If motherhood were a Sesame Street episode, it would be brought to you by the letter M.
MESSY: characterized by dirt, disorder, or confusion; lacking neatness or precision
Before children, I had an orderly and precise life. Before children, I kept a tidy home. To give you a sense of the understatement that may be: one day in my early twenties I ran home to my apartment on a lunch break to find strangers in my kitchen. The maintenance guy had opened my apartment with his master key instead of the staged model unit next door and was offering prospective tenants a tour.
Contrast that with the scene before me as I type on the living room couch: a partially constructed helicopter made out of straws, three stuffed animals in varying sizes, a pillow ready for service if someone is overcome by exhaustion part way between the front door and the dining room, two jackets close to but not on the coat rack, a drum without a drumstick, one dirty sock, crumpled jeans, and a cold cup of coffee that was poured approximately thirteen hours ago.
If strangers entered my home right now, they might mistake it for a war zone but they would not mistake it for a model home.
Beyond being messy in the dirt, disorder and confusion sense of the word, motherhood is also messy in the lacking neatness and precision sense of the word. It is this part that I struggle with the most.
Unlike paycheck jobs I’ve had, motherhood doesn’t have right answers, clearly defined objectives, or precisely measured progress. Motherhood is a book of questions with no answer key.
What are the long-term effects of eating a donut instead of oatmeal for breakfast? Is it best to flatter a child’s attempt to make his own bed or show him how to do it properly? Will the effort I take to warm his milk make my son more nurturing in the long run? Will my daughter be less nurturing because I decided that heating milk is a rookie mistake that wastes precious minutes of sleep?
How many colorful words can a child have in his vocabulary before other parents discourage their children from inviting mine for a playdate? Does “heck” qualify as a bad word? How big of an impact does wearing socks on my ears in exchange for a giggle have on my child’s future joyfulness? Will my transparent distaste for all things pink make my daughter undervalue femininity? Is it ever okay to laugh at farts?
Motherhood is messy. There are toys on the floor waiting pointy side up for a shoeless foot, dust on the surfaces not protected by junk mail, and unidentifiable sticky substances on the edges and underside of our dining table. There is also an overall lack of precision as I seek to do best by my children…rarely knowing what qualifies as “best.”
MUNDANE: characterized by the practical and ordinary
When artists paint mothers, the mothers are usually doing something that looks peaceful or nurturing like gazing lovingly into an infant’s eyes while he suckles contentedly. But, most of the moments that fill motherhood are less canvas worthy.
Cooking. Tying shoes. Zipping coats. Retying shoes. Moisturizing stretch marks. Packing lunches. Unpacking lunches. Folding laundry. Washing hands and faces. Rewashing hands and faces. Nagging children to remember to wash their own hands and faces.
I believe love shines through in the practical and ordinary. It’s not so much the mundane acts of motherhood themselves but the Sisyphus impersonation that wears on me. Today I will feed my kids at least three times but that will not result in them waking up full tomorrow morning. I gave my daughter a bath yesterday but now her skin is covered in marker. The fingernails I trimmed last week are long again.
Pushing a rock up a hill can be fun in small doses, but repetition with no measurable progress is tiresome.
MARVELOUS: causing wonder
Despite the messes and the tedious tasks, I still love being a mom. Motherhood has given me more chances to marvel than I ever expected.
I’ve marveled at the purity of love so effortless in the young.
I’ve marveled at the capacity of a small puddle to bring great joy.
I’ve marveled at the ability of children to speak big truths in small sentences.
I’ve marveled at how often I play the role of student when I perceived myself to be the teacher.
For me, the moments of marvel far outweigh the mundane minutes and monumental messes.