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, 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. It’s always exhausting planning and getting ready so you sit on the couch and put your feet up for about a second.
Then 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 by taking you by the shoulders and turning you two or three times while everyone in the room watches.
Sometimes you laugh from nerves, or stumble and people reach out to help, but you are always in the center of the basement 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 where you’re going.
After the spinning and cheering and fumbling, Life holds you by the shoulders, hands over your bundled baby and says, “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 its blanket, puts on some shoes. You have a hard time holding onto her so you pop out your hip and swerve a little so she doesn’t fall. Two more steps and the baby’s feet now touch the ground. You let him walk, but hold his hand because you need to get him to the end to win the game.
The same party crowd starts to mingle, gets something to eat, they’re a little less interested once the baby starts to talk. And talk back 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 touch.
Many of us stop at this point or fall over the “what if,” but most moms fight the dizziness and keep walking. We coax, bribe and demand that the baby keeps close and sometimes are rewarded with a brief touch as they now circle back around and assure us they too want to pin that damn tail.
The music gets louder and the smell of popcorn and pizza gets stronger. The crowd begins to roar as we approach the target. Advice and directions are often shouted. This is the pivotal point in the game when even though we are still blindfolded, we close our eyes anyway.
Arms outstretched we finally touch the wall, pin the tail somewhere. We are a little sweaty and out of breath. Pulling the blindfold from our eyes we look to see if we’ve hit anywhere near the target. The music is lowered and all eyes turn to assess our success or failure.
We’ve made it and even if we’ve only managed to come close or our donkey is, well a jackass, that’s better than not finishing the game or running away crying because we couldn’t handle the pressure.
I have, of course, simplified the serious business of mothering. There are all sorts of toys, school projects, Easter egg hunts, wiped tears, love and Christmas trees 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.