You're in the shower, maybe washing off sweat/spit-up/peanut butter/kid grime, or maybe just cleaning yourself up for the day. You're alone, the water feels good. Hot. Peaceful. Relaxing. Time to yourself - maybe you'll even shave your legs ... and then ... was that a baby screaming? You turn off the water. Quiet. No. Everything is under control. Continue showering. Wait no, that's definitely crying. Turn off the water again, still quiet.
It's just the running water.
Has this happened to you? It has happened to me so many times I can't count. It happens even now and my youngest is well over two. And even though at this point I know I'm just mis-hearing the running water, it still jars me out of indulging in "me-time" and puts a little hustle into getting back to my responsibilities.
What is that? For the longest time I just thought of it as a guilt thing. But that seemed a little silly. For one thing, I shouldn't feel guilty about showering, or enjoying showering, or for taking care of myself and seeking some solitude. And, really, even if it were a crying kid, my husband is competent and perfectly capable of dealing, so no need to hurry, right? But whether I'm in the shower or out with a friend or sneaking in a workout or reading, the moment I sense someone needs me, I get distracted and feel almost as if I were getting tugged back.
But maybe it's not a guilt thing. Maybe it's not something imposed but something innate. I read a quote the other day: "Be humble and regard others as more important than yourselves." I'm going to risk a few shakes of the head here, but something in me reacted, a little bristle, like I smelled danger or something. It's just such a counter-cultural idea. There's so much emphasis these days on "me" - me time, YOLO, treat yourself, I come first, take care of me - that it's hard not to absorb a little of it. I'm important! Who goes around thinking of everyone else as more important? What does that even look like? Who are these "others" any way? Why would I do that? Seriously, what does that look like?!
Then one of my kids came up to me, interrupting my reading, and asked me to get him a cup of water from the kitchen.
You know what regarding others as more important looks like? It looks like motherhood.
We might not always want to and we might not always like to, but mothers treat those others around us - primarily our husbands and children - as more important. We put them first. And its not some shackling societal imposition; it's inherent to the role. It starts at marriage! If you think of marriage as a union, and the whole as greater than the part, then you're putting yourself second when you say, "I do." That marriage is now more important than the two individuals. Then comes pregnancy, where the whole woman's body is taken over by the baby-growing process. Her body makes space, teaching her that her life - and her heart - also has to make space for the little being growing within, that now its existence has greater importance than her own comfort and convenience. After birth it's only more obvious: the sleepless nights, the crying, the rocking, the whole first year of holding, carrying, feeding, changing. After that the the years of comforting, calming, teaching, resolving, encouraging, disciplining. Even when mommy wants to run out that front door and drive somewhere - anywhere! - just for some peace and quiet, or when she feels like throwing a toddler-grade tantrum complete with stomping and kicking and sobbing, she still dresses those kids and feeds their bellies, and maybe even musters some smiles and hugs.
So why do we mothers do this? It's true, those newborns smell so good and are wonderful to cuddle. And watching them learn to crawl and then walk and then talk is almost magical. Their smiles and hugs can melt our hearts and doesn't their "I love you, mommy" sometimes bring tears? The simplest pleasures - reading a book, going on a walk, playing hide and seek - are elevated by a child's imagination and awe and unreserved joy.
But let's be honest, when we're in the trenches and feeling like we're in one of those fogs of exhaustion and confusion and frustration, all the smiles and hugs in the world can hardly counteract it. So what keeps us going? What possible human motivation could impel us to put ourselves aside over and over again for these little beings? What makes us regard them as, well, more important?
Love is the only explanation for this impossible contradiction.
These little people have wrestled their ways into our lives and demanded everything from us by seizing our hearts. They have given us a singular opportunity to grow in love, to learn how to love better. We lose ourselves a bit as we give more. We look for more to give, and then we find more of ourselves! We expand in love.
This doesn't mean, by the way, that mom should be haggard, wasted, and unkempt. That's not love but self-neglect and it's not healthy for the mother or the children. Not only will it actually impair her ability to love but it will also give the children the wrong idea of what love looks like and then be a sort of self-perpetuating problem. (Different convo, but it's not different from how the two spouses in a marriage should flourish in the marriage, not in spite of it.)
We can't expect love to be either a mere feeling or something that comes easy every day. It's something we're choosing, a priority we're making. We'll always be working on it, getting better at it. We can be thankful for all the little rewards of motherhood, but there will always be a tug, especially in those harder times. And even though I might eventually stop hearing the cry of a baby in the shower, I hope my mother's heart will never let me rest completely in myself.