Essays & Shorts

The days are long, but the years are short: some furiously happy thoughts on motherhood

Mother /ˈmʌðə/ 

1. noun, a female parent 

2. verb, bring up (a child) with care and affection 

reality, one who sacrifices her body, her sleep, her social life, her spending money, her career opportunities, eating hot meals, peeing alone, patience, energy, and sanity for love

Becoming a mother taught me I can do almost anything one-handed. From vacuuming the house, doing laundry, and dishes to chopping onions with a chef’s knife or beating eggs and making an omelette. Even grilling. Sounds totally unsafe, you say? Yes, it is. But when you don’t have help and your sanity is fraying at the edges, it’s better to flip burgers with a toddler in one hand and a spatula in the other.

I’ve also learned to eat every single meal with just the one hand because, even when I’m sitting down, the little darling on my knee has little care for self-preservation, trusting me to be the living bungee cord to keep her from falling face-first to the floor.

I regularly also take phone calls one handed with skill that rivals even the best yogis of the world. Can you picture it?

Child on one hip, me holding the phone to my ear with my free hand. But wait! Now I need to write down something the irritated nursing assistant with a full schedule and a get-shit-done attitude on the phone said, so I squeeze the phone between my ear and shoulder, grab a pen and whatever piece of paper I can find – usually that one bill that wasn’t sent to my online bank even though that’s how I set it up – hike up one knee in to the air to use as a much-too-soft writing surface, and jot down the important dates and information in letters that look like I’ve recently had a stroke, all while standing on one leg like an overburdened flamingo.

Thankfully, the one thing that’s fairly easy to do one-handed is brew and drink strong coffee. Just make sure you gather up any errant coffee beans before they find their way into little mouths, or you can kiss any kind of nap time goodbye.

Tired as a mother.

I think motherhood is an experiment in how long my body can function without adequate sleep or nourishment, and be fuelled only by adrenaline, caffeine and baby smiles. Because becoming a mother meant my baby got to stay up all night drinking, and I’m the one with the hangover in the morning.

Sleep, to me, is like a unicorn — I’ve heard rumours of its existence, but I’ve yet to see it for myself. And in light of last night’s lack of sleep, I wish I could say tomorrow has been cancelled. But I have no such luck. Rather than being classified as an early bird or a night owl, I’ve moved on to a completely new category that can only be classified as some type of permanently exhausted pigeon.

They say children model the behaviour they see, but this is clearly false because my kids have seen me sleep, yet they do not sleep. I tucked them in last night and said, “See you in the morning!” and then we laughed and laughed and saw each other sixteen more times before sunrise.

Some days it feels like 90% of parenting is just thinking about when I can lie down again. I tried looking up my symptoms — turns out I just have kids. Pre-kid luxuries included things like movies, massages, shopping, idling at cafes, travelling, nice dinners out, museums, art galleries, impulse purchases, spontaneous lunches, having friends, and affording nice things.

Post-kid luxuries: sitting down. That’s it. And it’s like my kids can smell me relaxing because the most unfailing way to make them want something is to sit down. If I ever go missing, just follow my kids. They always find me no matter where I try to hide.

No one is as busy as a toddler at bedtime.

Nap time is the only break I get in a day but, unlike at a job, I can’t just clock out for my break. I have to earn it. Because bedtime, it seems, is the ideal occasion for my toddler to ask questions, request food, require additional bathroom breaks, and make innumerable, minute adjustments to everything in sight, before sleep can ensue.

I’ve learned to not make eye-contact with a child on the verge of sleep: they will sense your giddy delight and abort mission. Immediately. I’ve also learned to not check in on naps because as soon as you go to check on your sweetly sleeping child, their eyes will flutter wide open, and you wish you’d stayed away. Heart pounding in your ears, you’ll dive to the floor, and crawl out with pure ninja stealth to get noiselessly out the door.

The bustling activity that is your darling tot doesn’t stop or halt even as they’re nodding off. If you fall into an exhausted sleep while waiting for your kid to fall asleep — instead of getting to enjoy a blissful respite from all the activity — sleeping with a toddler is like sharing a bed with a drunken eight-armed octopus in search of his lost car keys.

I finally got eight hours of sleep, thanks for asking. It only took me four days.

Motherhood: a story about coffee getting cold.

I think the reason kids have so much energy is because they siphon it from their parents, like midget gasoline thieves. Just to trail hopelessly behind the break-neck speed the rest of the world seems to travel at, I need a double shot of whatever my kids are on.

My gaping yawn is but a silent howl for coffee, and some days, the only reason I get out of bed is because I know there’s coffee waiting for me in the kitchen. Patience is at the bottom of this coffee cup. Hang on while I find it.

While we’re on the topic of coffee, let me share with you an easy recipe for iced coffee I discovered. First you’ll need to have kids, then you make coffee, forget you made the coffee, and come back later to find it cold. Drink it anyway.

It’s not easy being a mother, otherwise, fathers would do it.

Motherhood not only confers the responsibility of raising a child upon you, it also changes the way in which you’re perceived in society and in the workplace. Motherhood can put your job security at risk, require you to take more than available leave options, and the Motherhood Penalty can be the kiss of death to your career. But hey, at least you have your kids!

And yeah, you know what? When I was young, I always dreamed of becoming a mother so I could make a meal everybody hates, force miniature versions of myself to bathe while they cry, and listen to them tell me they like my husband better.

When people are amazed at how well behaved my child is, all I can think is, Fools, you know nothing of the dark side. A toddler is an emotionally unstable pint-sized dictator who knows exactly how far to push me towards utter insanity before reverting to a snuggle-loving cuddle monster. So yes, some days, my kid can do no wrong. Other days I understand why some animals eat their young.

When I see these moms who look like they can do everything, my motherly guilt is prone to taking over. Why do they seem to just breeze through it when I’m barely hanging on by the edge of my coffee cup? Maybe I should have them do some stuff for me. Could I parent without screen time? Sure. I could also hand-churn my own butter, but let’s not get crazy here.

My kid wanted to know what it’s like to be a mom, so I woke her up at 2 am to tell her my sock came off. And I told her how I went to a dinner party with other grown-ups and, out of habit, started cutting the food of the person sitting next to me. I told her how I wore this outfit yesterday, but I’m going to different places today, so it’s okay. I explained that what she refers to as “yelling” I call motivational speaking.

And I told her that the reason some people believe they can achieve anything is because they listened to their mother when they were kids. I described to her how being a mother means your heart is no longer your own because it wanders wherever your children go. Then she wanted to know why God made me her mother instead of someone else’s mother. I told her, “We’re related. And God knew I liked you a lot better than other moms do.”

My house isn’t “messy”, it’s custom-designed by a 2-year-old.

My house perpetually looks like I’m losing a game of Jumanji, which often makes me wonder what the point of cleaning is if my family is just going to keep living here. Something I find myself explaining all too often is that I didn’t ask, “Who put it there?” I said, “Pick it up.”

Have you ever looked at the last few loads of laundry and just considered throwing them away? I have. In my wildest dreams, I even stand over a pile of dirty laundry with an empty can of gasoline, light up a cigarette, flick the burning embers of it into the pile, and have the camera pan out slowly from the flaming pyre reflecting in my sunglasses.

Here’s a little 50s housewife tip for you: the best way to get a workout on a Sunday is to rage-vacuum while your spouse is napping. It burns many more calories than regular weekday vacuuming.

Feeling fat lasts 9 months, the joy of motherhood lasts forever.

I have time to work out. Just kidding! I chase toddlers. Because once you sign-on to being a parent 24/7 is the only shift on offer. I’m pretty sure when God was making toddlers, he said, “Let’s make them really loud with the inability to reason and no sense of personal space. Oh, and they should wake up insanely early. Nailed it!”

One horror scenario my sleep-deprived brain likes to conjure up at regular intervals is me standing in the doorway, half-soaked and explaining myself to the police, “No, officer, no one is being murdered. I just had to rinse the shampoo out of my daughter’s hair.”

Because of this, my parenting style has evolved to “But did you die?” and because there is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one, the truly outstanding parenting lies somewhere between ‘Don’t do that!’ and ‘Ah, what the hell’.

At least I’m honing the skills I’ll really need once I get back to work.

I’m getting real good at time management and organisation since juggling a household and completing tasks to deadline at home essentially comprises managing school pick ups and drop offs, after-school activities, taking care of pets, renovations, and chores while ensuring dinner’s on the table before the offspring gets grouchy.

I can also add superb communication skills to the list because some days, mothering feels more like hostage negotiation with a band of drunken bi-polar pirates than parenting. I’m not a superhero, but I have talked someone whose mac-n-cheese was “too cheesy” and water “too watery” off the ledge, and that’s pretty much the same thing.

As a mother, I’ve also come across problems I never knew existed. I get hit with problems that rival doing quantum physics calculations on a daily basis — from answering questions like, “What happens if you throw a tomato at the sun?” or “Does the letter W start with D?” and yelling instructions on how to find that one specific toy, all the while I’m on the toilet trying to take a shit.

If evolution really works, why do mothers only have two hands?

You know you’re a mother when your instinct is to catch puke with your bare hands. Or when ‘blood, sweat and tears’ is what you call getting the kids out the door in the morning. And when you find that, “We don’t eat things we find in the couch,” is something you apparently say now.

I never know what to say when people ask me what my hobbies are. I mean, I’m a mom. I enjoy trips to the bathroom alone, and silence. And I know they say silence is golden, but of course, with children, it’s just suspicious because a toddler can do more in one unsupervised minute than the bro-dudes, who get up at 4 am for a 5k run and a cold shower, get done in their 16-hour workday.

I know that self-help books like to say that women use an average of 20,000 words a day, and while that’s a bullshit sexist comparison, my kid effortlessly manages 20,000 words before breakfast. How do I know? Because my nickname is Mom, but my full name is Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom Mom. I swear, motherhood is whispering “for fuck’s sake” under your breath before answering to your name.

The irony is that we spend the first twelve months teaching our children how to walk and talk, and the next twelve telling them to sit down and shut up. Although appreciating children for their silence is so Victorian. Children spread the laughter. Like when I say, “Please be quiet so the baby can sleep,” and my oldest goes into the other room and auditions for Metallica.

A toddler has the face of a baby, the attitude of a teenage girl, and can go from angel to devil in 0.27 seconds flat. I know this because hell hath no fury like a child whose sibling just pressed the elevator button.

Motherhood takes a lot of patience, a solid sense of humour, and a lot of wet wipes.

You know what takes longer than a toddler telling a story? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But the good thing is that the patience of a mother is like a tube of toothpaste. It’s never quite all gone. That’s only because patience is that thing you need when there are too many witnesses. And a mother’s love is unconditional. Her temper, eh, that’s another matter.

And there are plenty of things that make me want to tear my hair out. Like my kid can never find her shoes but finds a tiny piece of onion in her dinner IMMEDIATELY and telling her to just push it off to the side of the plate and not eat it is a categorically unacceptable answer. Or when I say, “Get dressed,” I don’t mean stand around naked watching TV with one sock on.

What do you mean a stress ball is not for throwing at people who stress you out? I’m telling you, parenting was a lot easier when I was raising my non-existent kids hypothetically. Back then, I didn’t know that I could ruin someone’s day by asking them to put pants on.

If you’ve never been hated by your child, you’ve never been a mom. I’ve had to draw some tough lines in with my progeny — prohibiting wearing dirty underwear as a hat, refusing to “put the moon away” when it was visible during the day, and forbidding a tampon from being shoved up the nose, just a few examples. Well, they say it’s the first 40 years of parenthood are always the hardest…

God couldn’t be everywhere, so he created mothers.

All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking kids into a house with a white carpet is one of them. Mentioning activities in front of the kids which you’re not prepared to fully engage in immediately is another. And you gotta love it when my kid tells me she’s bored. As if the lady standing in front of a full sink of dirty dishes is where you go to get ideas about having a good time.

Some people say the glass is half empty and some say it’s half full. I say, “Are you going to drink that?” which, incidentally, won’t do me much good because parenting is like trying to stand up in a hammock without spilling your wine.

Motherhood has changed me in so many ways. For example, I look much older now. But a mother has her own kind of beauty, one that is softened at the edges, and tempered with a spine of steel. In the end, being a mom is like folding a fitted sheet. No one really knows how to do it. So we all just get on with it and hope for the best.

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