But it’s more. More in ways that I can’t describe and could never have imagined. I love her so much I ache. I love her so much I just want to squeeze her little body so close to me that we morph into one. I want to bottle her toddler smell to spritz in years to come when she smells like hairspray and nailpolish. I want my skin to forever imprint the feel of her soft hair under my lips each night as I whisper lullabies. All this still fails to describe my love. It is unspeakable. And ultimately, it gives us a glimpse into the spiritual realm where we grapple to comprehend “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” (Ephesians 3:18)
And so, just like Mary, I treasure and ponder and hold all these things close to my heart.