Mothers Day started early for me this year.
3:27am to be exact.
Carson came stumbling into our room, eyes half closed and in a sleepy, raspy, irritated voice said, "Daddy, Miles wants you." It was then that my mind awakened enough to register the screaming coming from deep inside the lungs of my littlest. Seconds later, Miles rounded the corner and filled our room with a throw-a-bucket-of-cold-water like cry that had Brian and me moving quickly. Brian scooped up the distraught bundle and started rocking him back and forth on the floor while I thanked the back of Carson's head as he stumbled to bed. I quickly shut the bedroom door behind him in an effort to stop the cries from reaching any of the extra 6 sleeping people sharing our home that night... hopefully they were all still sleeping.
Kneeling down beside my son, I reached out to touch his cheek and watched him recoil deeper into the arms of his Daddy in response. An all-too-familiar pain shocked my heart and I pulled my hand back to my side. "Bowl," he requested through his sobs. "I needa bowl, Daddy. I coff-een (coughing)." Knowing that this phrase decoded means, I'm going to throw up, my heart shoved away the painful prick and cheered up with the new need. I can do that! I threw on my bathrobe and soon handed a bowl to Miles. "I meh-sin (medicine)?" Yes! Another thing I can do! After dropping a few swallows into his mouth, I reached out to try once again to comfort him.
It's been over a year since Miles entered into his anti-Mommy when Daddy is around phase. Sometimes it's nice. Sometimes it hurts. Mostly I'm indifferent to it. But the painful spells are getting more frequent as time goes on because a new fear teases at the back of my mind... what if this phase sticks?
Moments later, Miles successfully completed the transfer of mostly-digested food from his stomach to the blue, plastic bowl sitting in Daddy's lap. One of several to come that night. My mothering instincts pulled inside of me and I wanted nothing more than to cuddle and comfort my sick little guy; Brian wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed; Miles wanted nothing more than Daddy. Miles won. So Brian, tired and frustrated, lay down next to Miles on the floor and I curled back into bed and let the fears of inadequacy fill my otherwise quiet mind. What am I doing wrong? Am I showing him enough love? Am I meeting his needs? Should I help him more? Should I play with him more? Should I... should I... should I...? Am I... am I... am I...? Hot tears fell from my eyes and dampened my pillow.
"Can we open Mothers Day presents now?!" my older children asked as we stood, waving, on the porch. We watched our dear friends drive out of sight and put our hands back down at our sides. We had wished them well, but I couldn't help but feel a pit in my stomach as I wondered if we had given them the invisible gift of a stomach bug to keep them company through their long day of graduation ceremonies and their long drive back home to Georgia that evening. (Thankfully, they made it home with no vomiting tummies.)
"Yes!" I said. "Let's open those presents now." We crammed into two chairs around the table, leaving four untouched, and I worked to unwrap the first present with Carson on my lap and Kenz playing with my hair. I unwrapped handmade gift after handmade gift and listened to the excitement in my children's voices as they explained the details of their creations. "See! I made a pattern!" Carson said, pointing at the white and purple tiles glued to the hot pad. "And I glued 5 rocks on each side, see. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on this side... 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 on this side... 1, 2..." "Do you get it, mom?" Kenz asked pointing to the cutout paper vase holding a bouquet of beautifully painted flowers. "It's me! See the side of my face? We traced it on the paper and then cut it out, see! Here are my glasses... here is my nose..." Carson sweetly ran his dirt-encrusted fingernails up and down my arm and repeatedly pressed the weight of his head into my shoulder for a hug. "I just love you, Mom." "You're the best." "Can I sit right here next to you?"
In this moment, I feel loved.
Admittedly, sacrament meeting is a little calmer without Miles. I even get to listen to the talks. I'm tired from our rather sleepless night, but happy. I have great mothers around me... my mom, my mother-in-law, my friends, my ward sisters... And then a little snippet from the pulpit that changes my mood completely. It's a sentence from The Family: A Proclamation to the World and it reads, "Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children." The speaker jokingly admits that his children always want their mother... even when his arms are available also. I watch the mothers and fathers around me smile and nod their heads in agreement... but all I can hear in my mind was Carson's irritated voice,
"Daddy, Miles wants you."
I wish I could say this was uncommon. But it is very not. If Daddy is an option, my kids generally want him. Especially the boys. Does this mean I'm not fulfilling my primary responsibility? Of course, I'm primarily responsible for their nurture all day while Daddy is at work... but when he's home? The Proclamation doesn't seem to differentiate... and for the second time that day, fears of inadequacy fill my mind. What am I doing wrong?
"Mom, I want to sit next to you." Kenzie pats the cushion next to her on the couch and we snuggle down to watch a family movie. I notice that every time I laugh, the kids laughter increases in intensity. Halfway through the movie, I lay my head down in Kenzie's lap and she puts her arm around my shoulder. I feel a bit gigantic because her short arm doesn't quite make it around me. I feel her head get closer to my ear and she whispers, "Is this comfortable for you?" "Yes," I respond. "How about for you?" "Yeah!" came the enthusiastic reply. I smiled and she gave my shoulder a tight squeeze. "I just love you, Mom." I stayed there for a while... long after my arm fell asleep.
The night does not end well. McKenzie pushes her brother off the stool while they're brushing their teeth and my sleepless night holds my patience hostage. McKenzie's teeth are only halfway brushed when I order her to spit in the sink and go to her room. Brian gives me an understanding look and I retreat to my bedroom to read until the children are asleep.
Maybe it makes sense why they want Daddy after all, I think. It's a bit of a depressing thought.
This story doesn't really have an ending. I'm still living it, you see. Most of my days it's a little harder to decipher the ups and downs of being a mother. Sometimes the ups outweigh the downs, and sometimes the downs outweigh the ups. And sometimes they're remarkably equal.
I guess mothering is just like that. Today, like every day, I crawl into McKenzie's bed and gently snuggle her awake. I help pull out clothes and make breakfasts and lunches. I squirt frizzy hair and find 8 different shoes. I wave to the bus as it pulls away from me. And then I wave again as it rounds the corner. Today McKenzie doesn't even look up from her book to see the wave. But sometimes she does... so I do it anyway. I put a load of laundry in the washing machine and pay special attention to ensure McKenzie's red dress made it into the water... she wants to wear it tomorrow evening on her Daddy-daughter date. I finish reading Carson's chapter book to him and help Miles put his 'underwears' back on four different times. I warm up chocolate milk in a sippy cup and patiently let Miles repeat each sentence of his picture-book before naptime. I make sure to be at the door with a hug when the children come home from school and, just now, I interrupt my typing to tie a rubber spider to the end of a homemade parachute.
And I try not to care when my kids call for Daddy. It helps to remember that we are a team, he and I, working together towards the same goal... it helps to remember how thankful I am that they have a Daddy like Brian. Because they are lucky in that.
And that makes me lucky, too.