Mothering is my most tender spot.
A few years ago, I went with my friend Courtney to get her tattoo. She had drawn an impressive sketch to ink under her arm, along her side. Her artist informed us that the particular spot she had chosen for her tattoo was one of the most painful places to be inked. When I asked why, he explained how the skin there is delicate. Unused to exposure, close to the surface, with ribs hovering just below skin to protect the most vital inside pieces.
I lift my arm, and imagine my own tender skin exposed and vulnerable.
Motherhood is that place for me. The thing that leaves me feeling naked before crowds, without the relief of waking sweating and twisted in my sheets finding it all just a dream. Motherhood makes me lose myself every single day, in the mundane and profound acts of packing lunches and folding small stained t-shirts. Of scrubbing grubby cheeks before kissing them into bed. I lose myself and find myself again in undulating tides.
It’s the thing I desire most desperately to get right, and fear most deeply I am getting all wrong.
I watch Jayci’s small blond head bob through the door to her big school, fearing the worst for her and hoping the best. She reads under her covers at night, devouring chapter books while she brushes her teeth and sits on the side of the playground. Deja vu strikes and I shudder, wondering how in the world to help her avoid hurt. How to help her make friends when I’m still not quite sure how to accomplish that myself. We butt heads constantly lately, fighting over every-little-thing from cleaning her room to her tone of voice. Most nights, I lay beside Adam exhausted from the battles, what are we supposed to do about her? He shrugs and I shrug and pray and lay uncomfortably on my side, trying to fall asleep before one of the children decides to wake me back up.
I startle from sleep, rushing to Caden’s room as the clock blinks 2:13am. He screams and I find him sitting up, staring at the wall. He cries for mommy and daddy, oblivious to our nearness despite whispered prayers and pleas. His pupils dilate wide, betraying eyes that don’t see. I feel helpless against his kicking and flailing, reminded of his days in the hospital as his heart beats its wild rhythm against my chest. Adam, usually the patient one, snaps at Caden; and I growl fierce as a momma bear. I am reminded that inching past 3am might not be the best time for parenting discussions. I listen to Caden cry alligator tears into his pillow as both our eyes grow heavy through my mumbled prayers and whispered lullaby.
I remember when we brought Jayci home from the hospital (how was that almost seven years ago?!). I climbed gingerly and slowly into the back seat next to my impossibly tiny daughter, and mostly wondered how they just let us take her home. Weren’t they forgetting to vet us more carefully? Or at least send us with a comprehensive manual? The feeling only swelled larger when we brought Caden home, with his feeding tube and medication list and strict schedule/calorie amounts required. We clutched him close in gratitude and fear, feeling woefully unprepared for the task ahead of us. Some variation of that emotion clings to motherhood for me most of the time: huh, I wonder what I’m supposed to do when they do that?
And I suppose that’s exactly what makes mothering so vulnerable and tender. Swelling my heart alternately with love and fear, joy and uncertainty. Because I can’t rely on myself, depending solely on my own abilities to “figure it out.” Trust me, every time I try that it doesn’t end well. Left to my own devices, I mostly just want them to leave me alone and stop needing things from me. At least long enough to use the bathroom in peace without little fingers reaching under the door. Side note: it’s beyond me how Adam manages to spend upwards of 30 minutes in the bathroom without disturbance while my children seem to have some sort of immediate need radar for when mommy needs to tinkle. But when I remember and depend on the Holy Spirit, the helper Jesus promised, I realize that motherhood is still hard and vulnerable, but at least I’m not doing it alone.
I think of all the kids I’ve had the joy of mothering in some capacity over the years. The girls in my small group, who terrified me with their questions and the fact they were looking to me for answers. The babies I nannied, the kids in our Sunday School class. I remember walking hand-in-hand with little ones through Herndon Homes, and now watching them birth their own babies, or visiting them behind bars. The kids I’ve watched walk away, heart shattered and aching. And I think of all those who have mothered me, who have made me grilled cheese and prayed over me. Who led my own high school small group, or sent me care packages, or offered Adam and I advice over coffee.
And I wonder and pray for the ones who will stand in the gap for us. The people who will mother my children through rough patches, or mentor them and tutor them and watch them play soccer. I hope they will have their own small group leaders, their own wiser friends, people they can talk to when mommy and daddy just don’t quite have the answers they seek. Because what I’m learning most clearly, perhaps, is that I cannot do this motherhood stuff alone. I need friends, and family, and neighbors, and church, and a whole lot of community. Because if raising a new baby really does take a village, I can only imagine the entire city we need to take care of a three-nager, or a six year old who suddenly decides she doesn't want to listen, or the angsty teenager making impossibly bad choices.
So even when I’m certain I’m getting it all wrong (most days), and when creeping fears flutter in my chest that I am not up for the task, even then I will rest in Jesus. I will rest in his provision, in His design for me and of me. I will rest in the fact that we are in this together, us mommas. And that together we are far stronger than apart, that we can mother each other and stand in the gap both in prayer and in actual practical ways, for the moms who need carrying for a little bit. And truthfully, I'm far more comfortable as the one doing the carrying, but sometimes I suppose I need to be carried too.