6:17 AM. Seven years ago, right at this time, I was on the way to the hospital in the last stage of labor. The fibroid tumor alongside my chubby baby’s head was giving us problems with her position, so even though the baby wasn’t stressed, we headed to our back-up plan. (Insert my opinion here, because I know this: Home birth is amazing, but never try it without doctor backup and make sure you are close to a hospital.) It’s 20 minutes of my life I don’t ever want to do again, and I remember moaning about just wanting to die while my husband was driving. “Well, honey, that’s not an option,” he told me cheerfully. He had just finished the first semester of nursing school and as always, he was an amazingly supportive birth coach, keeping me focused on the moment. So, dying was out. I would just have to do this. Seventeen minutes after we were escorted to OB by an orderly who talked too much in the elevator, Addy came flying into the world. It was so sudden I laughed my relief out loud in the delivery room.
A few hours later, my parents brought the rest of the children to see their baby sister, proof for the chatty orderly that no, this was not our first baby. My oldest son was 8, the next one was 6, and the girls were 3 and 2. I look back at these photos and think that they were all babies.
My burning question was simple. How? How am I going to do this? When we bring this baby home from the hospital and my husband goes back to work/school, how will I cope? I was reminded of these feelings recently when a friend with 5 small children asked me what one thing I would say to a mom in the daily, hourly, minutely role of raising small children. “I am living the life I used to fear,” she told me, and I knew exactly what she meant. The answer that came was simple.
You do this one day at a time, faithfully doing the next thing. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for successful mothering, because our lives are all different, but this is a formula that will grow and change you in your own heart toward your children. It will give you backbone and strength when you are so tired you are cross-eyed in a tunnel lined with milky sippy cups and poo-stained onesies. Are you ready for this?
This is the time when it is okay to die. This is the time to slay the whiny, “BUT what about ME?” and just pour it out for others. You know you won’t actually die, but selfishness and grandiose ambitions and pride of accomplishments will. Just chuck them out and allow yourself to settle into a very small, hardly noticed place of service. Nobody says, “Wow, did you see how neatly she wiped up those squished peas under the highchair? Isn’t she accomplished? And just look at how amazing she was with that baby wipe.” And yet in that moment with a rag on the floor you gave your life for another. You’ll get it back someday and the more freely you give it up now, the happier you will be.
Don’t be afraid of the narrowness. I think of it like water flowing through a hose. You aren’t a river, satiating the thirst of an entire county. You are responsible for that hopping, squirming row right there in front of you clamoring for a drink. Keep them hydrated. Just concentrate on that. This is not the season to crusade for world peace. Your contribution to the world is nurtured children and it is a huge contribution even while it kills you repeatedly, day after day.
I can’t say you will always feel your “high and holy calling.” It is intense and hot and sticky and there are all these clingers-on every time you do venture away from home territory. You will fight the urge to run to a place where nobody calls you “Mama.” There will be times you feel like you simply cannot get off the couch to deal with the children who are scrapping madly in their bedroom.
But you will be all in, freely investing your talents in this hidden place. You will be lavishly working to make life happy, saying “yes” when you dread the mess your consent will create, reading the same storybook 3 times a day, listening to endless rewinds of an alleged dream, thinking constantly about what to feed the people. You will be teaching your children how to say sorry, how to wash their hands and their dishes and their clothes, how to make life sweeter for others. Your books will languish, unread, and your prayers will be profound phrases like, “Help me, Jesus.”
You will repent and apologize when you fall, and then you will get up for another round, knowing that Grace is holding you and you are in a good place. You will find Joy in this spot, like looking through a cardboard tube at your life and when you block out all the peripherals you zero in on the loveliest vignettes in the middle of the chaos.
It is simple, but I didn’t say it is easy. “I’ll do hard things for love of you, Jesus,” I promised in my youth. Hear me. It was impossible for this impatient, goal-oriented, ambitious girl to settle into that narrow life and flourish. I wasn’t a nurturer by nature. I wanted to do big things, broad strokes that would change the world. Something had to give and it was me. I just didn’t know how hard it would be to live small, contained, in one little place, with just these same little people every day. I needed to learn the glory of small things, a little leaven, a grain of mustard seed. The dying was excruciating and it continues on. How can one person have so much selfishness?
I am currently in a season where I am able to zoom out, pick up dreams to pursue, walk in a wider place. My baby just cooked her own breakfast while I hovered anxiously in case the eggs spilled onto the stove. Wow, that happened fast, I think.
If you feel stifled, smothered by neediness, afraid to let go of who you are, take it from me. Things become richer when you condense them, even souls.