I get up exhausted as is the general state of existence in the early years of motherhood. I make my way to the kitchen and in the clang and clatter and chaos of breakfast with three toddlers, it became clear that my middle child really should be seen by the doctor for her cough which has developed a definite “whooping” characteristic to it. So, I make an appointment and start the process of picking up the pace to get everyone ready to head out the door. Now we have a deadline. So as I’m gathering clothing and topping off cereal bowls and barely managing to finish my coffee, these things happen:
Someone climbs on a table and starts digging in a potted plant spreading moss and soil all over everyone’s breakfast.
Someone throws a full cereal bowl trailing its soggy, milky contents, across the kitchen.
Two toddlers have found their way into the bathroom and one needs a rear wiped and the other is splashing in the toilet bowl with her bare hands.
But I still manage to get everyone dressed and shined and shoe-ed and ready to head out the door…only to find that my cell phone has gotten lost, carried off by a child and buried somewhere unknown in the house. (Of course, THIS is the morning I actually need a phone with me because I have a call coming in to give me a half hour notice on a delivery one of us needs to be home to receive). And the irritating pebble in my shoe as I search our entire home for my phone: I know that each second that passes, kiddos are busy undoing everything I’ve just done to get them ready. Shoes and socks and jackets are getting peeled off and strewn about and additional messes are being made, building exponentially, one on the other.
But I finally do find my phone and get everyone semi-reassembled to make our way to the doctor, now running late. And we step out of the door of our now completely trashed house into the driveway (mentally piling on items to a list of all the things I’ll need to put back into order once I arrive home), my 1 year old trips and lands on her face, smacking it soundly on the cement. Split, swollen lip. Blood and drool everywhere. Dabbing and soothing as sobs choke her, I still am racing the clock, getting three kids buckled into their car seats.
Finally I sit in the front seat to buckle my own seatbelt, stereo-sound of screaming children the constant soundtrack of my day, only to find that my car keys are lost…. Probably in one of three or four random bags I’ve grabbed on my way out to accommodate the diapering and snacking and entertainment needs of my children. So I dig frantically to find them and my fingers grasp them just as a semi truck pulls up in front of our house to make the big delivery (with no half hour notice call). But only “box 2 of 2” is present and it’s half opened with parts obviously missing but we’re too late for the doc already so I make some hasty notes on the packing slip and sign anyway, making yet another note on my internal to-do list. (Call some huge, couldn’t-care-less-about-me box store to check up on all the random parts of our new and costly playground that have obviously fallen out, piece by piece, in their trek across the country.)
None of it is a big deal, but all of it needs to be taken care of. By me. Nobody else cares about it (probably not even you, dear reader) and the worst part is that I don’t even really care about it. But it’s the stuff of which my life is made. And even if no one cares, not even me, because every small thing on this litany of irritations is certainly not a big deal(except for my children getting hurt, of course), this is the stuff of motherhood. And that is what makes me very, very angry about my present state of existence. Yep, that’s right. I used the A word. Deal with it.
You know the term Vampire Electronic? It’s what they call small appliances that are constantly plugged in, and slowly but steadily draining energy, but aren’t necessarily doing anything. That’s what being a mom is all about. Lots of times I don’t actually feel like I’m doing much of anything productive. I’m just constantly on, plugged into all the small things of the day. Perpetually vigilant. Guarding my 1 year old from throwing herself down a stairway or climbing into the hot oven. Guarding my 2 and 3 year old from bloodying each other as they quibble constantly. Guarding my leather couch from frustratingly-lost-by-me-but-easily-found-by-kids Sharpies and tonight’s dinner from fingers fond of probing both nostril cavities and tuna casseroles. I could try to do something other than guard duty for two minutes, but guaranteed: I’d pay for it with at least 20 minutes of clean-up and possibly a visit to the doctor’s office. I could choose not to take care of all these little messes, but by the end of the day my kids and my home would be a complete disaster. Like child endangerment levels of chaos.
ALL of my energy, ALL of my time, ALL of me get sucked into these absolutely insignificant messes. So, I am spent doing it. Doing nothing of any real significance, it seems. And what follows is the definite underlying feeling that my life is not really very significant. That I am not really very significant at all. And I’m mad that all the talents and education and skills and experience I’ve racked up that nicely fill out a resume or could contribute something I have determined might be valuable to the world or that might even gain me the approval of stranger at a cocktail party, don’t amount to a hill of beans in my current existence.
And feeling that way and knowing that I can’t even really complain about it with any reasonable expectation of great pity makes me feel even worse about it. Because it’s not genocide or war or poverty that I am enduring. It’s just motherhood. It’s just the slow pull into death of one marble in your pocket after another when you’re treading water. (Or of one more bag piled on your shoulders as you and your toddlers run out the door towards the last minute doctor appointment.) That’s when Philippians 2 starts to make sense. More sense than ever.
“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”
The fact is that Jesus had eternally more to offer than I do. And he put aside infinitely more talents leaving heaven as God to come to Earth as man than I did by leaving a career to stay home with my kids full time. To be human, Jesus had to diminish himself. God of the universe chose to take on a limited role, one that didn’t measure up to the fullness of who he was and could be. Certainly God’s time, God’s energy, God’s talent is not to be wasted. Yet Jesus, equal with God, concerned himself with, what to Him, definitely must be the small things . The little details of people’s lives. Things and people that even other human beings didn’t want to concern themselves with. Messy things. Annoying things. Mundane things. And it was important enough to him to spend years of his time and precious blood, sweat and tears on. Ultimately, it was worth dying a humiliating, humbling, shameful death for.
So what this tells me is that what I think is significant, what the world tells me is worth spending my time, talent and energy on, is probably not what ultimately is the most significant. If Jesus himself did not grasp at more, trusting God to use his significantly diminished life here on earth for an eternal purpose, then I should also trust him with this; my own sometimes painful, self-diminishing, daily dying-to-self life of motherhood.
*Now for anyone thinking my title reflects my actual position on the value motherhood, read on in this blog. I know as well as anyone that moms are significant. But it’s a significance that is sensed more clearly as we stand back to admire the whole civilized city of it than as we stand in the mud lifting heavy brick-upon-brick to build it. And it is a significance that is understood more profoundly in its absence than its presence.
Is significance found in diminishing yourself or in being exalted or put in a place of honor? Does it feel that way when it’s happening?