I’m barefoot and braless in the kitchen. Hair a mess, teeth unbrushed, my glasses smudged with egg. A thirteen month old is balanced on my hip while I dip pieces of bread into eggs and drop them on a sizzling frying pan to make golden brown french toast.
I go through the motions of retrieving a towel, a bowl. Filling it with water and some spoons. I lower Wren onto the towel and try to load the dishwasher. Wren is fussing at my legs, pulling on my jeans while standing on her tiptoes. I pull her up onto my hip and she reaches for the running water of the sink.
I adjust the water so it isn’t quite so scalding, dip my hand into it to make sure it’s okay for her, then let her hold her little hands under the stream.
Mother, martyr? We’re told over and over to not lose ourselves to motherhood. To not give in to the demands our children make. To not become martyrs. All these different lines are suggested, and everyone has an idea for where they should be drawn.
I’ve been thinking a lot the idea of motherhood being martyrdom lately. About all the things you MUST do to avoid losing yourself, your relationship, and the respect of those around you. I’ve been thinking a lot about feminism and choice.
“Am I doing this of my own free will?”
I catch myself asking that question and erupt into laughter. Wren startles, looks at me, pats my face with dripping hands. Her face is giddy as my laughter rocks both of our bodies. Soon she is laughing, too.
I kiss her nose. Yes. Yes, I am doing this of my own free will.
Sometimes I’m not, though.
Sometimes the “should” and “must” and “YOU HAVE TO” and “BAD MOTHER” and all those things sneak in and start robbing me of my choice. My mind fills up with all the words of other people and my schedule fills up with all the things that everyone thinks I should be doing. Sometimes I prickle at the touch of the child who hugs my legs or who crawls into my bed before the sunrise.
Sometimes when I am packing lunch for my partner I am focused on what he might expect of me, rather than the fact that it has been a mutual choice of ours. And that I can fail if I need to fail. I can shove in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and he can eat it or pack his own damned lunch.
That isn’t my reaction to my children, though. Or to my partner. I love the hugs. I love the snuggles. I enjoy packing lunches and helping my not-so-little family save toward not-so-little dreams.
Do I really hate this, or do I hate that it’s a thing added to a list of things that I have to do in order to earn an A+ in parenting? To get my 4.0 GPA in life? To be On Top of Things and Have The Perfect Balance?
I give rides to friends who need them. There are extra seats in my messy van. I sweep books off to the side. Introduce my friends to the heap of crumbs. I should have the van sparkling clean and I should hand them a cup of freshly brewed organic something and be a good hostess while I drive them to whatever place I am driving them to. Instead I’m frazzled and check again to make sure no one is allergic to peanuts. Because some portion of the crumbs are from peanut butter crackers that my children used as confetti at some point in the past.
I’ve given myself permission to fail. To be imperfect. Not the hidden sort of imperfect, either. I’m not ashamed. Although I do need to make a date with my father in law’s shop vac soon for my own sanity if not the sanity of those that get rides in my poor crumbly Minerva the Minivan.
Most days I have bonus kids here. Neighbor kids. Friends kids. And then, in the spaces where I spend parts of my week? Wren spent time sitting on the lap of a friend exploring her necklaces. Bigger kids carry Wren around and help her join their games. Friends help my kids put their shoes back on, and tie their laces.
I’m not a martyr.
I’m not alone.
I’m not perfect.
I refuse to make that a goal.
I refuse to hold anyone else to that standard.
That’s where I find happiness in life. By working hard at all of the things, and by understanding that they are not going to be perfect. But that I will get better at all of them as time passes. I will have more space for things as my children grow. I will grow back into myself.
Where I’m at today? It’s fine. I choose to be here. And choice is a delicious and wonderful thing.
It keeps me from becoming one of those people who throws up their hands and declares the world incompetent. It keeps me from steeping in my own bitterness.
I will not allow the pace of life to make me resent the people who are most important to me. If something needs changing, I will find a way to change it. If something is temporary I will find a way through it. If something is worded in a way that makes me feel taken for granted I will ask that other words be used. Or that more help is offered.
Giving grace makes it easier to receive grace.
Giving help makes it easier to accept help.
Accepting help makes it easier to know how to give help.
Giving love makes it easier to feel love.
Am I okay with this?
If I’m not okay with this, I can say no.
And if I am? I can say yes.
And be really truly okay with it.
Can I offer help?
If I can’t, I don’t.
And if I can, I do.
And really truly mean it.
I am not, and will not be a martyr. There’s no need.
No one’s grading us at life.
And if they are?
They don’t understand what life truly is.