In 1962 my mother made it through a difficult day with a nine-year-old, a seven-year-old and an eighteen-month-old. It was difficult because she was in a new home in a state far away from her own family and friends. It was difficult because she was working full-time while trying to raise us. And it was difficult because she was doing this all alone. She was divorced.
At the time, I didn't appreciate her struggle. And in the years when I was raising my own toddlers, I didn't grasp the fact that she'd actually experienced much of what I was facing. But now, looking back over my life and hers, I've come to understand that while she may not have parented me perfectly, she did, indeed, share some of the questions, the inadequacies and the small victories that litter my own path.
After my mother died, my brother dug through boxes and unearthed her writings, discovering the essay that follows. Whether it's 1962 or now, my mother or me, your mother or you, moms all struggle with whether or not they have what it takes to mother and to mother well. When we verbalize our wonderings, we find strength, courage and yes, even confidence in ourselves as mothers. And we can find appreciation for our mothers.
When Is Noon?
By Paige Lee, 1962
Saturday morning is Mommy's Time at our house. This got started because I love to sleep. Five of the other days are school days with the normal early morning bedlam. The remaining day is for Sunday school, which starts at 9:00 a.m. in our church.
Mommy's Time means that on Saturday mornings, Cathy, who is nine, gets our toddler up, gives him his breakfast, and puts him back to bed for his morning nap while Elisa, who is seven, fixes cereal and sweet rolls. This means I can sleep, oh, sometimes clear up until 9:00 a.m., if the splash of milk or the spilling of cereal or the sounds of bickering don't force me up sooner. Some Saturdays it's a benighted favor, but sometimes there is a delicious silence, and I burrow deeper in to the covers and know the lovely luxury of waking up leisurely.
Today is Saturday, but it sure isn't Mommy's Time. My Saturday started somewhere around 5:30 a.m., when I was startled awake by the howling and frantic wind swirling around our house so strongly that I was reminded of the three little pigs and the wolf and wondered if the huffing and puffing would blow our small cottage away! The rain was a machine gun at my windows, and a hiss in the drainpipes. I put on a robe an went around peering out windows. The radio, which I had flipped on in passing, told me in cheery early morning tones that the storm was only beginning.
Actually, it was a fairly normal Saturday morning. Thank the Lord for TV cartoons when we can't go outside! By 8:00 a.m. I felt sure that it must be noon. The children were excited with the wildness of the storm, for in their years and in our part of California, they had never seen one before. Cathy had brought the milk in, dropped the half-gallon bottle, which made a storm of its own, with the splinters of glass flying everywhere. We put the baby back in his crib while I cleaned up the mess. At this point he evidently decided that it was time for potty-training, as he removed all of his clothes and baptized half the room before being discovered. Breakfast was louder than usual, with the children's excitement making voices louder, tempers shorter. Elisa turned over the sugar bowl, and the baby put cereal in every conceivable place except his mouth.
By 10:00 a.m., eight soggy friends of varying ages and sexes had dripped their way into the den to watch cartoons on TV. Three or more had, for some odd reason, actually removed their storm gear in the kitchen, and all eleven, plus my two, had said, "Gee, I'm hungry," at least twice.
I later bundled up the girls to take them to a birthday party, making the baby only an hour late for his nap ('cause of course, he had to go too) and, between taking them and picking them up (and getting the baby down), I was able to make several of the Girl Scout calls I had pending. In the car, the girls remembered the dresses they'd each received from their father's mother the day before and were beseeching me to have them pressed before church time tomorrow. To the music of this plea, I fought my way home through the storm.
It's now 5:00 p.m., I've mopped the floor at least three times, doled out apples, chauffeured to Timbuktu and back, settled four fights, changed several diapers, answered the telephone about twenty times, and wondered at least fifty times: Who ever invented children and motherhood, anyway? I'm beginning to get the sniffles, the rain is still pelting, the wind is still howling, dinner is still ahead of me, and my lips are compressed and hurting to keep me from throwing something and saying, Forget the whole thing.
I hate everyone.
It's now 7:00 p.m. I've just fed the baby and gotten him down, and put a load of diapers in the wash. The girls are eating and I have just finished pressing their two new dresses. Elisa hugs me, and Cathy says, "Mommy, I hope when I grow up, I can be as good and wonderful a mommy as you."
The rain is still machine-gunning my windows, and the huff and puff of the wolf wind is still with me. My house suddenly feels cozy. I think I'll build a fire, and perhaps the girls can roast marshmallows tonight.
Originally published in Mom to Mom: Confessions of a Mother Inferior by Elisa Morgan.