All hail to mothers and the hardest job of all


All hail to mothers and the hardest job of all

I once thought that raising my children was the hardest work I had ever done or would ever do.

Raising my three daughters was so physically, mentally and emotionally taxing that I often fell asleep at 9 p.m. when they were young -- the instant I had them tucked in bed.

By midmorning, I was always drained of mental and physical energy (quite literally "drained" in the days of nursing infants on demand), and almost crazed with exhaustion by nighttime. There was never enough sleep, and there were never enough breaks.

As an at-home mom in the Single Parents While Married (SPWM) Club – that beleaguered group with spouses uninvolved in parenting – my permanent state of fatigue was compounded by frustration and mental exhaustion. Even when I did get to sleep, I would dream about my girls – mostly scary dreams where they got sick or got hurt, or uneasy ones where I wrestled with their hurts or problems.

In addition – as my fellow at-home moms and I often lamented in playgroup – we so rarely got a respite from our jobs.

When our husbands left work they could temporarily escape their offices and their piles of paperwork and to-do's, while our to-do's surrounded us at every waking moment. If we stole a kid-free moment to flop on the couch and draw a breath, it was still hard to feel rested – seeing as we had to rest in full view of the dust layers, toy-littered floor and laundry piles all over our "workplace."

Yet the hardest part of our jobs, we all agreed, was that as at-home moms, we enjoyed very little concrete, day-to-day job satisfaction. We couldn't point to any work accomplishments like negotiating a deal or making or selling a product.

What's more, we would be 18 years or so into our jobs before we would even know if our kids might turn out okay!

But as I prepare to "celebrate" my third Mother's Day without my youngest daughter, I have revised my opinion about the hardest thing I have ever done.

Raising children is hard work alright, but mourning a child – and the monumental task of remaking yourself after your happy self has been destroyed – is so much harder and more exhausting.

Mourning is all pain, no gain. With child-raising, I could at least take satisfaction in the small rewards and simple joys of motherhood, like seeing the light in my kids' eyes as they bounced out of bed eager to tackle a new day. Or seeing once-battling siblings play together, and eventually even grow close and become friends in their teens.

And despite the seemingly-endless nature of the job, and the lack of any guarantee that I would eventually produce happy, productive adults, I was able to take satisfaction – most days anyway – in the knowledge that I had given all I had to raising them right.

Now, there are no such things as good days any more – there are simply days that are less bad.

Usually those are days when I have accomplished some small task that honors Lanie's memory or would make her proud. (Giving up talking on the phone while driving – something Lanie never let me do when she was in the car – was instantaneous and easy after she was killed by a distracted driver. Giving up daily diet sodas, my drug of choice for caffeine-delivery, has been harder – though I am down to one or two a day.)

Like child-raising, child-grieving is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.

But even though it seems as we mother young children that they will never grow up, they do. Someday we will escape the day-to-day demands and we will be rattling around in our empty houses without our offspring.

With grieving there is no escape. No end. Instead of an empty nest, the empty place is inside us – never to be filled.

I am in a coffee group with other bereaved parents, and have met parents who lost children decades ago. I don't care if a parent's child died 40 years ago, trust me – not one has escaped the pain. They tell me the grief "softens" a bit, but it never goes away.

Now, even a simple, once-pleasureable task like reading the daily paper can be utterly draining. It was always hard to read about some other parents' child dying. But now that I am not just imagining their pain but living it, hearing about other parental losses is much worse.

And if you think the lack of sleep, or the worrying, has ended for me – think again.

If a strange car (or heaven forbid a TV news vehicle, as happened recently) pulls up anywhere near my house, my heart begins to pound; I am filled with dread. If I am in the city and hear sirens, I instantly think of my daughter who lives and works and rides her bike in Richmond. My other daughter is in Seville and also rides her bike, so I lie awake at night waiting for my phone to ring during her morning commute time.

Today I function – and I use the term loosely – on far less sleep than I ever got as a young mom. I either wake at 2 or 4 a.m. and cannot get back to sleep; or I am unable to drop off until 3. Even then, my sleep is restless, and my dreams are filled with endless quests and searches – usually involving a young Lanie or other small children.

As you can imagine, Mothers Day is a painful holiday now. At best, I will get through the day by picnicking with my Richmond daughter under the tree where Lanie is buried, and showing people around her new home of Hollywood Cemetery.
So while I can't truly "celebrate" Mother's Day any more, I'd like to take the opportunity to say all hail to mothers.

To those hard-working moms who use their last ounce of energy to read to their children at night, all hail. To mothers who sacrifice sleep (and maybe a little sanity) to nurse on demand, all hail.

To mothers who put away their phones and tablets and really listen to their children, or get down on the floor to play the same boring board game over and over, all hail. To mothers who buy their kids books and puzzles and then read to them or join them in their play, instead of buying electronic gadgets to pacify and sedate them, all hail.

And all hail – and many, many hugs – to mothers of angels. We have the toughest job of all: grasping for meaning in a life that's had a gaping hole blown through it; finding ways to honor and remember our missing children; finding hope and reason to go on without them.

And perhaps hardest of all, trying to mother our surviving children who have not only lost siblings, but the moms they once had.

If you are a mother whose family is intact and children are healthy, I hope you count your blessings on Mother's Day.

And if you know a mom who is not so lucky – a bereaved mom; the mother of a seriously ill child; the mother of a mentally or physically challenged child, or a child with mental illness – I hope you will go out of your way to give that most special of moms a hug, support and a listening ear in this month of Mother's Day.

While it will take effort, I will do my best to count my blessings on Mother's Day too. To be thankful that I had 24 years with Lanie, and that her older sisters are alive and well.

But there's just no getting around it.

Living without her is so much harder – and so lacking in the compensating joys and rewards – than raising her was.
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August 2017
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Christ Church Episcopal, 5000 Pouncey Tract Rd., will kick off a new season of ministry with music, fellowship and food on the church lawn from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. This community-wide celebration will feature the bluegrass band East of Afton and the Keith Elgin Band, food trucks and low-key games for the young and young-at-heart. Bring lawn chairs and invite friends. For details, call 364-0394 or visit http://www.christchurchrichmond.com. Full text

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