It all starts with a push. It is through a woman’s labor, a forceful push, that a baby – and her mother – is birthed.
From that point on, it is all about pulling. A woman, now a mother, pulled in eight thousand different directions a day. Literally, she is – calls for food, cries for comfort – but that’s not even of what I speak. I’m speaking of expectation vs. reality; perfection vs. attainability; manic striving vs. sanity.
From that first push, and from that first pull forward, the unwitting conditioning of our ideas and carrying out of motherhood shape our every decision, every day, our very psyches.
The other day, I kicked my kids out of the kitchen while I made the cupcakes they requested for Easter. My second oldest had requested red velvet, which we’d never made before. Why, suddenly, did she want this new and different flavor? Could we not keep it simple, especially surrounding a busy holiday? But then, I could’ve kept it simple by redirecting her to a different flavor or even buying a ready-made mix. Instead, I half-kiddingly offered the metaphor of red for Christ’s blood. She was sold. And I began research on homemade recipes with less artificial ingredients than the mixes. Again, could’ve kept this simple, but looked for the simplest one I could find that was sort of in line with the husband’s and my new trying-to-be-healthy-ish regimen.
That morning, the second oldest and I participated in an impromptu Girl Scout cookie booth. I came home to prep appetizers for a dinner party at a friends’ that night. Then I set in on the cupcakes. The cupcake-requester was nowhere to be found, most likely buried eyeball-deep in her iPad after a morning of social interaction. Her next youngest sister saw me gathering supplies and asked to help. At this point, I was up to my eyeballs in a messy kitchen and bad humor.
“NO,” I replied far too emphatically.
When I saw her sad little face, I almost reconsidered, but held my ground, knowing that with limited time and remaining fuse I’d do far more damage than that to her poor little soul.
By way of a conciliatory carrot, I said, “You can help decorate them when they’ve cooled.”
As I prepped the rest of the recipe, I felt guilty. These were cupcakes for a family celebration of Easter, requested by the kids most excited about the holiday. Yet, the kid who’d started this whole evolution was MIA and I’d sequestered the rest. Was I not sucking the joy out of this? Was it about having a finished batch of red velvet cupcakes or letting my daughters participate in a fun activity?
When describing the frenetic events of the weekend to my therapist today, but before I got the part about my guilt, she congratulated me for sensing my limit and taking steps to keep from flying right over it. When I told her how I perceived it, she said that I had been well within my rights for self-preservation by prepping the cupcakes myself. She pointed out that I welcomed them in decorating the cupcakes, which is all kids really want to do anyway.
It did occur to me that, had I removed that fail-safe for myself that day, it wouldn’t have been a June Cleaver moment even if mother and child had made cupcakes together. It almost certainly would’ve ended badly. Just the night before, I’d dropped the f-bomb as we all made Resurrection cookies together. Jesus would’ve been proud.
Looking back, I can see how it would’ve ended. I would’ve needed multiple ‘come to Jesus’ moments afterwards to recoup. And yet, the guilt still came in the moment.
And that is the pull modern mothers have. We have been conditioned to do all manner of June Cleaver, Martha Stewart, Mother Earth type of things for our children, our families – even to the exclusion of our sanity.
Motherhood, parenthood, by its very essence, is sacrifice. But there is no sense giving all of ourselves if everyone involved is miserable. Even cupcakes are bitter to the taste buds when made with resentment and frustration.
The journey of motherhood started with a push. That doesn’t mean we have to be pulled apart from that point forward. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. And no, I’m not saying we should push our kids around. We mustn’t remain static in the face of our conditioning. There has to be movement both towards our children and our own self care.
After all, my homemade version of red velvet cupcakes were vegan – with store bought cream cheese frosting.