Jesse was a week old when I first noticed the school bus picking up kids on our street. I saw the kids clamber aboard. I saw the parents wave and return to their empty homes as free agents. And I thought it’d be just swell if the public schools opened a newborn class by week’s end.
Of course a girl can’t say this. And if this confession does escape her lips, the moms in hearing distance treat it like a fumble, scrambling to claim it and run with it in the “right” direction … usually to Proverbs 31, which has all the right verses for situations like these. They’ll predict that you’ll miss this time one day. They’ll brand your mothering as the most important work. Some will question the motives behind what you said; others will jump straight to judgment.
And rarely will anyone say, “Tell me more.” And listen. And let it lie.
The moment I saw that bus and wondered when it’d be my turn to wave Jesse goodbye for the day wasn’t a “bad” moment or an ungrateful one. It was honest, and the first of many over the years I stayed at home – a choice of necessity, desire, obligation, and an inexplicable sense of “this is where I am to be.” It was my choice, but nothing in my life prepared me for it and nothing in my life could have predicted it. I’m a rolling stone by nature. My favorite days are the ones that don’t look like any other. I like to try new things and get things done. I dislike repetition. I despise micro-managing.
So a life that bound me to home and required prison break maneuvers to buy a gallon of milk? A life that tied me to a 1PM naptime, lest the gremlins emerge? A life where the mundane saturated the to-do list that I never, ever completed but renewed in full every morning? Repetition on repeat. There are still board books I can recite and nursery songs that play eerily in the back my conscience. I can’t stand the smell of Cheerios. It’s been a few years since those little O’s littered my floor, but they’ve been replaced with Lego shards. I tell the boys to clean them up – I tell them lots of things, the same things, all day long – but they’ve stopped listening to me because I sound like a Charlie Brown teacher.
Wah, wah, wah. Wah. Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah. Wah, wah!
Of course I had other moments, too. Tommy’s belly laugh fills the room. Ezra’s humor hits me from nowhere, and he can make me laugh almost as much as his daddy. Jesse is 9, but when I look in his clear blue eyes, he’s still that baby I cuddled on our covered porch when I couldn’t put him on the school bus. Maybe the sound of rain would distract him from crying? It did and lulled him to sleep on my chest. I love these moments. I grab them when they happen. But they don’t erase the many, many, many (many) other moments when I’ve felt like I was the wrong woman for the job.
Of course a girl can’t admit this. Mothering is hard enough, and this suspicion threatened to break me in two in the early years. So I shelved it high where I could ignore it except in the worst of times. And when it’d creep on down, I’d try to push it back up with the mantras. This is the most important work. I’ll miss this one day. These boys are arrows in the quiver … Moms of boys hear this last one, a verse from Psalm 127, a lot. It wasn’t until the birth of Ezra that a friend gave me another:
I Corinthians 15:10 – But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.
So said the Apostle Paul. Probably no one was more surprised than him that he’d ever say such a thing. Certainly when Paul, an Orthodox Jew, was persecuting Christians, he’d never have predicted he’d become one. And the moment God called him, Paul knew his actions deserved death. But by the grace of God the persecutor was saved and not without effect. God didn’t cancel the qualities that led Paul to imprison and murder Christians; God refined them. I am what I am – Paul was a zealot from first to last, but now purposed by God to bring people to life instead of death.
1 Corinthians 15:10 didn’t turn me into Beth, The Apostle of Mothering, but it turned me honest. By the grace of God, I am what I am, and it was time I took that girl off the shelf to face who she was. I started with a question: Was I the wrong girl for the job or was I the right one?
Yes, I was the wrong girl for the job so long as I thought all I was didn’t apply to my mothering.
Yes, I was the right girl for the job so long as I handed over all I was to God.
Mothering wasn’t perfect after that – staying at home was never easy for me – but it was real. Maybe it was a higher calling and maybe I’d ultimately miss the at-home years, but I couldn’t carry the yoke of those expectations and deal with the present that brought me to an end of myself every day. So I called a spade a spade. Hard days were hard, no spin. And I was finite. I chose my battles. Sleep trumped diet, which is why my boys sleep through the night and eat pizza like a food group. I drew lines in the sand about what we would and would not do. No more crafting and no more public, organized activities that required my boys to sit still and keep quiet. But most importantly, I found a community of moms – not like-minded in their modes – but in their honesty to return my tear-stained texts with their own.
There’s nothing like the yellow school bus to reveal the mothering spectrum. This week, for the first time in 9 years, my boys go one way to school while I go another to work. We’ll reconvene at 4PM, but then we’ll repeat this pattern through Friday. I am what I am. I’m thrilled. I have another friend who started crying a few weeks ago about this very same bus, and I don’t think she’ll feel whole again until next summer break. She is what she is; she’s sad. And I’m handing her Kleenex while she’s pouring me champagne.
It takes all kinds, doesn’t it? All kinds of moms. But appreciation of another begins with you appreciating yourself. By the grace of God you are what you are. It’s not without effect. Keep this one close to you today. The talented Emily Perry swagged it up for you to print, frame, and hang on your wall. Then hang it on a friend’s wall while she’s looking the other way. That’d be fun that is fun.