This weekend, in one afternoon, almost in one solid sitting (at the beach, ocean lapping at my feet, not a bad place to be at all) I read all of Kelly Corrigan’s new book Glitter and Glue. I cracked it open despite being mid series in something completely unrelated partly because the wifi was down at the beach and I couldn’t download the next installment of the series (oh technology, how you so love to fail me…) and partly because I was about 90% sure my book club was meeting Monday evening and I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing much reading while at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop over the weekend.
Anyway, that’s why I cracked the book open. It’s most definitely not why I kept reading. Kelly Corrigan has a way with words that just sucks you right in and she just happens to write about topics that are incredibly close to my heart.
To whit: most of Glitter and Glue focuses on a period of time when Kelly was in Australia nannying for a family who had recently lost the mother to cancer.
Now, let us be clear. I do not have cancer nor do I have any plans any time soon to leave my family. BUT on the morning of the Monday I thought our book club was meeting (We’re actually meeting in two Mondays. Silly me.) I’m having my first breast MRI. It’s purely preventative, ordered by a very conservative doctor who has placed me squarely in the “very high risk, needs some kind of exam every 6 months” category because of my family’s history with breast cancer.
That said, even when you know that an exam is going to be routine and preventative, it’s still scary. Reading about children who have just lost their mom to cancer somehow makes it that much more real.
Anyway, that is neither here nor there. I’m sure I’ll find another time to wax poetic about that aspect of the book, like say, when I’m waiting for the results of said exam, but right now I want to focus on a tiny piece Corrigan writes at the end, an observation about her own mother.
“Family life wore her down. The daily mash-up of tiny, stupid tasks, like roasting chickens and finding the other sneaker, crossed with monitoring rivalries and developing emotional circuitry and soothing when possible, all the while allowing some pockets of time to feel your own feelings and pursue your own pursuits — it’s a lot to maneuver. But what compressed her into an old woman, what made her bones heavy and her joints stiff, what used her up, wasn’t the labor. It was the bottomless worrying and wanting and hoping.”
Right? Heavy. I know. But SO TRUE.
My doctor is always asking me how I’m doing and my stock answer is “I’m good, tired, but what else is new, I’m a mom.” to which she rolls her eyes and moves on to the next question.
But it’s true!
Parenting is exhausting. Mothering is exhausting.
You constantly have to
– remember everyone’s schedules, everyone’s needs, everyone’s wants, everyone’s hopes.
– watch everyone’s reactions to everything. Not always so you can protect them, but so you’re ready to react when they come to you for advice, or comfort, or even a push.
– know where everything is. Even when you’re on the other side of the country.
– sleep with one ear open, just in case, so you can hear the coughing, hear the tumbling out of bed, hear the tossing or the turning.
– be willing to be interrupted, even if it means that one simple task is going to take a bazillion times longer than it should have, because even if you’re not willing to be interrupted, you still will be, so you might as well be OK with it.
– keep a running shopping list in your head. You always have to know what’s in the pantry and in the fridge just in case you happen to be near the grocery store with 10 minutes to “spare” and can dash in to grab some essentials.
– be ready to be a coach, mentor, mediator, scheduler, therapist, nurse, doctor, homework tutor, family communicator, stylist, cook, chauffeur, house keeper, personal shopper, and whatever other little task someone thinks they need you to fulfill right then and there.
It is undeniably exhausting.
And yet, I’ve always thought that it was so worth it because it’s one of those “for now” things, one of those things that would end, would eventually leave way for me to go back to being self centered and focused on me. But if Corrigan is right, it doesn’t end when they suddenly learn to remember where they put their shoes away (they do eventually learn that, right?) all the worrying, and the hoping, and the watching, it never ends. And if we’re honest, that’s the stuff that takes the most out of us, right?
I’ve heard so many people liken becoming a mother to suddenly having your heart jump out of your chest and start walking around outside of you. I don’t agree. Becoming a mother means having to make space for an entire other person (or two, or three, or four… or however many you end up having) in your head and in your heart. People with their needs and their fears and their hopes and wants and worries take up an insane amount of space.
No wonder it’s so hard for us to remember who we are, what we feel, what we want sometimes.
A little later in the chapter Corrigan says
“Raising people is not some lark. It’s serious work with serious repercussions. It’s air-traffic control. You can’t step out for a minute; you can barely pause to scratch your ankle.”
That relentless thing , while doing a job that’s so incredibly time and energy consuming, that’s what wears us moms down. Ironic seeing as being a mom also means you have to be the toughest, most resilient person around.
I never had a career in mind when I was little. I just wanted to be a mom. It was my thing. I started babysitting and sniffing newborn baby heads when I was barely 12. I love everything about being a mom. All the tough stuff, all the good stuff, all of it.
But if I have to be brutally honest, I never expected it would be this hard or this exhausting. I doubt anyone ever could.