Motherhood is a vocation. Whether it's planned, or not, whether you feel ready, or not, motherhood is a calling to put the needs of an innocent new life above your own.
And there are so many types of mothers out there: mothers who work outside the home, mothers who work part-time or from home, mothers who mother many children, mothers of one, adoptive mothers, and full-time mothers. And with all of our different lifestyles, one thing remains the same, and that is that we are all being stretched while we are mothering. Stretched thin.
What I hear from most women is that no matter how much they wanted children, nothing can prepare a woman for the stretching that happens in motherhood. One day you are pregnant and swollen, and the next day you are holding a brand new person who depends on you for survival, and that leaves very little time for transition. We catapult into sleep deprivation, feeding (and if breastfeeding -- that is another story for another day), adjusting to staying at home most of the day for a few weeks of maternity leave or indefinitely, and all of the many changes that occur when a family multiplies.
We have all had those weeks where it's one thing after another of bad, worse, and I-wanna-run-and hide stuff with our kids, whether they're teething, growing, learning to master new skills, potty training, and the list goes on. Our patience is tried, our emotions are a swinging pendulum, and we just can't take it anymore, but they are clingy and cranky. It can be discouraging, depressing, and totally shake us. Sometimes I wondered, "why is this so much harder than I thought it would be?" as I drank cup after cup of coffee to get through the day.
And that is the stretching. Have you ever watched someone make a mozzarella from scratch? I used to go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx with my Grandma, and we'd make our way to Mike's Deli to buy cold cuts, olives, and fresh mozzarella. Usually Big Mike (Sr) was behind the counter, stretching the mozzarella with his hands from curds into smooth white doughy cheese. With the stretching, the mozzarella transforms, and like a mozzarella we transform too. Forgive the anecdote, but I can't help but compare the two.
We start out as new moms, and after immersing ourselves in the work of raising children, we immediately have a new respect for every mother that walks the earth, including our own, because we finally get it. We get why they lost their tempers, or had irrational fears, or spent a whole day in pajamas once in a while. And as we are being stretched to our limits, we soon find our limits expanding. We change. We can love more than we ever thought possible. We can be more patient. We live compassionately, for them.
The work of a mother is the least-celebrated, hardest 24 hour a day profession that is not measured in money, but in the people we are raising who will one day be adults. And though we all have days or weeks (or months) that seem like endless bouts of stretching, we do know that we are better for it because we survived the experience.
But like all things, we stretch and stretch, and then something wonderful happens. Maybe that behavioral leap subsides, or maybe we get to experience a few quiet weeks of peace after all the commotion. The quiet moments of peace and fulfillment are like giant erasers, removing the sting of the stretching. And then it all happens again.
What I've realized is that I felt owned by stages of teething, or owned by tantrum after tantrum, and then one day they stopped and I can't remember when or why they did. I know how hard those days and weeks were, but then I look at my beautiful child and see how much she needs me right now. And one day she won't need me, or at least won't act like it, and I will pine for the days we slept in after a long night together. Mothering is embracing the stretching, allowing it, loving ourselves and our families through it, and letting go of the shoulds.