You gain a new appreciation for hardwood floor when you wash five hundred or so square feet by hand.
It was scrubbing the floors last week, shoving my rag into the corners and pulling out the dirt, that it came to me. There I was, on my knees on the kitchen floor, and it was there on my knees that I saw.
I clean my kitchen every single Friday, barring an emergency or crazy, unexpected interruption. And I still missed it. The red splatters all over the white kickboard. I wash down everything (but the kickboard), every week, and in motivated haste I had wiped my cupboards clean for who knows-how-long with the sticky splatter right under my nose.
There on my knees I saw it, and isn’t that how we usually see most clearly? On our knees?
My baby just turned one and I look at baby pictures and hardly feel like I know who that wee infant was. Already there is so much I don’t remember.
I scrubbed a little harder.
Memories of last year’s hard winter washed over me. I had no idea, back then, how totally lost I was, how robotic I had become. I was surviving, eking out existence trying to be okay and feeling completely swallowed up in the proclaimed “best job in the world”.
I’m ready to talk about it now.
I grew up one of thirteen kids and man, if anyone had childhood experience walking a colicky baby, putting children down for naps, and breaking up sibling squabbles, it was me. At seventeen, my mom would leave me in charge for a day (sometimes longer) and I didn’t just “watch the kids” – I made the meals , made sure the chores all happened and no one murdered each other, kept the house clean, kept the laundry going, and sometimes even graded the school papers.
I felt pretty experienced. “Having a baby is only as hard as you make it.” I’ve said that more than once in my lifetime. To an extent, I think it’s true.
To an extent.
But no amount of childhood experience ever prepared me for the calling of motherhood.
How you might be called to live, day after day after day, week after week after week on five interrupted hours of sleep each twenty-four hours.
How your hormones will do a number on you in ways you never had a category for.
How much you will wade through the mommy guilt of doing things you never said you would do. Like raising your voice. Or eating a whole chocolate bar in five minutes flat.
How you will feel like you are a butt-wiping, boo-boo kissing, time-out dealing, meal-making robotic machine set on non-stop repeat.
This winter, the snow came and the bitter cold took up residence and we all froze.
And some of us froze straight through.
I knew I had and I thought I was going insane. I have longed to be a mother. The pain of my barrenness runs deep and there are scars that vein my heart.
I felt so guilty and when I started talking, the things people said to try to encourage me only made me feel worse.
“You are doing the most important job in the world.” (Are you seriously saying that to me right now?)“The role of a mother is a high calling.” (Thanks for telling me. Again.)
“Just leave the dishes and rock your baby. Babies don’t keep.” (I like rocking my baby, but right now that colossal stack of dishes on my counter feels like the clincher to my sanity, ok?)
I am not making fun of this advice, nor am I trying to be sarcastic.
But really, when a mother is in the trenches of mothering, the last thing she needs to hear is all of the above (and everything else like it). The truth is, I felt like such a loser as a mom. Here I had wanted this so bad and I was sure I was creating horrific devastation with my flailing attempts.
And the worst part? (And this is the part that still almost makes me want to cry.)
I thought that I was alone in it. Because 95% of the moms I know never said that being a mom was this hard. Ok, they said it – “mothering is hard work”, “mothering is the most sacrificial work you will ever do”, blah, blah, blah.
But no one ever told me that there will be days when tears course your cheeks and you plug your ears because the baby won’t stop crying and all you want to do is run far, far away.
No one ever told me how mad you will be sometimes, for reasons you can’t even put your finger on.
No one ever told me how you will feel like you are living in a vacuum of diapers, bottles, feedings, and tears.
No one ever told me how badly you will wish you could grab the keys, spontaneously call up a friend and walk out the door for coffee at the drop of a hat.
When a mother finds herself in the trenches of motherhood with its cobwebs in the corners, grime on the bathtub, spit-up on her clothes, and food stuck between her front teeth , she needs to hear one thing: your story.
Because when a mother tells her story to another mother, when a woman tells her story to another woman (even if she isn’t a mom), that’s when community happens and everybody can stop singing about how we aren’t alone because everyone will start living like they aren’t alone.
This is for all women mother or not, because every struggle a woman faces has been faced by another woman, and the truth is? We are surrounded by a community of saints with stories of everyday grace and glorious redemption – God taking our feeble efforts and our disastrous attempts to do life and become and stay sane and thrive-not-survive – but we will never see until we speak.
I hear it from the moms and I hear it from the wives and I hear it from the career women and I hear it from the women in ministry.
We’re all fighting, asking how we can have joy, and it comes to me on my hands and knees scrubbing the white kickboard in my kitchen. We don’t create joy, we receive joy. We don’t somehow get- to joy, we accept joy. Happiness can be created, but joy transcends the fabrication of humanity.
And this is why NOW is the time to speak. Because somewhere there is a mother in the trenches and a wife struggling to breach a chasm with her husband and a woman overwhelmed with the demands of her work, and none of us need to hear the clichés, but we all need to hear the stories of what He has done. How He has redeemed.
How the Source of true joy is true to His Word and how every darkness is shattered by a morning light, ushering in unspeakable joy.