My kids have been sick lately—with a head cold that settled in at our house and forgot to settle out of my two daughters. I’ve been up with one or both of them almost every night for the last three nights. Tonight I lie in bed and hear them coughing and coughing and coughing. I listen to it until my heart feels like it is going to break. Then I stumble to the room the sound is coming from, pick up the struggling child, and take her to the bathroom where I hope steam from running a hot shower will clear it out, the bathroom door shut tight to trap the moisture in.
Tonight it is Paisley, my 18-month-old. I sit on the closed toilet lid and hold her snuggled against my chest, her little frame wracking with each cough. My eyes close in a mock sleep, and I wish, desperately, that I were actually nestled in my bed.
As I sit here, I can’t help but wonder how many hours my mother spent up with me over the course of my childhood. Part of me fills with guilt and empathy at the loss of sleep that I caused her. The other part of me fills with gratitude at the work she put in to fill my little soul with love and care. Thoughts of her sacrifice fill my mind, and I find myself wanting to be a little better as a mother—to be more like her. I want to be a little less bothered by my sleeplessness because she had once done the same for me.
I push the thoughts of my warm comfy bed away and, instead, enjoy this rare moment when Pais is actually being still and letting me snuggle her. I look at her sweet face and feel her little body, not trying to wiggle free or escape to a more exciting antic. And I feel grateful for a mother who snuggled me.
The next morning comes more quickly than I hoped it would. And the day is long and frustrating. I am tired. As the day comes to an end, I am done with mothering for a bit. But I’m not done. I still have to make sugar cookies for our co-op preschool group to decorate the next day. I consider waiting until the girls are in bed, but then think again—making cookies with me is one of their favorite activities. And we haven’t make them in such a long time. Plus I already told Em, my three-year-old, that we were going to make them and can’t find it in myself to squash her excitement just because I am tired.
So I let them help. I tie on aprons and pull a chair over to the counter for them to stand on. I pull out the mixer, eggs, butter, flour, and everything else we need. Together we start. One by one they slowly pour the ingredients that I measure out for them into the bowl. Flour spills over the edge of the bowl and onto the counter. Sugar onto the floor. Every time the beaters stop, one or both of them stick fingers in the bowl to test how the cookies are coming along.
During the course of our cookie-making extravaganza, I can’t help think to myself, “This would be so much faster and easier by myself!” In that moment, my mind goes back to my mom. How many dozens of cookies she must she have patiently helped me make. I don’t even dare try to figure that out. I’m sure at the beginning she carefully scooped each ingredient into the measuring cup and then helped me dump it in. I’m sure that she held back frustration when I was a little older and wanted to prove that I could do it by myself, only to trail sugar across the counter on my way to the mixing bowl.
With memories of making cookies with my mom flashing through my mind, I take a deep breath and push down the frustration. Em licks every spoon she touches, even after I tell her not to. I replace the used spoon with a clean one to scrape the bowl, knowing the fate it too will meet. I do my best to not get mad. I really try, with the idea—the memory—of a much more gracious, patient mother running through my head.
Someone once told me, “You will never understand how much your parents love you until you have you own children.” In a small way, I am beginning to see this. I see all the little sacrifices I make in a day and realize that my mother made the same ones for me, only a hundred-fold over. I see the nights she didn’t sleep. The days I made her late because I couldn’t find a shoe or caused her to be unprepared because she was busy fixing a little girl’s hair. I see the meals that took double the time to make because of a little helper that was more important to her than checking an item off of her list.
I see the small sacrifices that added up to being big sacrifices, which turned into a grown daughter who became a mother. And all that time of caring for me and helping me, she was teaching me to care about and help others, especially my own children.
Now we only get to see my mom every few months, when we can make the nine-hour drive down to see her or when she comes up to see us. When she comes, my children rush to her—never shy—knowing that they are about to get a lot of love and attention. But, during the in-between time, we still feel the influence of her patience, love, and sacrifice as a mother and grandmother, through my attempts to emulate her. Her influence continually fills our hearts with love. And as I’ve felt it, I’ve decided that maybe that is what it means to be a mother.
QUESTION: How does your mother’s influence affect you as you parent today?
CHALLENGE: Think of the women who nurtured you in your childhood. Take time this week to thank them for their influence on you as a mother.
Edited by Megan Roxas and Sarah Monson.
Image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.
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