My daughter came home from school the other day and as usual and tossed her shoes and backpack onto the hallway floor. I gave her a side-hug, and she dashed off to change clothes and greet her siblings. I unzipped her backpack and pulled the pile of papers from her folder, taking them into the kitchen.
Among the crinkled art projects, permission slips and announcements were a few completed worksheets. On one worksheet, the students were supposed to use the vocabulary words they had studied in a sentence. My daughter, however, chose to write a sentence on her own, using none of the required words.
The sentence stopped me in my tracks.
You see, as a mom of three kids, I often feel that I project anything but happiness. Days with three young ones are often filled with tears, compromises, tantrums, poop, tattling and negotiations. Essentially, it can be sheer chaos.
Being a stay-at-home-mom is a full-time job alone. But it's not my only job. I'm living with a chronic disease, one that requires continuous management, attention, time, and money. I'm also a writer, always trying to squeeze in an e-mail to an editor, work in time to write the chapter of my next book, and market my current books. When my husband walks in the door each evening, I'm teetering between depletion and insanity.
I spend most of my days in yoga pants and old shirts or the exercise clothes I put on that morning. My hair is usually in a Kimmy Gibbler ponytail. I have a case of adult acne that flares up once a month. I haven't had a pedicure in over a year. I usually smell like peanut butter and the vinegar I clean with.
But my kids, they see the best in me. My oldest daughter told a friend, "I get all my moves from my mom!" She recently said to me, "Goodnight, Hot Stuff Sugar Lips Princess Mommy." My toddler calls me "Mama" in the most melodic, joyful sing-song voice, complete with a big grin and a back-patting hug. My middle daughter, who is highly energetic, loves to sit and hold my hand, our fingers intertwined.
They share with me parts of their magical, little worlds. My oldest requested I touch the tops of her fingers and when I did, she said, "They feel soft like sheep, mom." Another day I was asked where God puts the sun at night. My 2-year-old has mastered the sincerity of saying, "Love you."
I'm their nurturer, protector, provider, defender, negotiator, disciplinarian, doctor, counselor, planner, chef, spiritual advisor and teacher. I'm their sunshine. But often, in the midst of difficult, overwhelming days, days when my blood sugars are roller-coastering and potty-training is failing and I burned dinner, I feel more like their rain.
Moms are taught to believe we can never be enough or do enough. We will always fall short in the eyes of ourselves and others. We are conditioned to believe our worth comes from the diet we feed our children, if we work in or out of the home, if we are choose attachment parenting or free range parenting, if we vaccinate our kids or not. We are encouraged to "do it all," yet deep down, we all know that's unattainable. Yet we pursue the mirage of motherhood perfection, relentlessly.
We are let down, every single time.
The paper my daughter brought home made me tear up. She had paid me a great compliment, a compliment that came from her heart, her perception, her reality. It wasn't just a compliment, it was truth.
I imagine what is going on in her 6-year-old mind. Day in and day out, she observes me and emulates me. We enjoy kitchen dance parties, art projects and sacred conversations about what's going on in her heart before she's tucked into bed. There's an endless well of compassion, empathy, forgiveness and grace. We alternate between tender touches, making up and giggles. She sees her mom being silly, loving and present. She sees the entire, authentic package: imperfect and determined.
It doesn't matter to her that my jeans went out of style three years ago, that my hair isn't highlighted or that I smell like a two-day-old sandwich. It doesn't matter that my face could use some concealer, that we are eating scrambled eggs for dinner for the third night in a row or that my next book isn't coming along as well I think it should. It doesn't matter that I have yet to put the laundry away or that a fellow mom gave me a judgmental glare at the park when I let my kids climb up the slide.
I have managed, without knowing it, to be the very mom my child needs and celebrates. I have, amidst diaper changes and sibling scuffles, exuded happiness. And that means more to me than book sales, a tidy house, dressing my kids in matching clothes or wearing a fashionable outfit.
I'm giving my children something to strive for, embrace and relish. I am giving them the gift of a happy mom and demonstrating that pursuing, claiming, and living a happy life makes a person beautiful.