When I was on my Smokey Mountain trip a few weeks ago, my husband and I made a brave choice. We decided to hike a very vertical 1.2 miles to Laurel Falls. We had heard so much about how beautiful it was, and while we had been avoiding any steep hikes with our 3 and 6 year old in tow, we decided that the distance was short enough that if needed, we could each carry a kid without too much pain and suffering. About .4 miles into the hike, on our third break, we ran into another family from Michigan whose kids looked about our kids age, and we starting chatting. They were on their way back and morale seemed low. After a minute the mom gave me a meaningful look and asked, “So, have your kids been good?” I answered with a shrug of my shoulders and said, “Yeah, so far….we really haven’t been out here for very long.” She replied with a desperate look and said, “No, not on this hike. I mean on this trip. Mine have been so terrible, they’ve complained non-stop…I cried yesterday.” She had the worn look of a mom in the trenches. I recognized the defeated slump of her shoulders and the familiar frustration in her eyes. I assured her that my kids had certainly had their moments and prescribed an immediate stiff cocktail. She stood up a little straighter, we wished each other luck, and she forged on down the trail with her little ones bumping after her, wielding large sticks that they were swinging at each other in a weapon-like fashion. My son immediately fell into an ice cold pool of water once we finally reached those majestic falls, soaking himself from head to toe. He had to be fished out while I held my daughter back because now she wanted to “swim” too. My husband carried him, dripping wet, the 1.2 miles back down, while I carried my daughter the entire way as well. Complaints filled the mountain air and I thought of that mom the whole way back.
There is hardly a group of people I have more affection for these days than my fellow moms. Who else could understand the absurdity, the beauty, the love, and the exhaustion of my day to day life? Any mother would understand completely if she overheard me calling peanut butter and jelly a “pink sandwich” so that my 3 year old would eat it, and wouldn’t blink an eye if they came across the note I left for the babysitter that said, “she’ll have lunch around noon. It should be no big deal as long as you wouldn’t mind cheering a bit each time she takes a bite. Oh, and we are working on potty training, so if you think she has to go just put her pink potty in front of tv, and turn the dancing bear video on from youtube. Helpful if you do the movements as well and sing along. Very easy to learn. Call with questions. thx.” That would seem like a totally reasonable thing to do to another mother, when in fact, it’s slightly insane. It’s only one thing on a long list of other slightly insane things that I do and think each and every day. When I discovered that my son was born with bilateral hernias and that it happens to 4% of babies during gestation, my first reaction was to be angry at my own body. Why didn’t I make the damn abdominal wall the right way?! Way to go mom! I should have taken more folic acid and avoided that weird herbal tea. Who even knows what’s in that stuff?!
The first time my husband and I got on a plane together after becoming parents we were headed to a wedding in Napa (without our baby). I should have been ecstatic! Elated to drink wine, be somewhere beautiful, to sleep. Instead I could be found sobbing out the window as the plane took off. What the hell were we thinking having both of us fly on this thing together?! How stupid and irresponsible! What kind of monsters were we? We are practically begging the universe to orphan our only son! Morons! Surely our child was doomed.
Now, those thoughts are of course completely unreasonable, and many times my internal dialogue could surely have me considered a top-notch candidate for institutional care, but it’s because I just love them so much. My own mortality and the world itself seem to have very little to do with me anymore. The world has to be an exceptional, beautiful, and wonderful place for them. Instead of being full of merely other people, the world is now comprised of sons and daughters who all deserve to be happy and safe. Their mothers are out there somewhere and share the same crazy love as I do, and have the same need to make this life incredible for them. I always tell my kids if they ever get lost to find a mom with little kids just like them. She will help you, I promise them. She will know I’m looking for you and will help you find me. She will want you to be safe.
So on this day, to all of the other slightly psychotic moms out there, enjoy some well needed rest and a reprieve for our compulsive need to prevent the universe from possible ruin. You deserve it, damnit. It’s exhausting, often thankless work that we do, and we need a break sometimes. We’ll pick up where we left off tomorrow.