The other day on an unusually brisk May morning at the bus stop, my friend and fellow mom stuffed her hands in her coat pockets to keep warm. She pulled out two erasers, a lollipop stick, a defunct key chain, and a band aid wrapper. In my coat pocket at that moment I had four hair ties and a spare pair of underwear for my daughter. We laughed of course, because as any mother will tell you our pockets are regularly stuffed with all sorts of hallmarks of our children and parenting, their trinkets and treasures and whatever they need or didn’t. The thing about us mothers is that it somehow always falls to us to be the ones to help carry their load.
Mother’s Day is fast approaching and the stores and cards and Internet are full of ideas of all sorts of things we think a mother might want or need. But there is one thing we need more than anything and it's not a bigger bag for all of the stuff we carry.
Tell us to empty our pockets.
Mothers carry everything with them all the time. Need a snack? Sunscreen? Wipes? Crayons? A mother will almost always have you covered. But you see it’s not just these tangible items for our children that we lug around each and every day. It’s two other infinitely heavier things we drag with us everywhere we go: two rather boulder-sized intangibles known as worry and guilt. Every mother I know of every religion who came to motherhood by whichever path she took – IVF, surrogacy, adoption, natural childbirth, c-sections, breast milk or formula – and whether their babies are 18 months or 18 years, carries around an absurdly heavy set of worries about whether they are enough for whatever it is their child needs.
These worries don’t just line our pockets like those lightweight gum wrappers. We carry them around all day and all night, offering up our weathered hearts and worries to each other like some sort of warped time-honored tradition among mothers. Our time together on social media often is spent asking why won’t my baby eat? What can I do? Our regular check in text messages are spent hand wringing over the homework our kids just don’t understand or the birthday party they weren’t invited too. At night, our phone calls and our evenings out together often turn to thoughts of college applications or worries about their health or development. Indeed, while our children always eventually find a way to outgrow and move past most of whatever it is we happen to be worrying about right now, our unending capacity to try to keep them safe in a world of hurt never actually stops. Indeed, sometimes our love for them can actually feel quite heavy.
Just the other day I asked my sister if she thought our mother worried this much about us. Were we just really boring kids? Was it a different time? Or did she just hide it better? But the more I think about flashes of our time together in my mind, the more I'm sure it's the latter. Mothers aren't just good at carrying stuff. We're good at hiding how hard and heavy that load feels sometimes too.
At the playground, I’m chatting with a grandmother. She was there with her granddaughter and we were each fussing, she with her grandchild and me with my daughter. I guess the worrying never really stops, she said, sort of half laughing and half sighing. I expect it’s the most natural thing about all of this, I replied, the way we just instinctively worry about how all of this will turnout, knowing full well we will both never really know or control those answers. And as I watched her stand under the monkey bars just in case, I was so struck by how there is no time in the trajectory of motherhood or even as grandparents, where we sort of age out of this instinct.
Moms, I know that this day will come and go and all of the stuff we've temporarily pushed to the side will work its way back to the forefront of our minds and hearts. I'm not asking a mother to give up worrying about her child. That's an impossibility. Since the moment we first held any of you, it’s as if it’s been baked into the whole process. But maybe just hit the pause button this Mother's Day. For this one day, it’s okay to empty your pockets and lay all the worries and guilt down. And in the ecstasy of the lightness of that moment, look up and really look at your children, just look at them.
For this one day give yourself the gift of seeing all of the pure goodness that comes from being loved as much as they are, as much as you do. Your love is enough. At least for today, lay down everything else long enough to remember this.
Because they are. And you do. And they’re going to be okay. And so will you.