It would have been better parenting for me to think soccer, debate-club and digging for worms. But I didn’t. The words, “Your’re pregnant!” immediately brought to mind dolls, dresses, and massive fluffy bed skirts – like Clara has in The Nutcracker.
Having a boy never crossed my mind. So when I found out I was indeed having a boy – I was stunned. Stunned. I can’t even throw a ball! What do I do with boys, I wondered. Oh, how naive I was!
Being a Boy Mom Helped Me Define Motherhood
As mothers, we struggle to define motherhood, to distil it down to its essence, and to edit through the less important things to the heart of what matters most. And then we put our heart and soul into those most important things.
I’ve decided that boys, rightly or wrongly, lay claim to the “better stuff…” They get dragons, race cars, and LEGOS! They have grand adventures like Robinson Crusoe, Percy Jackson, and let’s not forget Captain Underpants!
My youngest son is now into HotWheels. I sat and played with him the other night in that dream-like state where you are in awe of all your child is and will grow to be. I was also mesmerized by the racing, looping, and crashing of the cars.
When the crimson car with the flames rammed the tiny blue sports car, I started to say, “Oh, no!” But my son dissolved into laughter and screamed “AWESOME!!!!”
Crashes are the best part. Duh.
Confronting The Blinding Speed of Time
I started to picture these cars as my sons’ lives to date. Both boys are speeding, racing really, toward a finish line that they neither see nor comprehend. Their lives are looping as we all are facing uncharted territories every day. Sometimes they crash. But from the crashes, we learn recovery and resilience.
And there it was. It’s precisely because everything is going by so quickly that each parenting decision I make feels weighty with importance.
As moms, we feel the weight of balancing the “correct” decisions against the ones that are far more fun, more delicious, or just plain easier. Sometimes it helps to just let go and to make decisions with our hearts and not our logic.
A Heartbreaking Story That Helped Me Define Motherhood
I was recently told a story of two young brothers. Once upon a time, the story went, on a brisk Massachusetts morning, their mother handed them each a brown paper sack, neatly folded twice across the top. “Ok boys, let’s go.”
They clenched the crinkly brown paper sacks she gave them, held each other’s hand, and walked several blocks. She gently kissed their soft cheeks and stroked their short hair. “Sit,” she said pointing to the ground. “Wait, until I come back.”
Obediently, they waited.
The morning stretched into afternoon. The longer they waited, the harder and colder the ground felt underneath their small bottoms. As the afternoon unexpectedly stretched into the chill of evening, the brown bags revealed one sandwich and one pair of clean underwear for each boy.
Evening transformed into the dark chill of night and they huddled closer and closer together. Finally, they slept nestled together for warmth. As morning dawned, their wait continued.
Eventually, a lady stopped and asked how long they had been there. They explained that they were waiting for their mother. Later that day, a gentleman stopped. He’d been watching them.
He offered them a place to sleep. Relief washed over them as they settled for self-preservation and abandon obedience. They followed the man to a potato chip factory which he owned. He offered them a small closet to sleep in, some food, and work.
They stayed there for almost a year, vowing to stay together and care for one another. Then, after almost a year, the older brother ran away leaving his younger brother behind in the factory.
Eventually, the younger brother ran away as well and joined the Navy.
That story, it turns out, was true. It took place in or around 1915 and the younger brother was my grandfather.
I’ve wondered about the thoughts and conversations they must have had during their wait of blind obedience. As I understand it, the brothers ultimately reunited. Neither saw their mother again.
Such stories were not unusual at the time. And while he was, in the vernacular of the time, “thrown friendless upon the world,” he didn’t end up on an “orphan train,” which was the “solution” to child abandonment at the time.
He grew up a rough and tumble “funny man,” as my grandmother used to refer to him. And he was – I remember his booming laughter. He loved a joke, or even a prank.
If she didn’t intend to return, I can’t imagine the desperation their mother must have felt. I also wonder what happened to her if she had intended to return. Was this some version of “An Affair to Remember?” Either way, the story rips at my heartstrings.
And either way, it leads me to conclude that there is one supremely important thing that mothers do, one thing that molds how I define motherhood. Showing up.
Mothers Define Motherhood By Showing Up
The most important thing that mothers do is we show up. We show up to play with dinos, Pokemon, and HotWheels even when we are sick. Exhausted, we beckon for cuddles on the couch, and we’ll sit and watch a movie.
You and I – we show up for the tantrums, the whining, and the demands. And we show up for the snuggles, kisses, and triumphs.
I return to my grandfather’s story when I feel the weight of motherhood is crushing me; when I feel that I’m failing these human gifts whose lives have briefly been entrusted to me; and I return to the story even when I feel that I’m nailing motherhood.
My grandfather’s story reminds me that I’m here. I got up today, and boy were there days it was tough. But I showed up. As Brene Brown would say, I’m daring greatly. I’m showing up. I can fix things. I can smile, laugh, and create. I’m committed to showing up for my boys – even on my worst days.
So it matters not whether I’m thinking, HotWheels, dresses, or debate club. It matters that I’m thinking about any of it. I’m thinking about it because I was present. I showed up.
I hope my grandfather’s story reminds you that you, too, are showing up. You are there for your children. And this is the most valuable thing that mothers do!