For a long time, I’ve had this “perfect” version of a mother in my head. She looks a lot like my mother-in-law, who once-upon-a-time raised four kids seemingly effortlessly. This is a woman who can pay an endless amount of attention to children. She converses with my two-year old about the itsy-bitsy spider and plays in a Dora tent for hours.
On a personality test, my mother-in-law comes out as a “helper,” who loves to care for others and understands that true meaning in life comes from relationships.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love relationships. But I find it exhausting to spend my entire day listening to my two-year old whine about juice in the backseat of the car. I renounce walking in circles after ten minutes of pacifying my two-month old.
I taught first grade for one year and quickly realized I wasn’t meant to be a teacher. I was impatient with my students from the start. I groaned when I had to tie the 15th shoe. I ate my lunch upstairs to avoid the drama of fine motor skills as kids requested that I stick another straw in their Capri Sun juice packet. So desperate was I to leave a classroom of 32 wild kids that it was a relief to see the two lines on the pregnancy test. After all, how hard could it be to care for one baby?
In the first few months post-partum, I vacillated between feeling completely overwhelmed and bored, to having deep feelings of love and compassion. Every single emotion that came with motherhood seemed way off the standard deviation–I began to think that I might have some sort of psychiatric disorder. After all, how could it be normal to feel guilt, shame, sadness, happiness, elation, and exhaustion all in the span of an hour? How was it that I desperately wanted to be working or doing something else, yet at the same time felt like I could never leave this baby alone?
My husband was looking for a job recently and almost took a position in sales. If you asked my husband why he ended up refusing this job he would probably tell you that it’s because he doesn’t feel as comfortable in sales–its just not his “thing.” For a long time, I have felt this way about being a mom. I have secretly thought: “What if this is just not my thing?”
I’m still here. Still changing dirty diapers and navigating life with two kids. As time has passed, I have realized there are a lot of parts about being a mom that are just “not my thing.” For example, playing “Princess in the Castle” with my daughter in her room is not really my thing. Being super-prepared with juice and snacks is not my thing. Going to the park is not really my thing.
But here’s the best part. I have discovered that there are beautiful parts of parenting, super-cool moments where I shine as a mom.
I am a literary nerd. I love finding new books with great authors and illustrators. My favorite time of the day is when my daughter Zoe’s eyelids are getting heavier, and her little shoulders look like she is carrying the weight of the world, and I grab her chubby baby body to my chest and then we crawl together into the bottom of her bunk bed. Here, in this little cave, we pull up the covers and get cozy and we read. We read The Great Mouse Cookie, and we read Snuggle Puppy and I’ll Love You Forever (which always makes me cry). And in the midst of all this, I inevitably feel a familiar feeling wash over me where it dawns on me that I am doing something right. I feel like I belong here in this bed.
Finding your niche can be an arduous process, but it changes your perception of motherhood. Consider the course of obtaining a gold medal in the Olympics. Each athlete excels at a particular sport but all under the realm of athleticism.
Motherhood medals come in all shapes and sizes. There is a medal for the mother who purees all her baby food and uses natural cleaning products. One for the perfectionist mom who is prepared for every single emergency and has organized her purse into sections. There is even a medal for the laid-back mom who lets her “kids be kids.”
My mother won a gold medal in art. She was incredibly creative and artistic. As children, we were forever creating. We made a giant cardboard boat out of boxes. We painted and colored and painted some more. We made paper-mache and pinatas and food-colored cakes. My mother was, literally, my world. She shaped an arena where art was tied into emotion and play. She gave us space to find our own talents and abilities within a microcosm where imagination and invention walked hand-in-hand.
Not only did she orient my life toward the arts, but she provided a window to who I would become as a creative writer today. I am forever grateful for that.