My son Carter is studying lantern fish. He tells me they are bioluminescent -- "that means they glow from within, Mom." He calls me Mom instead of Mommy, or Mama, now that he is a litle man. He has blue eyes the color of a river, sandy blonde hair, and a gap-toothed smile. He is so beautiful it takes my breath away. At least once a day, I try to make a point of seeing him as he is. If I blink I can imagine the young man he will become. If I close my eyes I can remember the baby in my arms. It's topsy-turvy, this business of being Mom.
Much has been said about how difficult motherhood can be, including in Judith Warner's book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. I just finished reading it, and I'm here to make a guilty confession: I'm mother to three sons, Carter and twins, and despite all the reasons I could be anxious about motherhood, I'm not. Simply put, I love my life.
How did this happen? Sometimes I'm surprised myself. During my 20s, I never stayed in the same place more than two years. Colleges, jobs, apartments, rental homes ... all had an expiration date. I was a rolling stone gathering no moss. But motherhood changed me, and for that I am extremely grateful. Now I try to live my days according to a few basic tenets. They're simple things we should already know, but I attribute my general sense of well-being to them. I think of these little instructions as the Tao of Elmo:
You can't do it alone and you shouldn't try. Community is essential. Find moms who are willing to talk openly and honestly about their children and their lives. You may have to kiss a few frogs along the way, but when you do find your tribe, the payoff is worth the effort. My two best friends are a homeschooling, right-wing mother of six and a liberal, Ivy League-educated mother of two. Our differences might seem glaring, but we mother in similar ways: We teach our kids to play nice and never to hit or bite.
Spend less time worrying, more time doing. There are no guarantees in life, especially in parenthood. I learned this the hard way, when my twins spent five weeks in the NICU after they were born. I vowed that when I got them home, I'd never complain about the little stuff again. In short, be like your children. Each day starts new and fresh for them, full of possibility. Try your hardest each day, then move on.
Take a walk outside. Sit in the sun or listen to the rain hitting your umbrella. Give yourself treats occasionally, like flowers or chocolate, a new haircut, a nice perfume, or a spa weekend if you can swing it. Lower your expectations -- of yourself and everyone around you -- then make time to celebrate the things you do accomplish.
Parenthood is the best work of our lives -- approach it as such. Be mentally strong, physically fit, and show up emotionally each day. If you value yourself and the work you do as a mom, others will too. Become involved in issues that affect parents and children and make sure your voice is heard. Making a difference starts with you.
Work if it makes you happy; stay home if that's your thing -- but don't make apologies for your decisions. Happy moms make happy families. If you're home and don't want to be, or vice versa, make a change. Be in charge of your emotional well-being.
I believe you can have everything, just not all at once. There are seasons in our lives, and mothering children is one of them. Who would want it any other way?
I'm reminded of a quote I first heard in an eastern religions class: "The entire world exists in your own backyard." At the time the notion puzzled me. There was nothing in my backyard but a garbage can and a broken hibachi. But playing with my children on this bright spring day, one toddler falling after another in a loosely defined game of tag, my older boy studying a blade of grass, I get it. I am seeing my children. They are glowing. I am seeing myself, glowing. I am seeing all of us, living, loving, laughing in the mid-morning sunlight, and I get it, finally. Everything I need to know about life is right in front of me. All I have to do is pay attention.
Jennifer Graf Groneberg lives and writes on a hilltop at the end of a twisty gravel road in the mountains of northwest Montana with her three sons and husband, who is also a writer. They are all bioluminescent.
Copyright © 2005.