Being a mother is difficult work.
Not in the sense that running a marathon or skiing a black diamond is difficult and not in the sense that finishing a project or painting window trim is work. Motherhood, the act of “moming,” is difficult work because if you are anything like me it is predominantly blind fumbling sprinkled with moments of cautious optimism.
There’s no certification for being someone’s mom, a course you can take that will guarantee your child makes it to happy and not sleeping on your couch. No matter how clean your house is, or how many books you read, being a mother is scary and random.
It’s like. . . playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey.
When your child arrives there is usually either fanfare or fear. If you’re paying attention, both.
Then you are handed a sweet-smelling bundle with about as much instruction as what might be printed on the box of say. . . face moisturizer. You drive to the place you call home, buy things you think you will need, and show up places you’re supposed to be.
The moment you sit on the couch to put your feet up, someone rings the doorbell. Let’s call this person Life. Life hands you a glass of punch and places a silky blindfold across your eyes. The doorbell rings again and Experience joins the party, takes you by the shoulders, and turns you two or three times while everyone in the room looks on.
Sometimes you laugh from nerves or stumble and people reach out to help, but you are always in the center of the basement holding that bundle, and even though you may be able to see the tiniest bit of what’s up ahead because the blindfold slips down a smidge, for the most part, you have no idea what you’re supposed to do.
After the spinning and cheering and fumbling, Life and Experience steady you in a direction and say, “The target is straight ahead. Good luck.”
You take your first hesitant step. The baby might coo, but before you take the next step, there will be crying and lots of feeding. A few more steps and the baby slips out of her blanket, puts on some shoes. You have a hard time holding onto him so you pop out your hip and swerve a little so he doesn’t fall. Two more steps and the baby’s feet now touch the ground. You let her walk, but hold her hand because you both need to arrive at the end to win the game.
The same party crowd starts to mingle and gets something to eat. They’re a little less interested once the baby starts to talk. And talkback she does. The path you thought you were on, the one toward the paper target taped to the wall, is now questioned by the baby who has a voice and his own blindfold. You hold tight, trip over each other until three steps later the baby lets go. You can still hear her voice, she’s out there, but you can no longer hold on.
Some moms panic at this point or trip over the what-ifs, but most of us fight the dizziness and keep going. We coax, bribe, and demand that the baby stays close and sometimes are rewarded with a brief touch as she circles back and assures us she too wants to pin that damn tail on the donkey.
The music gets louder and the smell of popcorn and pizza gets stronger. The crowd begins to roar as you both approach the target. Advice and directions are often shouted. This is the pivotal point in the game when even though you are still blindfolded, you close your eyes anyway.
Arms outstretched you finally reach the wall, pin the tail somewhere. You’re a little sweaty and out of breath. Pulling the blindfold from your eyes you scan to see if you have hit anywhere near the target. The music is lowered and all eyes turn to assess for success or failure.
You’ve made it and even if you only managed to come close or your beloved donkey turns out to be, well a jackass, it’s better than not finishing at all or running away crying because you couldn’t handle the pressure.
I have, of course, simplified the serious business of mothering. There are all sorts of toys, pasta necklaces, school projects, wiped tears, love, and vacations that surely make a difference. But at its essence, at the core, being a mom is an eighth-grade game of Pin the Tail.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of you still out there aiming. Maybe a little to the left?
My thoughts from the laundry room. Sleepover.