It had been one of those days. Or weeks. Or months, maybe.
Ten years ago, I had a husband who was working extra hours at his second job. I had a cranky, teething baby with an aversion to naps and an impending eye infection. I had a potty training two-year-old who was solely responsible for a befouled area rug, a damp sofa cushion, and three loads of laundry washed, dried, folded, put away . . . and soiled again.
As if all of this weren’t enough, next came a crash from the kitchen, where my four-year-old was attempting to pour herself a glass of Kool-Aid.
A mother simply doesn’t ignore crashes of these kinds, and so I did what a mother must do. I stepped over piles of unfolded laundry and made my way with haste to the scene where I found my wide-eyed, pig-tailed daughter standing on a chair by the counter, blinking back tears and biting her lower lip. The kitchen tiles were spattered with orange Kool-Aid and shards of broken glass.
I sighed. I grabbed a nearby dishtowel, clenched my jaw, and stooped to mop up the sticky mess. Warily, my daughter stepped down from her chair and stood beside me in silence. I knew she wanted me to tell her it was okay, but I could not bring myself to do it.
It wasn’t okay. I was exhausted, and this accident felt like one mess too many.
I avoided her eyes and wiped the floor harder still. I didn’t realize that I had cut my hand until I saw the blood. It trickled from my fingers and dribbled onto the floor, mixing with orange Kool-Aid. Furiously, I wrapped my fist in the towel. As I sat bleeding on the floor, tears of frustration stung at my eyes.
“I can’t do this,” I heard myself mutter.
The words came out of my mouth before I even knew what I was saying, and the fact that I truly felt incapable startled me. Was I capable of being a good mom? Though I loved my children, I had to admit that, at the end of many days, I did feel disillusioned, depleted, and perplexed by my own weakness and unhappiness.
Now that it’s been a decade since I pronounced myself a maternal failure, I like to think I have a little perspective on the matter.
In fact, I recalled my younger, doubting self just last night at dinnertime. When it was time to eat, I called the kids in from playing outside. I assigned them mealtime chores of pouring drinks, helping preschoolers wash their hands, setting the table, and serving plates.
Then, in the midst of familiar chaos, I filled plates with pork chops and gravy, noodles, and green peas. I shouted at the boys to stop wrestling, soothed the toddler when he bumped his head, insisted on milk and not juice poured into plastic cups, and assured the child who was sure he was missing a baseball game that his coach had called and moved it to the following afternoon.
I was struck by the idea that if my younger self had ever served up dinner for ten in this kind of a zoo, she would have needed a week to recover from the trauma.
Yet I do it every day. Not only does it not kill me, but most of the time I thrive on it. The commotion, the noise, the constant doing — it can be exhausting, but it can be invigorating, too.
So what changed? Did my children undergo an overnight transformation that turned them into angelic little darlings who always do as they are told, always remember to flush the toilet, never get sick, never leave dirty laundry on the bathroom floor, and certainly never drop a glass of Kool-Aid on the kitchen tiles?
I am a mother of eight, but it’s not because I am Super Mom. It’s not because I was born with some rare gift that makes me capable of mothering a large family. It’s because this family God has seen fit to give me has shaped and changed me into the person I am today. It’s because God sends challenges and then follows up those challenges with the graces you need to get through them. Always.
I can live this imperfect life with eight imperfect children, not because I am awesome, but because God is.
And that’s what I like to tell young mothers who sometimes send me anxious e-mails or gasp when they bump into me on the sidelines of little league baseball practice.
“Eight kids!” they always marvel, “I could never do that.”
I know just what they mean. I couldn’t do it either. Until, with God’s help, I did.