A long time ago, in 1997, I was 30 years old and the proud mother of one baby and two toddlers.
My husband and I had moved to Wichita from St. Louis and we had found some friends! Not only that, but those friends had invited us out.
Did you hear me? We, new people in town, were going OUT with new friends! All was right in my world.
I was giddy. Not that I hated being in, but my infant, Mitchell, had a gag protector that was flipping but not flapping and he projectile spit after every feeding. I changed his clothes about fifteen times per day.
While I dealt with the baby and tons of laundry, I had the constant of my toddlers.
Eric, the three year old, was fascinated with piles; he’d take everything that wasn’t nailed down and put it into a heap. He would dump out all of the sorted puzzles, army guys, cars, balls, game pieces, blocks, Lincoln Logs and etcetera. And there was a serious amount of ETCETERA in our house.
He called this practice of creating massive piles, “CRASH.” That kid loved playing crash.
My little girl, Rachel, had ear infections, one after another, mostly because I was a dense mama and knew nothing of nutrition and how to feed my family. I gave Rachel whole milk and whole food before she was a year of age. As a result, ear infections; my toddler girl could not communicate because SHE COULD NOT HEAR.
She was my own little Helen Keller, wild and unable to tell me what she needed or wanted.
So yes, a night out was W-E-L-C-O-M-E.
As I thought about the clothes I would wear and the fun I would have, I remember thinking, “I feel like this is Homecoming.” (But not Prom. I mean, come on. It was just a night out with friends.)
I know you know how this is gonna end.
My kids got sick.
Not just “well, maybe that was spit up” but The Big Kahuna.
I can still feel the weight of the verdict:
YOU CANNOT GO OUT AND HAVE A LIFE BECAUSE YOU ARE A MOTHER NOW,
handed to me in a puke bucket.
I felt intense sadness, like my world was ending. If you think that’s a little extreme, it was. But that’s where I lived.
I managed the puke bowls, held back hair, washed little faces and felt deeply sorry for myself.
I wish I could go back and handle that situation (and many others!) with my 50-year old self driving the bus.
I know that’s not possible, but for what it’s worth, I would like to at least take a moment and talk to my 30-year old self. I would like her to know some truths.
Dear Younger Self,
Sweet girl, I know that you feel absolutely devastated right now.
I wish I could relieve you of your sadness. I know that your heart is heavy because you cannot go out with new people. I know that the prospect of FRIENDS filled you with joy.
I get your sadness.
And I know you have been overwhelmed with the constant challenges of being a mama. You work from dawn to dusk and you just wanted some time off.
I get your sorrow. It’s real and it’s valid. I completely and totally understand.
But allow me, dear one, to show you some bigger truths.
You are literally touching thousands of lives right now, with the kindness and goodness that you show your littles.
What you are doing is sparking and growing within them.
You don’t see this because your constant feeling of inadequacy hides everything.
All you feel is the tired. All you understand is the spikes of impatience.
It’s the way of God, you know. He hides What is Really Going On from your view.
If you knew, you’d think you had arrived. And God is not done with you yet, not by a long shot.
Know, my young self, God is doing wondrous things in the deep of your soul.
He is getting rid of YOUR selfishness as you give and live, love and learn.
I want to reveal a small part of the real story, to renew your energy and to give you strength for your journey.
Let’s take a moment and look again at your life:
Every single night, when you are dead asleep, you hear your baby’s cry. And without even thinking, you sit up, careful not to wake up your sleeping husband and you get out of that warm bed.
You walk into the next room; you smile and let your hungry son know you are there for him with your quiet voice; you gently pick him up and take him downstairs to the recliner. Your mother’s heart loves that little boy. I know by your actions as you give yourself to him in the no hours of the night.
There is not a day that you wake up rested or ready for the day, yet you still get out of that bed and give.
You even smile.
You listen to your toddlers; you found a way to communicate with your Helen.
You tend to them, you feed them, you keep them safe.
You are a giver.
I bet you never thought of yourself as a giver, did you? You only see your lack. But I know. I know what you give and I am proud of you.
I can see you are not letting my words in. So let me just whisper some truths into your heart:
Your little Eric, the one making you insane with his constant building and crazy “crash” piles? One day, Mama, he will be an engineer. He.Will.Make.Things. He will also have an entrepreneurial spirit, which will take him on amazing adventures.
Your little Rachel, the one that cannot communicate? She will grow up into a tall, beautiful woman; she will play basketball in college and spend her time building into the lives of others. She will be on stages, sharing Jesus. Her voice will be confident, clear and compelling.
And your little Mitchell, the puker? He will surprise you when, at Mass one day, he tells you, “When I am here in the pew I just want to be up there, on the altar.” He will be called by God, Mama Lori. And he will have enough spit and guts left in that little belly to respond.
Here’s the truth of YOUR life as a mother of toddlers:
All of that time showing them how to color and paint and do crafts is worth your time, Mama.
Taking them to church, even when you have wet hair and they have mismatched socks and even when you feel like you never stay in the pew for very long, is worth the effort.
Going to parks and letting them play in the sand and splash in the puddles is time well-spent.
Mama, many years from now, you will have independent, responsible, confident, happy adult children.
And that happens slowly, over the years. Your adults are being built as you continually feed and water and pick up after them. They are being built in the no hours of the night. They are built in the MIND-NUMBING constant.
Mother of Toddlers, adult children are built in and through your sacrifice of self.
What you do every single day, minute by minute, is unbelievably important.
It doesn’t seem like you are doing much, as you wipe and soothe, cuddle and read.
You need to know that EVERYTHING you do, every last bit of effort, is making your babies into strong, phenomenal adults who will move in this world.
Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for staying home tonight and for helping the pukers.
Your life is of tremendous significance.
That is the truth about Mothers of Toddlers.
I am proud of you.
Love, Your Older Self