May 5, 2004 - "I Don't Want to Be a Mother Today!"
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"Everybody knows that a good mother gives her children a feeling of trust and stability. She is their earth. She is the one they can count on for the things that matter most of all. She is their food and their bed and the extra blanket when it grows cold in the night; she is their warmth and their health and their shelter; she is the one they want to be near when they cry. She is the only person in the whole world in a whole lifetime who can be these things to her children. There is no substitute for her." -Katharine Butler Hathaway
Oh my goodness, this story sure hit home to me! I alternated between crying and laughing as I read the all too familiar scenario that all of us mothers can relate to! Look for our special Mother's Day edition on Friday with your open letters to the moms in your own lives! Send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
"I Don't Want to Be a Mother Today"
by Sue Monk Kidd
A tiny wail pierced the silence of the bedroom. I moved mechanically into the worn-out path from my bed to the nursery like a tired old soldier with battle fatigue. The numbers on the clock glowed green, iridescent and grim. It was 4:02 a.m. . . . Mother's Day.
The little cry flung itself furiously into the darkness. It was not her hungry-cry. That one had shattered the night at 2:50. This was the colic-cry . . . the third one tonight. I lifted my three-month-old daughter from her crib and dropped wearily into the rocking chair, my eyelids sinking closed like iron anchors dropped to sea. She screamed into the crook of my elbow. I rocked back and forth, trying to weave time into something bearable. The creak in the chair groaned heavily. The sound of motherhood, I thought glumly. My arm began to throb beneath her as sleep crept slowly into her breathing. I dared not move. Just a few more minutes . . .
"MAMA! I'm thirsty," came a loud, invisible voice out of the night. I opened my eyes to an abrupt narrow slit. Three-year-old Bob stood in the doorway like a lost shadow. He stepped closer, clutching a stuffed dinosaur.
"Go to bed and I'll bring some water in a little while." My whisper had the ragged edge of desperation.
"But I want some water now!" he halfway yelled.
The baby jerked and cranked up her cry.
I could almost hear the last gasp down inside my heart. "Now look what you did! You woke the baby. Now go to bed!" I shouted. He didn't. He stood there and added his wail to the baby's. It was too much. My eyes turned away, falling on the green diaper pail. It was full again. I looked from it to the door. At the end of the dark hall, the den was littered with toys, pacifiers and broken cookies. And beyond that, short and tall baby bottles lined the kitchen counter like a miniature skyline. My small world.
And suddenly in that middle-of-the-night moment, something happened deep inside me. The flame of joy that burns so mysteriously inside each mother's heart simply went out. I sat in the nursery like a snuffed candle and drew the darkness around me. Actually my despondency had been gathering for weeks. It wasn't the kind of thing I liked to admit, but it was true. Something had gradually gone out of my mothering . . . the sparkle, the eagerness, the delight. It had all been swallowed up by an ocean of frustrations and demands. Oh, I loved my children. But, lately, caring for them had become a burden.
The cries raged. "Lord, I know it's Mother's Day," I whispered, near tears myself. "But I don't want to be a mother today. I'm sick of it!"
The terrible honesty of my words startled me. How could I say that! How could I feel this way! I wondered if all mothers sometimes despaired of being mothers. Or was it only me?
My husband waded into the shrieking darkness, rubbing his eyes as if he'd wakened into a real live nightmare. "What's going on?" he said.
"I'm thirsty and she don't love me," cried Bob.
The baby squalled, her red face bobbing against my shoulder like a furious woodpecker.
"Here, give the children to me," he said, bravely. "You go to bed."
"They're all yours," I said, thrusting Ann into his arms. I fell into bed, despising the way I felt. "Oh, Lord, help me," I prayed as I drifted over the edges of sleep. "Help me find some joy again."
I woke to the inevitable wail. My eyes focused on the window where the first sliver of daylight hemmed the curtain with a silver ribbon. The same sense of despondency filled my chest. I rose, dreading the day. I dreaded preparing the children for church . . . the bathing, feeding, dressing, redressing. Every task was like a heavy gray bead on a chain around my neck.
On the drive home from church, Bob's voice floated over the front seat. "We talked about mothers in Sunday school."
"Oh, really," I muttered.
"My teacher said I made you a mother when I was borned."
"It's born. Not borned," I corrected.
"Tell me the story of when I was borned...I mean born."
I glanced around at him, getting a whiff of the carnations pinned at my shoulder. His face was poked out with curiosity. "Not now," I said, looking away.
By mid-afternoon the sky was charcoal gray. A slow drizzle of rain washed the den windows. In a rare moment of quiet, I stood at the solemn panes, my depression deepening.
"Mama, now will you tell me the story of when I was born?" Bob stared at me.
I sighed and dropped onto the sofa. He climbed beside me, waiting.
"It was late one night," I began reluctantly. "Daddy and I had waited and waited for you. We thought you never would get here. But finally you decided to come. Daddy drove me to the hospital." I paused, my heart not in the telling.
"Then I was born?" he urged me on.
"Yes. The first time I saw you, you had all your fingers in your mouth making silly noises."
He giggled. "Like this?" He stuck four fingers in his mouth and snorted.
I managed a smile.
"Did you hold me?"
"Yes, we had a long visit that night," I said. "You were wrapped in a blanket, and your hair was combed up into a curl like the top of an ice cream cone."
I could almost see the hair, the small wrinkled face. It seemed like yesterday.
Outside, lightning splintered the grayness, and inside, Bob's eyes were wide and blue. I looked at the shifting streams on the window and wondered why motherhood could not have remained so fresh and golden as those first moments.
The story seemed ended. But suddenly, a small forgotten piece of it came back to me, almost as if someone had shone a light into a dark place in my memory. "I nearly forgot," I said. "There was a card tucked in your blanket that night. A card from the hospital."
"What did it say?" Bob asked, perched high on the sofa cushion. I squinted my eyes, unable to recall exactly. Suddenly I was searching our shelves, digging out his baby book. Dust sealed the pages with neglect. Bob hung over my shoulder, his eyes sparkling with mystery as I ruffled through the yellowed memories.
I found the card in the back of the book. Across the front it was personalized with a slightly faded, slightly smudged inkblot of his hand. Five newly born fingers and one incredibly tiny palm. My eyes drifted over the tender little image down to the inscription beneath it . . . a simple greeting card verse:
"Make the most of every day For time does not stand still. One day this hand will wave good-bye While crossing life's brave hill."
The room grew quiet. Rain trickled on the panes. Bob took the card, his fingertips moving in silent wonder along the edge of the handprint. I watched, my throat feeling tight. How big his hands had become. And so quickly. His fingers were long and skinny next to the little image ? his palm a baseball glove in comparison. And suddenly, his hand holding the tiny inkblot became a living picture of time moving, of life flowing swiftly and silently through its passages. It was a picture of how precious and fleeting each moment with my children really was.
As Bob clung to the little card, the words it bore touched me as if they had a secret magic all their own. There was a truth in them of immeasurable value. and I could not resist it. Make the most of every day Time does not stand Still.
It seemed strange how a few lines from an old verse had returned just when I needed them. Lines that had somehow made everything clear again and put my problems in their place. Of course motherhood has frustrations and demands, I thought. Every worthwhile thing does. Why not accept them instead of dwelling on them? The important thing is to delight in my children now. . .now before these moments, too, become yellowed memories.
With a suddenness that startled us both, I drew Bob to me and hugged him tightly, my heart catching as that fragile flame seemed to ignite inside me again.
"You're going to pop me, Mama," he said, laughing. But I held on. And with his warm, little body curved against mine, I looked down at the card, which had tumbled to the floor, and smiled. For I was quite sure this handprint, with its ancient wisdom for mothers printed beneath, was in truth a Mother's Day card . . .one sent specially by God, Himself.
Sue Monk Kidd copyright 1982
Sue first wrote this story in 1982, but more than two decades later, it still applies to motherhood! You can find her story "Caring for Spring" in our story archives. www.2theheart.com/stories
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The Letter Box:
LOVE your open letter to your Mom, and almost thought you did not find THE emerald ring until I got to the paragraph at the end. What day in May is her birthday? You're very blessed to still have her, so count yourself among the extra-fortunate ones this coming Mother's Day. I'd hitchhike across the country if I could see my own Mother just one more time.
Thank You Susan for such a "tug-at-the-heart" story.....your sister, Angel, would've been so proud of you finding the perfect ring for your mom - you are awesome and thank you. Julie Dyer
I avidly read your 2theheart but have not commented for a long time due to illness in my family and due to my business interest but I just had to tonight after reading this beautiful story and I am going to sign on for your workshop. It is time for me to start doing those things once again I enjoy so much. Thank you not only for this beautiful story which made me feel I was right there watching you and Angel shop. God Bless, Dorothy
Dear Jana, tcpsne, and Julie, thank you for your comments in The Letter Box. And, again, I thank those individuals who emailed me personally. It is a treat, indeed, to hear from each and every one of you. It is marvelous to know God works in so many wondrous ways for some incredible folks. It rather makes this large world we live in seem so much smaller and connected when He works so beautifully in our lives. Through Him I know I am not alone--for there are the many fine folks like you whom He brings into our lives. And when He does this, He allows me to see that I share many of the lows and highs that other folks are experiencing too. And that I am blessed as He blesses others when He brings us together in His hands and ministers to us.
May God bless!
Kathy Anne Harris
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