I have this friend (let’s call her Sadie…) who owns this workout DVD (let’s call it Mom’s Into Fitness Bootcamp Body 2…) where, though it’s repeated in varying forms of nowhere-near-correct grammar, the instructor’s mantra goes something like, “you can be in better shape after having a baby than you ever were before you had a baby.” And this seems to be the motto of the maternal flock, “We are stronger than we ever were before. RAAAAAAAHHHH!” as we charge forward wielding our Mommy Hooks and copies of Baby 411.
I’d like to disagree but I’d prefer to stay off the shit list of the mothers of the world. And perhaps I am stronger in some senses (see comment convo below!) but I certainly do not feel teflon tough or able to withstand whatever the world can throw at me with ease! So instead I’ll offer that since the baby showed up, any armor I could have claimed to have before she arrived has been pretty much dismantled.
A couple days ago a boy only slightly older than Zo threw a puzzle at her head. What’s the kind of wrestling where they slam folding chairs over each other?? It was like that. He was very strong for a toddler… So Z was upset and left with what (for drama’s sake) I’m going to call a gash on her beautiful little forehead. With enough tastings of the community toys she was back to the races, her world spinning once again. The little boy was reprimanded with an extra helping of shame, made to apologize for being excited about puzzles and running, then sent along his merry way at a slower pace and with less props.
I, however, was not so OK. In the moment, I somehow quashed my strong desire for a medevac for Zo and a crisis counselor for the boy, even though in a very real way I felt the worst kind of awful. There was a whole lot of pain and no one to be on the receiving end of my blame. It’s suspension I felt as we waited to find Z’s heartbeat, when there was a call that something might be wrong, and the first time I watched something so innocent at the mercy of something I couldn’t temper or soften. These very still minutes where I stopped breathing out of instinct but maybe also as a way of saying, “if this is life than living is too hard.” Because it turns out that every mother who came before wasn’t lying: you feel the pain inflicted on your child about ten (hundred) times more than he or she does and in a moment, you know the deepest hurt and the greatest truth about what you can and cannot control. I was convinced I had a handle on these kind of feelings because when you say it out loud, what kind of irrational loony toon actually believes she can control every unfortunate variable the world has to offer??
Whatever that force outside of you and your best attempts may be, it is a real day of change when you experience what it’s like to come to that limit line, the one that divides the things you can do from the truth of what lies outside your “I got this” zone.
It is humbling and clarifying. And it’s a relief and a sadness. It breathes out the white knuckled grip energy and takes in the truth that we’re all in this boat, holding our breath and being loved on by a God who is heavily campaigning for this togetherness thing and working through the “broken” bits in our armor. And I have to believe in this, that we’re all here together. Because if I don’t carrying this around as truth I’m reduced to anger and victimization and vengefulness.
So I’m going to hope the mothers reading this were distracted by the Mommy Hook link (which I will very openly endorse) and go for it: I am no “stronger” now than I was before becoming “mom.” I can’t simply deflect painful experiences or “hold it together” over something violent, or tolerate and normalize mean culture. I’m more open, vulnerable, messy, sensitive, and sensing. More painfully aware of where my human limits lie and where my hope has to begin.
If he kept looking at the things that were bigger than himself, he knew he would make it to Berwick.
– The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry