4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.
Today I had one of those mornings. You know the mornings I mean.
I woke up a little late; he wouldn’t get his clothes on and rolled his eyes when I asked him for the fourth time; she kept losing her vitamin; none of them successfully brushed their teeth post-breakfast; he wouldn’t get his boots on; she screamed the whole time I brushed her hair, and then SHE screamed, too! On the way to the car he purposefully s-l-o-w walked, and no one put their ding dang seat belts on themselves. I’d begun with cajoling and imploring but had quickly accelerated to yelling and gesticulating dramatically, looking and feeling apoplectic.
Then the high school bus drove by which meant I would follow that dumb bus all. the way. to. school. Stop and wait. Stop and wait. Stop and wait. STOP. AND. WAIT!
I was so annoyed, I was breathless, heart pumping with irrational inflated annoyance. (Stop and wait behind the bus.)
Slow breaths I told myself. (Stop and wait behind the bus.) How do I bring this day back around? (Stop and wait behind the bus.) I turned on the radio and heard the song that totally matched my mood. Strong bass line, rhythm guitar, foot-stomping drum, crooning plaintive voice:
Monday morning runs to Sunday night
Screaming slow me down before the new year dies
Well it won’t take much to kill a loving smile
And every mother with a baby crying in her arms, singing
Give me help, give me strength
Give a soul a night of fearless sleep
Give me love, give me peace
Don’t you know these days you pay for everything
Got high hopes
I got high hopes
Got high hopes
That was it. That was it exactly.
My mother’s favorite line, better than shape up or ship out and I’ll give you something to cry about, was give me strength. Whispered, muttered, hissed and spat, GIVE ME STRENGTH was the chorus to every verse in her life. Stolen directly from the Serenity Prayer, which hung at the top of the stairs and which my mother read at my brother’s funeral, give me strength was her desperate plea.
When I flip through old photo albums it is always the photos of my mother slightly younger than I am now that draw me in the most. She is mature enough to feel some confidence; but young enough to still feel lovely. Sure she looks exhausted, but there is a gentleness about her posture, a sense that she is beginning to believe all the good things my father has been telling her for the last 20 years of their relationship. For a moment in her life, she is glorious.
Then there was my father’s failed surgery with him so weak and maybe it’s her fault somehow. And then my mother’s face is pinched, exhausted. She is perpetually rushed, totally frustrated. She needs a pacemaker and medicine for high blood pressure. She’s not sleeping. There’s no time for books or TV or anything that is solely hers. She’s fighting doctors and lawyers, pushing us forward, forward, always forward at what seemed like a breakneck pace towards what, I don’t know.
Yesterday morning my six year-old walked up to me out of the blue and asked, “So was Mom-mom able to spend time with you when you were a little girl or was she always just taking care of Uncle Butchie?” And he asked like he already knew the answer.
I know, I know. I was wondering what he could have possibly overheard me say to have come up with this. But I don’t think he got it from me. I don’t talk about these things in my home like that. I save that really sensitive, private stuff for blogging and ladies nights. Unless my mother talked about it, that came from inside him.
I was floored.
“Well… she didn’t… I didn’t… need so much care as Uncle Butchie and the others, I guess.”
He looked dubious. I continued.
“I always knew Mom-mom loved me.”
Then he looked positively sad.
“She baked me chocolate chip cookies sometimes. She made cocoa when we played outside in the snow. She didn’t play with me or read me books or tuck me in that I remember, but she did what she could.”
I think the chocolate chip cookies satisfied him and he moved on to asking about our days’ plans.
I kept thinking of examples I could have given: she cleaned our ears after Sunday night baths, made sure our clothes were always clean and folded, she did without so that we would always have what we needed. She scheduled the appointments, drove to the therapies, gathered the school supplies. I know it was my mother who budgeted for the gifts, wrapped them, baked the Betty Crocker cake. Why do we forget these things?
Give me strength, I thought. It was inside her all the time as she chased us five children, fought the doctors, managed the well-being of my father, ran a household, tried to find her place in this confusing, overwhelming world, and yelled and hollered and hissed and whispered, give me strength. It is her refrain, our refrain.
That song is not one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. I’m more a Thunder Road/Growing Up/Rise Up kind of Bruce fan. But it reminded me.
Give me strength, give me love, give me peace, I got high hopes. Just be present, breathe deeply, do with whatever you have. Every mother with a baby crying in her arms singing give me help, give me strength.