My husband decided to begin the New Year by watching a slideshow of the past year so the kids could see what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve been, how they’ve grown.
The year’s opportunities, adventures, and stories did not disappoint: beach trips, a 40th birthday, the Atlanta aquarium, zoos, camping, Hershey Park, the Amish countryside, horseback riding.
The scariest moment? On a bike trip, I watched my speeding son fly over his handlebars. Motherly instinct set in, the one that told me not to panic, to not gag when I saw a bloody mess under his shirt, to be strong when the bandage later became one with his scab.
Our year was filled with many small moments and firsts that added up to big things for our young kids: a better basketball season, an overnight trip without us parents, new glasses, lost teeth, spelling bee success, slumber parties, acing spelling tests.
As I watched a year of their young lives flicker by—baby faces transform even more into those of kids masking bigger problems, deeper emotions—I saw glimpses into unknown futures that I dreamed of when my children were nothing more than strange movements in my round belly.
But for all of the joys, victories, and triumphs of the year, I also saw something missing. Me. As my kids get older and do things on their own merit, how does a mother measure up? Most days, I’m the cheerleader, the coach, the teacher, the pusher, but my kids do all the work. From year to year, what is there to show for what I’ve done? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, the loads of laundry, clean toilets, nightly meals, and clean sheets don’t make the cut into the year’s highlights. After-school meltdowns, sex talks, and the truth about Santa don’t quite have heartwarming memories to fill slideshows.
Sure, pictures of the birthday table show off my confetti sandwich cookies. The Lord of the Rings Halloween costume my husband and I made for my son—that I swore he wouldn’t wear at the last minute—did meet his expectations. Of course, I had to make Gimli’s beard twice.
But as a person, I don’t have much to show from 2012. Some pay stubs from freelance work. A house where the cleanliness ebbs and flows like the tide on any given day. Stacks of magazines still wait to be riffled through, just like last January when I swore I’d get to them. I’ve added new recipes to our repertoire, but they haven’t made mealtimes any smoother or the family any more agreeable.
It’s hard as a parent sometimes to not have a team to make or a test grade to show your worth. I get no job performance reviews each year, and the feedback I do get often comes in shouts of anger followed by a slammed door. When my kids hurt and come to me, they still hurt when the crying is over but maybe a little less. I can’t solve my kids’ problems the way I could solve a client’s. If I make a suggestion, it’s the sure route not taken. The fine line between manipulation and real pain is hard for me to gauge sometimes, so I dangerously let myself get pulled across it. Many days, I don’t know where I stand in my parenting job but I know at the end of the day, I just want a drink or a chocolate or to climb into bed and hide hoping I’ll get it right tomorrow.
I guess as a parent you trudge along from year to year and never really know how you’re doing, but you do it anyway. As a mom, I never quite know where mothering ends and I begin. In time, I guess we’ve become the same person.
The only thing I am certain of is that mothering is somehow the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Maybe it’s not measured in time. One hug or smile, one simple moment makes being the mom behind it all worth it.