Being a mother is a humbling experience. Maybe it's because you know it's a miracle if your patience makes it to dinnertime, or maybe it's the memory of your little girl asking, "Mama, why won't your bottom fit on the toilet seat?"
As a mother you get the biggest hugs and the most explosive tantrums. Your toddler follows you around half the day like your own personal Jerry Lewis impersonator, wailing, "Ma-maa! Maa-maaaa!" Your son comes home from school with a special recognition for his "great attitude in class and kindness toward others", and you watch him fume and glare because you won't let him have ice cream before dinner. Your little girl slides in her fake high heels and sprawls crying on the floor, tangled up in her Tinker Bell fairy costume.You comfort her silently, the last thread of your sanity taut. And the answer is no, you won't keep your patience through dinnertime, but as you are only human, that was a given.
No one told me how time consuming child-rearing is. I now understand why every time Matthew and I announced to our respective parents that we were expecting again after that first kid, their tone was always cautionary, like I hope you know what you're getting into. Discipline is especially hard work, or, rather, figuring out how to effectively discipline is hard work, and each child is so different in how they respond. I thought I would intuitively know how to discipline my kids; I didn't. The real funny thing is this: I had to learn how to discipline them and myself. I had to learn not to throw tantrums in response to theirs. I had to learn to sing at them to keep myself from blowing a top and yelling. And I had to learn not to blow excessive steam over those constant germ-seeking missiles they call children's hands. I had to become a better person, in short. And it's still a struggle. I'm a ways better than decent but a bit short of good.
And I missed the Angel of Healing Mommy course every mother is supposed to take. I have no natural instinct for caring for the sick. I often forget to take their temperature when I mean to or to give them their medicine on time or at all. I know when something is scarily awry with their health, but as I said, I am not the mother with the instinct for healing boo-boos and administering to the sick. I am the emotional support - the long, soothing hug, the gentle stroking of the hair. With the many fevers we've been through in this house, I've learned how to bring a child's temp down with a lukewarm spongebath, but when it comes to most practical care, I am sadly deficient. This is evident to my children, I know. When once taking care of a cut on Berto's hand, I apologized for not being as adept as Papa, and Berto looked at me with the solemn expression of a disillusioned but forgiving devotee and said, "You try, Mama. You try."
I do indeed try. And I pray. It does help to know that some day when I'm weeping as the last one takes off for college that I'll have the memories of these days to cheer me - that is, after I bury all remnants of mommy guilt in the backyard and edit out all the frustration. All I'll have left is the recollection of all the funny or cute things they said and did. Like the time Berto, a preschooler, sat on the couch and suddenly had an epiphany. "Look, Mama, Papa!" he called to Matthew and me. "This is my longest finger!" And then we turned to see him giving us "the finger", an innocent smile lighting up his features.
I'll also fondly remember how often Analisa ambushed me as I tried to clean up spilled juice on the floor, scrambling on top of my shoulders from any obliging piece of furniture. I'll reminisce about how my groans as forty pounds of weight assailed my back only brought out her giggles as she chanted, "Piggyback ride! Piggyback ride!" with maniacal glee.
I'll recall how every time my youngest daughter, Ella Belle, was upset with someone, she balled her fists at her side, scrunched her eyes into quarter moon-shaped slits, and growled through her teeth, "Stop it you...You Naughty Pants!"
Or how every time his siblings bent over Danny Sam, our littlest, and put a baby toy in their mouth just so they could spit it out on his belly, our little guy giggled crazily and almost involuntarily until I rescued him, so he could catch some oxygen.
I know I'll miss the times when I danced like a monkey with my children to Elvis, Beatles or Monkeys tunes, being completely unladylike and unattrative in my form, while they jumped around me trying to imitate my crazy kicks and swingabouts. I'll remember the never-ending games of red light/green light in the backyard where I ran handicapped with a baby in my arms and always lost. And all the games of Santa May I, Cupid May I, Easter Bunny May I, and how Ella, a little too young still, always half skipped/half danced several steps ahead of what she asked for while the rest of us laughed.
While I was growing up, my mom reminded me of a promise I made when I was a gangly five-year-old rocking in her arms. "Mama, I'm never going to grow up, " I told her. My older siblings had no urge to make such a promise, but I was content. "Remember, you said you were always going to be my baby," my mother would say every now and then after that when I displayed obvious signs of not being able to keep that vow. I understand now the wistfulness that was in her voice. My little Ana says she wants to live with me forever in our three bedroom house. I know better. If she does stay, though, I hope she'll pitch in for some renovations.
When I look forward to looking back, I realize that it's all good, and, no, I don't want them to grow up too quickly. The day will come very soon when Berto knows what it means to hold up his middle finger at someone; Ana is already a little too gangly for piggyback rides, and Ella will not always come to me and beg for a match of Memory or call everyone who displeases her a "naughty pants". Danny Sam? Well, if Danny Sam can learn to fall asleep without me bouncing him in my arms while he continuously yanks at my hair, at least before he hits the teenage years, I'll count that a victory. For now, I'll take the poopy diapers, tantrums, sibling wars, and the nights when I just wish, for the love of heaven, that they'd fall asleep. Because soon enough I'll get what I'm wishing for, and then I'll be a little sad.