The Work & The Reflection
It wasn't until I actually became a mother that I truly understood the work that goes into raising a well-adjusted human. How could I have known? I've read beautiful posts written by other bloggers describing the invisible nature of motherhood - how mostly all of the goodness that goes into being a 'good enough' parent goes on behind the scenes - the nose wiping, the boo boo kisses, the meltdowns, the sleepless nights. The realness of the invisibility has become more apparent as of late, likely thanks to toddlerhood.
Even though it comes with dark circles, sore nips, and unrelenting eat/sleep schedules, there's something so deliciously innocent about the work behind raising an infant. In those first several months of raising our first and only child, I saw that my duty was to create a healthy attachment by way of attuning to my daughter's every need. Eye contact. Touch. Repetition, routine, and predictability. My work was to keep her warm, fed, and comfortable - to make small adjustments, day-by-day, in order to help her feel balanced and at ease. To respond to her distress and work with her to find a solution to everything from her itty bitty baby problems, like uncomfortable hiccups and a wet pee diaper, all the way to her big, huge, FPIES-induced, vomit-to-almost-shock problems. This work, in many surprising ways, felt effortless. The days when the work felt especially hard were balanced out with a lot of couch sitting, head-smelling, swaddle blanket soft moments that were Instagram worthy.
As we continue to transition fully from infancy to full blown toddlerhood, it feels more & more like my head is a balloon and the length of the string attaching it to my body is dependent on how well she sleeps or if a tooth is trying to make it's grand entrance into her little mouth. The daily work output in raising an infant to raising a toddler shifted slowly but seemingly all at once in an impossible fashion that I feel like is only possible in raising tiny humans. The healthy attachment I proudly and successfully built serves as my springboard most days as I catapult into making most decisions on a whim. The invisible work of helping a toddler navigate life, I'm learning, is somehow more mentally exhausting than waking up every 2.5 hours to breastfeed for six months straight.
The work is different now, in the form of keeping my shit together, 'sharing my calm, not my chaos', as they say, as I pick up all 15 of my Tupperware lids from the kitchen floor and put them back into the drawer for the 7th time in two hours. When I become the helicopter mom in the children's area of our library out of fear of a single Cheerio lurking beneath the train table and making it's way down her esophagus. When I leave her in the care of someone else and I can see the sad, raw realization on her face that mommies are separate people and we do sometimes have to leave. The amount of books I read in a day, oh my god, the amount of books. The unrelenting force of energy that is 18 months old and growing, from well before the sun rises until bedtime, and often in-between that too. The amount of energy it takes to be continually thinking about what I'm going to say before I say it in every situation, all day long, so that she knows I see her, I hear her, and I love her, now and always.
None of this is expressed in complaint, of course. I am gifted in this life with circumstances that allow for me to stay at home and raise our daughter, which requires work from my husband on a much different and still demanding level. An even bigger gift is feeling confident enough to speak from my heart in saying that most days, I feel like I'm doing a great job at my job of motherhood. That the around the clock work in the small 980 square feet we occupy is mostly unseen but it's impact is great. The work is done with hopes that she will know herself: that she'll know what makes her heart sing and dance, and also what makes it sad, mad, and scared. More importantly, I'm working hard to help her build the skills one needs to manage everything that comes along with being human.
All of this, and then the following quote from Rumi ...
The beauty you see in me is a reflection of you.
I saw this quote on a dreary winter day when my floor was basically a giant booby trap and we were all feeling especially sleepless but in love. When June was stuck to me like glue in complete adoration as I simply existed. It occurred to me that she sees beauty in me in the same way that I see it in her, no matter if I'm on top of my mom game or dragging behind. A simple and beautiful reminder of the basic human goodness that lives in us. Along with this revelation came comfort and validation. It's in this message that I can continue to set goals throughout her toddlerhood and beyond to stay present, look at, and tend to what and who is in front of me from moment to moment.
This is motherhood, and we are going through the motions to raise real people who will walk into the world and likely do the same someday. Reflecting on it in this way, the work isn't really that invisible at all.