Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Mother Like Me

There she is, I think.  And she's had another baby. 

I'm standing in the church pew, mouthing the words to a hymn and watching a woman across the aisle from me.   Her family is always sitting in the same place, her five boys lined up next to her like Matryoshka stacking dolls, one right after the other, hair brushed and shoes shining.   Her husband is belting out the words to the hymn; he looks over at her and gives her a loving wink.

Her baby looks to be about two months old.  We haven't been to church in a while, and I hadn't noticed that she was pregnant the last time we were here.   Six kids, I think, feeling horror and awe simultaneously.

She rubs her baby's downy head, slowly rocking him back and forth as she sings.   Something twists in my gut:  jealousy?  admiration?   Somehow, it feels more like rage.

The hymn ends and her family all sits down in the pew, politely folding their hands in their laps. 

I go to sit down and land on Finn, who is sprawled out in the pew, kicking his feet in the air.   He lets out a squeal as I wrestle him upright.

How does she do it, I ponder, pretending to pray and peeking at her out of the corner of my eye.   Her own eyes are closed, a beatific smile on her face.

I'm feeling snarly and scribbly, like a caricature of a middle aged mother, eyes wild, hair pointing out in all directions.   Finn is picking his nose and asking for a donut.

I bet she doesn't close herself in the bathroom and sob while her baby cries in the next room and her boys fight over the Wii, I think uncharitably.  There's probably no Wii in her house, just shelves and shelves of educational toys. 

It's time for communion, and her husband plants a kiss on her cheek before he steps up to the altar.   I mentally add Christian books to their perfect sun-splashed and Wii-free playroom.

Finn won't stop wiggling, whining every five minutes about whether he's being good enough to get a donut after church.   I lean down and hiss a threat into his ear, my fingers roughly clutching his arm.

Her baby begins to fuss, and she gently hush-hushes him as she rocks him back and forth.   One of her sons rummages in her diaper bag and pops a pacifier into the baby's mouth.

Six kids, I think again.   As people shuffle up for communion I kneel in the pew and ponder having three times as many kids as I have now.    Quiet rage rumbles in my belly; what is it about her that is making me so angry, I wonder.   I watch them file back into the pew and all simultaneously kneel down to pray. 

She looks so happy, I think.   How can she be happy with that many kids?    I can't even handle two.

And then I know.  I know where the rage is coming from.   She seems to wallow in motherhood.

I am not someone who wallows in motherhood.    This truth hits me out of the blue, and I feel tears prick at the corners of my eyes.

I fold my hands and close my eyes, pretending to pray to keep tears from streaming down my cheeks.    Images of the past week float through my head:   angrily shushing Finn over and over as I try to participate in a conference call for a project I'm working on.  Plying my children with bowls of ice cream and endless amounts of television and video games so I can finish work, talk on the phone to a friend who needs my help, answer emails.

Finn leans his head onto my shoulder and distractedly strokes my arm.    Momma?  he whispers tentatively, I love you. 

I lean back in the pew and gather him into my lap, inhaling his salty-sweet boy smell.   

I look over at the woman with six kids, and catch her watching me out of the corner of her eye.   I bet she thinks I have a sun-splashed playroom full of educational toys.   I bet she thinks I'm a wallow-er.

And then I catch myself.   I don't know what she's thinking - perhaps she's remembering how she used to have two kids and more of a life?  Perhaps she's picturing me getting into a car and escaping to a real job every day?

I give her a smile, and she smiles back.

I hope she's thinking what I'm thinking, finally:   there is another mother, like me.


  1. i have been where you were in this moment. I hate that place. Judgment I place on myself and attribute to other people. I don't know that I ever came to the realization that you did at the end. I just always felt like I didn't measure up and that mothers like that had it all together. They never let me see anything different. thank you for giving me pause today, to try to give them the benefit of the doubt who look like they have it all together.

  2. First of all – perfect words “snarly and scribbly…”

    And I think every mom closes herself off in the bathroom. Every one. I don’t know being a mom – but I ran a group hope for 5 kids from ages 8-16 – I do know the value of the bathroom – and the lock on the door. :)

    I think she thought - another mother, like me.

    These words were a blessing today. Thank you.

    God be with you and yours

  3. Oh lady, you nailed this.
    You ARE another mother, like me. And you are also a beautiful writer and friend and visionary and creative spirit, like me. Like all of us.

    Perfect post. Thank you.

  4. I hate those moments of Judgy Julie as well, I'm glad they don't happen nearly as often but frankly when I pause and reflect upon them I realize something else about myself just like you have.

  5. I only have one, and am often jealous of those who have more and seem to do it better. We are all the same and different at the same time. You said it beautifully.

  6. Oh this is ME, this is so me. I look at every other mother and think "There's another one, another mother who's doing it better than me." snarling, furious, and ashamed. Oh man, this post killed me. Thank you.

  7. Loved this. Can't say much more than that.

  8. what a great post! thank you for sharing. we have all been there and can all relate.

  9. I'm you Ellie. I am not a wallower. I see these women and I think the same thing but then I realize that as a single mom, I can't AFFORD to wallow, even if I wanted to and then I think, you know what, "never judge your inside against somebody else's outside" b/c you will never come out a winner

  10. Wallow is the perfect word. I've often looked at other mothers; women I don't know and might not ever see again, and wonder at how maternal they look, how happy they look, how put together their houses and children and lives must be. I feel angry sometimes because I wonder, inside my head, "Why does it always have to be hard for me? It's not supposed to be this hard!" How do I know if they find their parenting to be hard? How do I know if they judge me for working or covet my job? There are somethings in life that are easy, and some that are tough, and no matter who you are and how it may break down for you, personally, that never changes. Some things are easy, and some are tough.

  11. I have tears in my eyes, Ellie. I have felt this way so many times before. I'm not a wallower, either. And I'm definitely scribbly. Really big black and purple crayon scribbles that cover the whole paper on some days. And I lock myself in the bathroom. I've even established the rule that the bathroom is the one room in the house where my boys aren't allowed to talk to me while I'm in there. "Mommy's in the bathroom. You're going to have to wait until I come out."
    Thanks for this and for so many other things you do.

  12. I feel like I could maybe be you or the other woman in this post. I do have six kids. And other people tell me that I look so calm, so together at Mass. But I never feel that way! I always feel like I am corralling children and shushing them and basically not paying any attention to anything. And I do look at other women and see them sweetly loving on their children and think they must have some mothering gene that I never got. But then I remind myself that I am doing my best and that is all I can do and all that anyone can do, and for all I know those other women are just as frazzled as I am. This was a great post Ellie!

    p.s. I wear one of my two rings from your shop just about every day--I just love them and love knowing no one else around me will be wearing the same thing. :)

  13. I LOVE this post! Thanks!

  14. Beautifully written!
    We have all been there. Oh, have we all been there.
    We all compare ourselves so unkindly to each other at times.

    A friend of mine told me a story one day about a Mom at church who was crying during the meeting. When her husband asked her what the matter was after the meeting, she told him the story. She had gotten the kids ready for church alone because her husband was at a meeting. They had all fought struggled and wailed. She felt as though she'd lose her mind. Upon arrival she finally got everyone settled on the bench just prior to the meeting starting. Another mother in a different stage with fewer children turned to her and said, "I was not born with your patience that is why I do not have as many children as you do." When the woman turned around this struggling mother began to cry. And she cried some more. Her husband looked to her with a puzzled expression from the stand at the front of the room where he sat carrying out his responsibilities.
    Later as she told her husband the story he wanted to know why her comment had made her cry.
    She felt as inadequate as the woman who had made the comment. The woman who made the comment was complimenting her at her own expense.

    I am one who has 7 children. You could look at me and assume that I wallow in motherhood and enjoy every minute... But, I am here to tell you. I have been found in the dark hiding looking for a moment of peace. I have taken baths with children's fingers under the bathroom door. I have cried overwhelmed tears into my pillow at night more times than I can count seeking comfort.
    We all seek it, we all need it.
    And I think we are all more alike than we realize.

    Thanks for sharing so candidly.


  15. And that's ok. You are a great mom, just the way you are. Moms like you and me will be at our best when our kids are in their twenties and thirties, I think, when the issues aren't about behaving and being quiet but about finding themselves and living useful, happy lives. Until then, we hang on.

  16. Holy wow! What a post. Such honesty, such importance in these words. Perhaps it hits me in the gut because I've felt it too, to be honest I've felt it about some of my closest friends. I think it's hard to have perspective when you are struggling through your own challenges. But what I'm learning is that everyone has them, it's just varying degrees of chaos when it comes to motherhood.

  17. This is a really lovely post, especially because it ends so nicely. I've been in both spots - not that I have 6 kids - but way, way more often I have been in yours.

    Sometimes I see other mothers in that same spot - kids being terror, looking overwhelmed - and I want to say, I know. I have been there too. You're just like me.

    But then I think they'll think I'm crazy. ;)

  18. um, i just don't think that seeing someone in church with their kids is in any way indicative of their real life. I have two sisters with 6 kids. I would never want to be their child. in fact, I stopped talking to one for many years because I felt she was abusive to her kids and she flipped out on me when I told her that. it was her kids' fault that she hit them, at age three, not hers. they were bad. and now they are grown with many many issues and don't talk to her much. and do everything to raise their kids differently than she did. and anyone from the outside would say "oh she loves kids, she does such fun things, they are always laughing and doing crafts and fun things like haunted houses etc..." well yes when everyone is seeing them. but when not, there is screaming and shouting and throwing things and hitting and not speaking and addiction to porn by her husband and running away for days with no contact etc

    never never think you are any less for what the world sees from you. I'd prefer someone who showed me who they really were, at home and out, then not. and I'd rather be that person's kid too.

  19. This is what I love about you Ellie, you say the things that so many of the rest of us are too scared to come out and say!