The important lesson I’m learning about motherhood

I could always write about motherhood. I could write tomes about motherhood and any of the millions upon billions of moments tucked within the highs and lows of raising small humans. Every time I open my eyes, and it doesn’t matter much whether I’ve been sleeping or merely blinking, I am different than I was when my lashes rested on my cheeks.

This role, this life I’ve chosen, devoted to the little girl who is me and the little boy who is his daddy, is the fastest, most detail-oriented sculptor. It smooths here and pinches there, and every day it turns me into something that I wasn’t before and something that I won’t be for very long, as I spin on this eternal journey toward the thing I want to be. I believe that, in motherhood, we are all always growing. And if we give these moments a little space and focus we will grow into the person we’ve always wanted to become just by the act of raising our babies to be the people we always dreamed they’d be.

So yes, I could write about motherhood and that moment this morning when I was pouring my coffee, the steam rising up and mixing with the breath of the boy on my hips to wrap me in warmth. Or I could write about the one that happened later, on the drive to school, as the winter sun rose into the sky and bounced off the snow on the ground while tiny voices hummed along to “Let It Go” in the back seat. I could write for years about the moments I have lived since my daughter made me a mommy just over five years ago. I already have enough material to keep my fingers busy and this life hasn’t stopped giving me moments to translate from my heart to the page.

I could always write about motherhood.

But when I sat down to write this piece, motherhood seemed too easy. It seemed too expected (and I love nothing more than to do what you would not expect). It also seemed too safe. For four years now, I’ve been building a bridge from my previous life to that shore over there where the writing hides, and I’ve built it with planks bearing words like a swollen belly and long days and fleeting moments. I’ve built it with images of babies resting on my chest and tiny fingers wrapped around mine. I’ve built it with pixie dust and unicorns and a thousand specks of glitter. I have practiced my writing craft by converting the indescribable moments of motherhood into phrases that you can grab on to and hug close when the moon is high overhead, and you know you’ll be awake until it dips back to the horizon. And I’m not knocking any of that. We, those of us who have chosen this life, and especially those of us building this bridge, need those phrases and words and images. To write about motherhood is to grow through it.

But I lived for 29 years before I became a mother. Surely there were moments in my life before. Surely there were thousands that came before. I must have grown and changed and experienced life before their lives added a little extra sparkle and a little extra weight. I don’t want to lose the woman I was before as I dive deeper into the mother that I am now.

So I sat down to make a list. And I filled a few lines. There was that night in New Zealand, staring at the ceiling and greeting the person I could be after a night of adventure. There was the morning in Ghana, watching a small village get smaller and smaller as my van drove away and realizing, in an instant, that doing good in the world is not all that I thought it was. There was the span of days over which writing became not just a thing I did in otherwise free time, but a thing to which I was called. There are moments I can recall that have nothing to do with motherhood but that still made an impact, sculpted, even if just a tiny bit.

But I’ve changed shapes a million times since then and its not just the time that stretches between now and then that separates me from those pre-motherhood changes, though that time is expansive and constantly growing. It’s the size of the change. It’s that the “me” of those pre-baby days lives in a wholly different world.

There’s a reason we write prolifically about motherhood. There’s a reason we devote ourselves to it and the careful art of documenting and describing it. There’s a reason why I sit here, 34 years old, and a strong majority of my most transformative moments are clustered in the past five years. It’s that motherhood is, by its nature, a transformational moment. When it comes right down to it that’s really all it is, right? A moment. The motherhood I’m in, anyway, where every second is so full of mothering that it can’t help but leave a mark. These seconds are nothing but a moment in the larger scheme of the 34 years behind me and all the others I have yet to live, but each one has more impact than any of the others combined. This motherhood is a moment that is long to live through but so short in hindsight, and I know that when I look back to this space, a completely different person on the other side, my heart will soften to a place far more tender than it ever has when thinking of any of the other pre-mama moments that made their slight shifts and imprints.

When I sat down to write this piece, I believed that motherhood was not enough. It was not enough to write about every time, to be the main focus of every story I tell, the object of every written reflection. I believed that I am more than just a mama and that to make that evident, I needed written, published proof.

But now, here I am, at the end, and, once again, I’ve written about motherhood. Once again, it has changed me even as I ran to escape its touch. Once again, motherhood has shown me who I am and reminded me that I am not just a mama, never just a mama. I am a woman growing and changing in every living moment. I just happen to be doing it alongside two small people who have the same nose as me.


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