When I was young, my mother took me and my three younger siblings to see a child psychologist, just to make sure she wasn’t raising any future Caligulas. The therapist asked each of us separately who we thought our mother’s favorite was. All four of us said, “Me.”
“Whatever you’re doing,” the therapist told my mother, “keep doing it.”
My mother was, as the psalmist writes, “a glad mother of children.” This is, in fact, the passage she read aloud at the Passover seder every year, and it is the one inscribed on the back of her gravestone. My parents struggled with infertility for seven years before they had us, so we were appreciated in an immediate and palpable way. She would look at us with wonder, as if she could hardly believe we were there.
This turned out to be a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because I was showered with the kind of love every child deserves. A curse, because it’s she I compare myself to now that I’m a mom.
I’m hardly what you would call a glad mother of children. Intrepid maybe. Desperate. Possibly masochistic.
I jest. My children are lovely little sociopaths. I adore them. I treasure them. I’d do anything for them.
I’m also counting down the days until they move out of my house.
Motherhood is relentless: the fighting, the whining, the rejected dinners, the self-replenishing stockpile of laundry, the constant mental juggling. Bedtime. It’s the high-stakes chaos of a hostage negotiation, only the terrorists have undeveloped frontal lobes and an addiction to corn syrup. If I manage sane, it’s a good day. Glad is another planet entirely.
This disheartens me, because I want more than anything to be the kind of mother mine was. I want to be a glad mother of children. But, mostly, I’m just surviving.
On a recent visit to The Cape House, my family’s summer home, I was poking around in the basement and came across one of my mother’s old journals. The page I opened to was dated in the summer, and was written in her perfect teacher’s hand. “The kids decided to stay home and go to day camp,” she wrote. “Every few minutes, they’re calling me. I was hoping for some time to myself.”
My eyes nearly dropped out of my skull. Was it possible she didn’t actually want us around all the time? Could it be that she wasn’t as glad a mother as I’d thought?
I suddenly recalled moments when my mother would groan loudly and exclaim, “That’s it! For the next ten minutes, my name is not Mommy! If you call her, no one is going to answer you!” Or when she and I would fight, and she’d say, “Rea, I love you, but I really don’t like you right now!” Or the time she said she was once so exhausted from taking care of four children under the age of five that she locked us all the in the playroom with a big bowl of Cheerios and passed out for two hours. When she came back, there were Cheerios everywhere, but we were all alive and happily watching Big Bird.
Maybe she was just surviving, too.
I’ve since revised my definition of “A Glad Mother of Children.” It’s not the perfect mother who is constantly enamored by her children, who is in a perpetual state of gratitude, or who delights in every second of motherhood. Hell, no. It’s the mother who is doing the best she can, who has cranky moments, loving moments, tired and powerful and creative and hardworking moments. There are moments frustrated and terrified, silly and absurd. And when God sends a little gift her way, some glad moments, too.
This past Shabbos, I let myself sleep in, deciding that the cost of extra time in bed was worth whatever mess my unsupervised boys would make. That was, until I heard my husband call, “Rea, you need come down here NOW!”
I rushed downstairs, imagining some kind of accident. Imagine my surprise when I saw a sudsy pond of water in my dining room.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Oh, wait,” said Hubby, who stood at the door to the kitchen. “It gets better.”
I peered past him at the faucet of the kitchen sink, which had been positioned to spray directly onto the floor. Atop an ankle-deep layer of water, my three sons slid on their bellies like penguins on an iceberg.
I could have cried. I could have yelled. I could have turned on my heel and walked upstairs without a word. But that morning, I had the clarity of mind to recognize this moment for what it was: a glad moment.
My husband and I locked eyes in disbelief – and burst into laughter. Of course, we knew we would have the boys clean up their mess, then take them down to the basement to show them what happens when water seeps through the floor. We would explain to them that they could never do this again. But for now, listening to our sons squealing with laughter, watching them shoot and splash across the floor, we could delight in them, and laugh until we could hardly breathe.
And for those few moments, I was indeed a glad mother of children.