I reach down and scoop up my chubby, wriggling baby – giggling limbs and thunder thighs under one arm, brand new outfit from grandma under the other. This recent gift of a bright yellow hoodie with HANDSOME emblazoned on the front and the unexpectedly boy-ish “jeggings” are demanding an immediate wardrobe change. So even though it’s the middle of the day, and even though it will my break my “never launder more than necessary” rule, I just have to put him in these precious clothes.
Easier said than done. As I lay him on the floor and start tugging on his onesie, his movements (and attitude, I might add) change with ninja-like skill. With a banshee scream, he launches himself sideways, twists his upper body, wrenches his foot around, and flails with all of his might. 20 minutes later, I have managed to dress him. It was like wrangling an eel.
And despite my best efforts to remain patient and light-hearted, every kick of the leg had amped up the slowly growing volcano in my chest. Little by little, the frustration mounted until I spun him around and erupted, “Why are you fighting me? I’m just trying to help you! Not everything is such a battle!”
And even as I say it, I recognize myself in his rebellious, struggling little limbs. I recognize it in my heart and I recognize it in my motherhood.
Some women waltz into motherhood with the thrill of achieving their dream - finally being able to embrace their lifelong desire to raise a little one, spend days upon days decorating sticker books, and rocking quietly with their babe in the softly filtering moonlight.
I was not one of those women.
When I signed up for children, I didn’t really know what I was getting into (though, if we’re being honest, no one does). And as I was called into endless boo-boo kissing and storybook reading and sleep sacrificing and giving, giving, giving, I entered in much like my little baby – kicking, screaming, writhing – determined that I knew what was best, determined that I would do this my way.
My house would always be presentable. Aromatic candles, freshly cut flowers, soft music, and sweet iced tea – my home would be one of welcome and warmth. Then I had three sons in 4 years. With their vivacious existence came a world of muddy shoes, pet earthworms, massive blood stains (seriously, it looks like someone died on our carpet), and sloppy wet kisses. And for years, I struggled and writhed and fought as my dreams of a tidy home slipped slowly through my constantly cleaning fingers. With every mop of the floor and every ignored, “Come play with me, Mommy,” I fought against the false ideas of motherhood that reigned in my head.
The house is a good, tangible example of the struggle, but this pattern holds true across the board; the raging perfectionist and the contented mother are constantly at war in me. The perfectionist begs for clean toilets and flawlessly maintained relationships and consistently quiet moments with God. All good things. And the contented mother begs for spontaneous sand castles and naps on the lawn and focused conversations about Batman and space to write. Again, good things. So I work hard to appease them both, to stretch the 24 hours into just a few more, to give when I have given up. And so I struggle and I writhe and I fight.
And I can’t help but wonder if Jesus looks down at me with the patient (but maybe weary?) eyes of a mother trying to dress her little babe. I can almost hear Him whispering, “Why are you fighting me, child? You can’t put on this garment of motherhood by yourself. And if you’d just hold still for a moment, I would guide your arms, your head, your whole body into this outfit I’ve chosen for you. You can’t do it on your own. Love, why are you struggling so?”
Because when it comes down to it, I have no more ability to be a good mother than my one year-old has of dressing himself. I cling to my visions of perfect motherhood like the losing end of a tug-of-war rope. I tug and twist and dig in my heels, determined to give a little more, to love a little more, to work a little more. And at the end of the day, I’m only blistered and sore. For all my wriggling and struggling, I can never make this mommy-calling fit just right.
But maybe I’m not supposed to.
As I zip up the blazing yellow hoodie, Micah smiles up at me with one of those smiles. The kind that leaves me muttering, “My word. How can I love you so much?” I tug the hood over his head as he giggles, half delighting in the play and half thrilled to be free of my dressing-grip.
And I feel the Father tug at my own hood a little too, as He whispers instructions and grace and life into my motherhood. He reminds me that He chose my outfit, He clothes me each day, and He zips up the garment marked “Beautiful.”
All I have to do is let Him.
Happy Mother’s Day to me.