Motherhood is... (A Toenail in the Eye)


I should have something to say about Mother’s Day. I had four kids in three years afterall. Sometimes I feel like I invented motherhood.

When my husband asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day I initially said I wanted two hours to go make art. Last night I downgraded. I wanted to sleep in.

It’s sad to think that the things I wanted for Mother’s Day involved not being with my children. Mother of the Year, 2016, you are mine.

This morning I was looking through my own archives, the weird note-taking app on my phone and iPad where I hastily type in random sentences like, “The concept of contaminated time,” and whole blog posts, lists of things for my son’s birthday party next weekend, and my grocery list. I found the following.

“It was mani pedi day with the girls while Tim took the boys to the Meat House. I was cutting Reid’s toenails and one hit my eye. Fast forward 12 hours, and I was getting ready for bed. I dabbed at my eye after moisturizing and pulled out a (wait for it...) toenail covered in eye booger. What are the chances statistically? My brother is an actuary. I should ask him. Because if that had been a diamond ring or a set of car keys that had flown through the air and embedded themselves in my body we would never have seen them again.”

And that sort of sums it up on most days. Motherhood is dabbing at your eye and finding a child’s toenail crusted in boogers. Just my body absorbing the refuse that I trim off their bodies, me absorbing them.

And so then I got to thinking about what motherhood is.

Motherhood is laying in bed every night, surrounded by children, reading them books, because I love making all the voices, and the gift of reading is so priceless, and it might be the only time I’ve had my feet off the ground all day.

Motherhood is late nights lining up containers for the lunches, cleats for soccer, coats and hats and mittens for school, packing the bags, slicing the apples. Rows and rows of planning for their futures big and small.

Motherhood is that first moment I saw them each, even if it wasn’t until two days after the umbilical cord was cut, and even if they were in those plastic isolettes with wires and tubes and such. Even if I couldn’t touch them with my hands, to watch their little chests flutter as they filled and emptied, filled and emptied, breathing outside of me, while inside I still tried desperately to breath for them.

I got to thinking about the mothers around me. How motherhood is volunteering at a school, at the auction, for the town composting initiative or to build the playground, to invest in their futures, to show up, show up, show up. How it’s doing the seatbelts and carrying them into the school, taking off the boots and slipping on the shoes in a hallway crowded with other mothers (and fathers and caregivers) as we prepare them for the world outside our immediate care each day. Bringing them to sports or dance or doctors and watching, encouraging and waiting.

I got to thinking about my family. I thought about my sister and how motherhood is being a doctor and a church singer, mixed-drink master, mother to two. And in the midst of all this, also being a mother to every other mother who shows up to her office, to all their children, and to her baby sister who texts and calls at all hours of the night sharing symptoms and photos of rashes and sores. Motherhood is taking hold of all these other people and calmly and doggedly pushing at the problems until they are made better.

And as always I circle back to my mother for whom motherhood meant accepting her lot, plugging along, pushing everyone forward. Clothing and feeding and driving and preparing. Motherhood meant preparing for the day when she would hold her fifty year-old, firstborn son, and then call each of her other children to say, “Butchie is gone. He’s gone.” It’s sitting there as she absorbed the draining warmth of his skin into her own, and inhaled the air that held his last breath. Motherhood is holding on to this piece of yourself that is outside of yourself, but that never really disconnected from all you do and everything you are, forever.

Yes, perhaps that is at the heart of it. Motherhood is that. Motherhood is holding on to this piece of yourself that is outside yourself as if it was still inside you. Whether born of our bodies, or with otherwise shared lineage, or birthed through marriage, or adoption or fostering or caregiving. Motherhood is the toenail in the eye, the children at the school, your sisters and friends, and mother-in-law and mom. It’s not pretty, but it’s powerful.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the people who care for the ones who inhabit their hearts.

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Picture of Jen Groeber

Author: Jen Groeber

Jennifer Groeber is a mother of four, artist, writer, and blogger. You can read about her escapades parenting, reliving her childhood and obsessing over Bruce Springsteen at jen groeber:mama art

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