Daniel says many things these days, but his first word is still his favorite: Mama.
To a toddling 17-month-old, “Mama” means many things:
When he falls and hurts himself, “Mama” means, “Comfort me.”
When he can’t quite reach his ball that has rolled under the couch, “Mama” means, “Help me get what I want.”
When he’s climbing into his high chair, “Mama” means, “I’m hungry, feed me.”
When he’s tired, whiny, and sniffly nosed, “Maaaaaa-maaaaaa” means, “Make all the bad stuff go away now, please.”
It’s flattering. And exhausting. Particularly when there are seven other young people in the household who are also in the habit of calling you “Mama.”
“Heaven better be real good,” a struggling friend once complained to me over the phone as a stomach virus raged through her busy household. “Not just a bunch of people standing around talking to each other. I mean real good.”
I found the sentiment both funny and familiar. Some days, in the midst of sacrifice, all we want is some tangible assurance that our efforts will be rewarded. On days where I feel stretched to the limit, I sometimes find that it helps to stop and force myself to realize at least this much: Today is not forever. Each stage of our motherly lives, however long it might seem, is exactly that — a stage; a step; a passing, fleeting season.
“Why do you like being a mom?” a frustrated young mother e-mailed me recently. “What is so positive about it? Don’t you find the fact that you can’t drink a cup of tea without interruptions and demands depressing?”
Well, yes — I do. Absolutely, sometimes I do.
More often than not, though, I find that the rewards of family life are mixed right in with its crosses. Marriage and family life are a wild jumble of sacrifice and joy, tears and gratitude. With each new baby, the tears and the joys are only multiplied.
If nothing else, my years of mothering have taught me that it’s okay not to be Super Woman. It’s okay to admit that it’s hard. Because sometimes it truly is. And sometimes we know that it will be for many days to come.
But not forever.
Today I am tired of the touching, the tantrums, the griping, the grabbing, the messes, and the mayhem. Today I am tired of meeting other people’s needs first and would prefer instead to focus on my own. But one day these babies will be grown and I will be left to wonder if I loved them well enough when they were small — if I thanked God enough for their sweet innocence, their simple dependence, and their tiny perfect bodies. I will be left to wonder if I fully appreciated the privilege of being their mother — the “Mama” they needed so very much, so very often, so very intensely.
And so I endure the “Mamas.”
With the tumult of a weekend road trip, the challenge of a runny nose, and the trauma of giving up pacifiers forever,almost three-year-old Raphael has been heard to utter my name even more than usual in recent days. Last night, in fact, he needed me so very much that he left his big boy bed and came to mine. He snuggled under the covers, draped his arms across my body, and there at last, fell back to sleep.
In the morning he slept there still, even as I heard baby Daniel wake in his own room and call for me. His tone alternated between sugar-coated sweetness and entitled assertion.
“Mama!” he called over and over again. “Mama!“
“Mama,” Raphael murmured too, beside me in bed.
His eyes were closed. Long, dark lashes lay against his porcelain skin.
“Mama,” he repeated while still he slept.
I am Mama — the sun around which their tiny worlds revolve. Today I want to bask in that.
So I will slow down. I will hold these babies, sing them songs, and love them hard. Because today is not forever. But one day, I might find myself wishing it could be just one day more.