It was the kind of splendid September day when sending kids to school just feels wrong. Fortunately, that year I was home schooling and calling the shots. Plus we were living in California, an hour from the Pacific Ocean. For all I knew, it could have been the last day of summer, and we wouldn’t want to miss that. So it was off to the ocean with five children under eight―Josh, Matt, Ben, Zach, and Sophia.
Together, we cleaned up from breakfast, prepped the car, and then gathered beach blankets, umbrella, towels, swimsuits, diapers, sunglasses, sand toys, first aid kit, sunscreen, a cooler full of snacks and drinks―ay yi yi yi yi! Hello, motherhood; goodbye spontaneity. I loaded the assorted car seats and strapped, snapped, and buckled five wiggling bodies into Big Blue―the 1989 Suburban we outgrew only a few years later. We were on our way.
With everyone else in school, the whole beach was ours. I staked out our territory close to the water, hauled everything down from the car, and set up camp. For five hours I served as personal valet, sunscreen slatherer, weather advisor, recreation director, swim instructor, lifeguard, EMT, food concessionaire, manners consultant, bus boy, interpreter, peace negotiator, psychologist… not to mention keeper of the lost-and-found.
Finally, I hauled everything back to the car, strapped, snapped, and buckled five sunscreen-and-sand-coated-but-no-longer-wiggly warm, limp bodies back into Big Blue and headed for home. The sun through the window was soothing, and the car was full of contentment. It had been a wonderful day and I was pleased with myself as a mother. Then, from the back seat, I heard Zachary clear his throat, and in his deadpan four-year-old Eeyore voice ask, “Mom, when are you going to get a job?”
“This is my job,” I said, somewhat amused and just a little edgy.
Homeward bound with the kids falling asleep one by one, I was left alone with my thoughts. I began to see the beauty of Zach’s question. Somehow―even though it could be hard work and even though I had my testy moments―my kids didn’t think of motherhood as a job.
And I decided that was a good thing because it’s not really a job at all, but a calling. And callings just don’t look like jobs, because they require more of a person than a job requires. This is particularly true of stay-at-home mothers whose days are spent conquering mountains of laundry, creating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and kissing owies.
We live in a world where success is measured by progress, as recorded on report cards, sales reports, performance reviews, pay raises and symbolized by ribbons, trophies, and merit badges. In our lifetimes, our husbands and children will bring scores of these items home and make us proud. We’ll put them in scrapbooks, sew them on uniforms, frame and hang them up for all to see.
But I don’t know of any special awards for teaching a child to tie her shoe or come to dinner when called. No raises or praises when a mother drops everything to drive someone out for poster board―”your project’s due tomorrow? But it’s almost eight o’clock!”
Every day this goes on with everyday moms doing everyday things―sometimes struggling with feelings of inferiority or even worthlessness―just being obedient to their calling.
But while motherhood can look easy (after all, it certainly is not rocket science), the irony is this: while lots of important people in important places conduct lots of important business every day, the truly most important work in the whole world is really going on at home, where the CEO is mommy.
I guess if we got disgruntled enough from lack of appreciation, we could start a Mommy Power movement with bumper stickers that say, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
We could sue people who put us down at parties and maybe even become a protected minority.
But that wouldn’t be very mommy-like, would it? Because there’s something about mommies that should be soft where others are hard, kind where others are cruel, patient where others can’t wait. We may not start out that way at all, but there’s absolutely nothing like motherhood to change anything about us that needs to be changed.
At least, that’s how it’s been on my motherhood journey. I set out to make a home, to grow a family, and to help my children reach their potential.
The most amazing thing is that while I was helping them reach theirs, they were helping me reach mine.