There was a time when I was absolutely, positively certain that I would be a great mother. I knew I would raise my children with nothing but love and tenderness. I would be patient and wise. Efficient and flexible. My children would worship me. My friends would envy me. And strangers would emulate me.
I would read to my children every night without ever skipping a word.
I would sing carols while decorating the Christmas tree, letting each and every child hang their favorite ornament. And I would smile sweetly when my favorite ornament lost its life to a two year-old’s toes.
I would take all three children to the beach and let them cover me with sand.
I would be firm about fibbing and carefree about chaos.
I would be proud of their creativity when they chose hideous outfits to wear on picture day.
I would never raise my voice. Never show weakness. And never, ever curse.
I would teach them to appreciate the little things in life. And to work hard for the big things.
I would drive the old minivan in circles, day after day after day and never, ever, ever threaten to buy a two-seater sports car.
I would take all my children to the grocery store where they would fill the cart with apples and granola, passing right by the cookies and ice cream.
I would be adept at stopping my toddler mid-tantrum with nothing more than a funny face and a big bear hug.
I would raise Eagle Scouts and good Christians.
I would have family dinner every single night. And I’d never have to beg, bribe or force a single one of them to eat a vegetable.
Of course, it’s easy to imagine your life as a perfect mother before you become one.
On Sunday I went to a baby shower for my dear friend Theresa’s daughter-in-law. Sonia was beautiful and gracious, despite dueling babies (yes, plural) banging around in her bulging belly. She sat on her throne and beamed as she was gifted dozens and dozens of foreign objects – all designed to make her a better mother. There were Baby Bjorns and baby bottles, joggers and jumpers, car seats and Bumbo seats, pacifiers and pillows, swinging swings and rocking loungers, cute little Rangers outfits and teeny tiny onesies, nursing pads and breast milk bags, books, books and more books, diapers, diapers and more diapers.
Sitting amongst friends and strangers, dozens of women from all walks of life oohed and aahed, recalling their own shower experiences from 10 or 30 or 50 years ago. Some shared product opinions, some recounted birthing stories, some tossed out parenting advice and some alternately grimaced and envied the sheer volume of stuff that may one day overtake their lives.
It was a lovely affair, as Sonia’s mother is not one to skimp when it comes to her favorite daughter. We had delicious food, free-flowing wine and lots of sweets to remind us of just how sweet it is to be carrying a baby. Or two.
We played Baby Bingo and Guess How Big the Belly Is. We unscrambled pairs of words and wrote our wishes for the babies.
And through it all, I couldn’t help but think, “Sonia’s going to be a great mother.”
Because Sonia is organized and resourceful and practical. She’s kind and generous and understanding. Plus, she’s got a great resume. As a teacher, she’s professionally trained in loving and caring for children.
But, at the same time, I thought, “Even Sonia can’t escape what’s to come.”
Because it’s happened to every mother in the whole wide world since the beginning of time.
Yes, one day, even Sonia will snap when she should have breathed. Yell when she should have hugged. Judge when she should have listened. One day, Sonia will break her own rules. She will let her kids watch one more movie, let them stay up one more hour, let them eat one more cookie. She will say the wrong things, make the wrong choices and have too high of expectations. One day, she will let her kids go to bed without a bath, go to school without their homework and go to the prom with a questionable character.
As her children grow, she will doubt her decisions and question her motives. She’ll yearn for solitude and solace and the freedom she once knew. She’ll feel inadequate and ungrateful and guilty. And wonder if she’ll ever, ever make it through.
But then, one day, at her daughter or daughter-in-law’s baby shower, a long, long time from now, she’ll see that same expectant glow and smile. Just like her own mother did on Sunday.
Because she will know that somehow, through the grace of God, the love of family and the support of friends she, too, managed to raise happy, kind and beautiful human beings. Despite the many, many mothering mistakes that were made along the way.