I’m sitting here at bedtime listening to my three- and five-year-olds call out “Mommy!” from their bedroom. Only, it isn’t really bedtime. It is three hours past bedtime because we’re waiting for the text from my husband to tell us to come pick him up from a meeting downtown that ran late.
“MOMMY! I need my blankets on!”
“MOMMY! I need cold water!”
“MOMMY! I need my pillow!”
It goes like this, even when I enter their bedroom to fix their problems. They run out of things to need and questions to ask, but still I’m a prisoner in their room to the constant “MOMMY!”s. Each step closer to the door there’s another one, more urgent each time. The “Mommy”s are followed by long pauses, but you can’t leave with one hanging. You need to get out before another one comes. It is just a rule of childhood. If I were to leave before a “Mommy…..” request has been dealt with, there will absolutely be tears. If I can somehow sneak out between the resolution of one “Mommy….” and the beginning of another, there is peace. It is damn near impossible to do, however.
And then there’s that text I’ve been waiting for all day. “I’m done my meeting. Come pick me up.” I’ve been expecting it since 6pm. I was told he would be late. Late wasn’t quantified. Apparently I should have asked for clarity. The text still hasn’t come.*
It’s what I do. I jump when I hear “Mommy”. I jump when I get texts.
I have always wanted to be a mother. I believed it was my calling. I would have babies of my own and I would open my house to foster kids and I would adopt and our house would be full of love because I had so much love to give. That’s what I believed, long before I was married and had actually experienced motherhood. And while I did wholeheartedly believe that this was and would be true, there was also that strong desire to just have a baby for me: so I could have someone to hold and snuggle and take care of and who would love me unconditionally. It was selfish. Beneath all my thoughts of spreading love to the unloved children of the world, what I was really dreaming about was that feeling of being loved unconditionally.
Motherhood can sure be a bitter pill to swallow sometimes, can’t it?
I think one of the biggest things that I have come to understand about being a mother, along with the knowledge that it isn’t easy to be that Mary Poppins version of motherhood that I had imagined that I would be, is that babies and children don’t really do unconditional love. Of course, they need love. And being a mother has introduced me to a kind of love that I didn’t feel before they were born. But they absolutely won’t understand this love that I feel for them until they’re standing in the same place I am, holding their newborns; Cooking their families dinner; Watching their children sleeping peacefully in their beds.
Every time I have a newborn baby, usually when I am in the pits of exhaustion, this scene plays out in our home:
Dan: “Look how much the baby loves you. You are the person he loves most of all!”
Me: “He doesn’t love me at all. He just needs me to feed him and care for him. He needs my love. It doesn’t work the other way around. That thing he is doing is need, not want.”
My husband argues that even our brand new babies are capable of love and they do love me. And he’s probably right. I mean, I know he’s right. But at least equal to their love is a great big, little-baby neediness.
Being needed isn’t bad. It means you’re valuable. I think that there are even people who equate being needed with being loved. But sometimes I wonder if I just feel needed so often and loved so little. This plays out in little ways: Children constantly complaining that they are hungry but never eating what I set in front of them; Forgotten “please” and “thanks you”s; Hanging “I love you”s that never get a response; “I love you”s that don’t come at all; Waiting around for that text that tells me to come…
I start resenting that constant parade of “MOMMY!”s. I don’t want to hear this beautiful word that describes my identity anymore.
“No more ‘Mommys’!” I said to Gavin at bedtime tonight.
“Mama?” he said. “Can I call you Mama?”
Stop. Sigh. I know. I know.
He can put his blankets on by himself. The water in the bottle from last night won’t kill him. He has one pillow already in his bed. Some of these things are for comfort. Some of them are because of routine. Some of it is just in complete defiance of bedtime.But underlying it all is that desire to have me there with them. They want me there. The need my love, but somewhere there too is a love for me. I think. I mean, of course.
I know that my children can’t untangle their need of me from their love of me. And I know I don’t really want them to.
*My husband wasn’t ready to come home until quarter to midnight. Next time I will be sure to have him clearly define “late”. He also managed to get home without me so don’t feel bad that I had to get the kids up and go get him. I didn’t. And, to be fair, I was *offering* to go pick him up.