Remaking motherhood from work to love.
It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s gloomy. Every day is shorter than the one that came before it, and everyday my to-do lost is longer than it was yesterday. It’s easy to get out of sorts this busy season, to let shopping make us grouchy, to complain about a task as sweet as making cookies with the help of our children’s fat little hands. Some days, it really does all feel like work, and I go to bed totaling up how many noses I wiped or sandwich crusts I excised, how long I stood trapped in the kitchen, how many times I bent to rescue, rehabilitate, and rehome stray socks that apparently only I can see.
The old lady at the grocery store would tell me that it all goes by so fast, but moms in the trenches know that these days race by so slowly we think they might go on forever. No one wants these dark days of domestic drudgery and wrangling kids cooped up in houses that feel smaller every winter replaying in perpetuity.
This winter, I am trying a radical reframing of my life as a mom. Instead of work, I am thinking about love. As in, what if it’s all about love?
That milk that spilled all over the counter top, the bar stool, the floor, your lap right after I told you that you shouldn’t fling your fairy wand at breakfast because you might knock something over? I bet it feels cold on your legs, and I’d love to help you feel warm and dry again.
Your beds that are rumpled and full of stuffed animals and hold your sleeping shapes pressed into the sheets and traces of your breath on their pillows? When I smooth and fluff them, I imagine how cozy you will be snuggled up inside.
I put the books back on your shelves and let myself be delighted that you like to read in the morning before you come to breakfast.
I encounter your abandoned toy worlds—houses and castles arranged in a circle, or guys going to battle in Elsa’s palace surrounded by TIE fighters, or army planes full of soldiers eating a Calico Critters picnic—and I take a picture before I pick them up.
At the grocery store, I smile when I am filling my cart and checking items off my list. My oldest son’s morning smoothie ingredients that I will blend before the other kids wake up, the time of day when he’s most likely to let details about his life slip out. Stove Top stuffing, a side dish my nine year-old will eat with anything, even corn flakes. The plain bagels that are the cornerstone of my kindergartener’s aggressively beige diet. Pickles that my littlest eats by the jar, giving her the cutest garlicky vinegar breath, a special delight when it wafts out of someone dressed from head to toe in sequins and tulle.
Even laundry is love’s labor. My third son wears shirts that used to be my oldest’s favorites and folding them makes me remember my tween when he adored Batman. Now his pants are so long I sometimes put them in my own drawer by accident.
When my daughter interrupts me for the seventh time to ask me to help her change a doll’s clothes, I remember being a little kid and playing with dolls myself and dreaming of my life as a mom and the perfect little girl I knew I’d have someday. Every tiny doll-dress button can be a celebration.
When I pack lunches, I imagine their delight when they open the lid of the bento box and see that their favorite foods are nestled inside.
When I drive them to practice and watch through the window while they tumble or skate, I think how strong they are, how happy they look, how grateful I am to watch them fly.
I mean, you guys, I’m not a saint.
I still lose my patience and zone out on my phone when I should be listening to them and say no because it’s easier than yes. Asking myself the question, what if it’s all about love, though, helps me slog through the darkest says of mothering many small children with a smile.
Where did I get this radical new frame through which to interpret the Sisyphean work of raising kids? From my parenting role model Daniel Tiger’s mom, of course. “Taking care of you,” she sings to her children, “makes me happy, too.”