Once when I was in Italy, in Milan, we went out for that amazing pizza they have. The kind with the crust so thin it's like a cracker. One of the people we were with asked the man who made the pizza, "how do you make the crust so thin?" He looked at us like we were nuts. Why would we ask such a question? He said "You just do it. You just make it thin."
He didn't question how he did what he did, he just did it. Because that was the correct way to do it. You just do it.
People ask me all the time, "how do you do it?"
And I guess it's sort of the same thing. I don't ask myself how I do it. I just do it. Because what else are you going to do? Just lay down and not do it? That's not really an option. I don't ever remember my mother not just doing it. As a mother, most of the time you don't think about how you do it, you just do it. You feed the people and make sure they're dressed and get them to school and keep all the balls in the air and the trains running on time and all of the things. You just do it.
But the past few months have been hard. I think I pushed and pushed, and did everything, all day, every day, until I got tired. Really tired. I realize looking back that those two weeks in January with one child very sick with pneumonia, so sick that she ended up in the hospital, might have been where I found the edges of my personal limit. That, on top of taking care of four kids every day, and a marriage, and a house, and the autism, and the asthma, and the school commitments, and the appointments, the lessons, and my own personal pressure to do it all so perfect. Juggling so many balls all the time is hard, and it wore me down until I was exhausted.
(Don't worry, I'm ok. I'm working on doing a better job of caring for the caregiver, and there's not a thing I would change about my life or my family - except maybe more sleep - but that's not what this post is about.)
But here's the thing about being a mother: no matter how hard it gets, you keep going. You just do it. Because what else are you going to do?
This is what mothers do. Because it is worth it. Because they are worth it.
I have found myself lately sometimes feeling frustrated with my children for not appreciating everything I do. It's hard to work every day and have the people you are working for not get it. But then I realized that of course they don't get it. I certainly didn't get it when I was a kid. There's no way they could possibly get it. That's not their role right now. They're not supposed to get it yet. Their role is to be kids, and to be loved, and to make memories that are built on a foundation of knowing they are loved and cared for. Their role is not to understand what it's like to be a mother.
Perspective is a gift.
It seems universal that we never fully appreciate our own mother until we become a mother ourselves. Because honestly there's no possible way to understand if you haven't walked in those shoes. You have to be there, in the trenches, putting one foot in front of the other every day no matter how hard it is or how tired you are, before you really get it.
You have to live in the hard days of mothering, to really understand.
Only then do you see what your own mother did for you. Only then do you realize how hard she worked. Only then do you realize that she too must have had days when she just wanted to curl up in bed or hide in a closet. She too must have had days where she just didn't know from one minute to the next how she was going to get through it. She too must have had days when she watched the clock, praying that she could just make it to bedtime without losing it. She too must have had days when she went to bed having no idea how she was going to get up in the morning and possibly do it all over again. She too must have had days when she was convinced that she was doing it all wrong.
But we never knew it, because she didn't let it show.
She got through it. She kept going, no matter what. Because this is what mothers do.
I'm sure she must have reached the end of her rope and snapped at us and lost her cool like I do sometimes. She is human. But I don't remember it, because it pales in comparison to how much she loved us. What I remember is always knowing that my mother loved me. And that thought comforts me now, in the hard days of mothering - knowing that what they will remember is the good stuff. What they will remember is the love I have for them, and how I put that love into everything I do for them.
When I think about my mother on these hard days, I think about how hard it must have been for her, to keep going, to keep making sure we always felt cared for and loved, even in the hardest of times. I think about how she could have possibly held it together when her marriage was ending, and she was fighting skin cancer. I think about the pain she must have gone through in all those years that one of my siblings was giving her such a hard time. I think about how she must have felt so helpless every time she has had watch one of us struggle with a problem that she couldn't make go away. I think about all those times when I didn't understand her. When I thought her motivations were a little crazy. When I thought she was too controlling, or too over protective, or too bossy - all of those things that teenagers think. I think about when I wasn't happy on the rare occasions that she took time for herself or prioritized her own needs. I think now about all of those things that never even occurred to me before I was a mother.
I never thought about those things before because it wasn't my time to understand them.
Everything comes to you in time.
My own oldest daughter is just entering that stage where she is convinced that I have no idea what it's like to be in her shoes. She's convinced that there's no way I could understand how she feels or what she's going through. We've had more than one incident lately of her storming off, crying, and yelling between her tears, "you just don't understand!". I want to tell her that's she's wrong. It's not me that doesn't understand, because I've been where she is and I do know what it feels like. I want to tell her that she is the one that doesn't understand. But I can't tell her that because it would serve no purpose.
Of all the lessons that I can and will teach my daughters in life, this isn't one. This is a lesson that only time and life and living can teach them. This is a lesson that only mothering can teach them. This is a lesson that they will only learn when they have lived in the hard days, and made it through, and done it all over again the next day, and the day after that. These are things they will only understand when they love some small people of their own so much that they would do anything for them.
My daughters will be mothers someday. And then it will be their time to understand these things.
So to my mom on Mother's Day, what I want you to know is this:
Now I understand.