I have asked my mom several times what she was using the ladder for in this picture. She can't remember. Maybe she was changing a light bulb? Maybe there was an attic she was trying to get to? More importantly, why did she look so defeated? Maybe it's because she was a military wife, with a husband deployed to Vietnam. Maybe it's because she was overwhelmed by the life she chose - to be the mother of six children. Maybe she was upset with my dad for snapping this picture instead of doing whatever it is that she's doing on the ladder? Maybe she was sore, or tired, or just plain bored.
I should preface this paragraph by saying how eternally grateful I am to be a mom. I am equally thankful that my husband's employment provides enough, just enough, for me to stay at home with my babies.
There have been many times since I decided to stay at home with our children that I have found myself caught up in an emotional flu of, "Who am I ? What is my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?" It's easy to have thoughts like these when your existence often feels so thankless, and pointless, and monotonous. I mean, really- how significant can one feel when their primary responsibilities in life are to make sure that stains come out of clothes, and meals are prepared, and ABC's and 123's are learned, and hair is clean, and counters are wiped, and teeth are brushed, and manners are minded, and bills are paid, and prayers are said, and animals are fed, and cars are maintained, and doctor's appointments are set, and books are read, and toilets are scrubbed, and floors are mopped, and values are instilled...Only to wake up the next day and repeat it all. I can't think of anything more mind numbing than wiping poopy bottoms and perpetually picking up the same toys, all while yelling, "Stop wiping your boogers on your sister!" and "Please, just let me use the restroom in peace!"
The other night, after the house had gone to sleep, I found myself noiselessly sobbing into the pot that I was scrubbing, and couldn't help but wonder how many times I've eaten off of plates that had been soaked in my own mother's soapy tears. Tears of frustration. Tears of worry. Tears of gratitude and happiness. Tears of loneliness. I'm embarrassed to admit that I had never really considered the sacrifices my mom must have made to raise the six of us. Of course I've recognized her ultimate gift of life, but what about everything else she forfeited? Her time, energy, personal achievement and acknowledgement, nicer clothing and parties, a career of her own. I wonder how often she has contemplated what she could have experienced if she hadn't chosen to march the wearisome treadmill of motherhood?
So I drove over to her house last week and asked her. She admitted to me that there were countless times that she felt bored, and underappreciated. There were many nights that she slept on a tear soaked pillow, and even more days that she didn't want to get out of bed just to do everything she had done the day before. I asked her how she pushed through those feelings and her answer was perfect-
"The love I have for you kids gave me the strength I needed to get up and do it anyway, and once I got over myself and got busy being a mother, I felt happier than any outside job or accomplishment ever did or ever could have made me feel."
When my mom started her journey through motherhood almost half a century ago, I'm sure she questioned how much of a difference she was really making. She has changed an estimate of 18,000 diapers, has driven to and from various schools 78,840 times, prepared 54,750 meals, and has said, "I love you" over 1,000,000 times. And that doesn't include all that she has done for her grandchildren. All of that being said, my mom has also cautioned me to not cling to motherhood as an excuse to hide from my own goals and talents. Motherhood should not be used as a rag to wipe away personal and divinely appointed purpose, creativity, and ambition. When feelings of invisibility begin creeping in, it is only because I have forgotten that caring for my children represents a colossal opportunity to serve in an arena where the stakes have never been so high, with people I couldn't love more.