“Please walk,” I pleaded with my 20-month-old. She held her ground, feet firmly planted a little too close for comfort to the edge of the street. I stood a few feet away, holding her four-and-a-half-year-old sister. Normally they would both be walking, but a recently-popped blister on my preschooler’s heel had rendered her unable (apparently) and unwilling to walk to the bus stop to pick up my oldest daughter.
The baby of our family is used to getting her way, and she is certainly not used to walking while her older sister is carried. She had her eyes locked on mine as she slowly, deliberately, stepped closer to the street. “No ma’am,” I said. “Please follow Mama.” And then she screamed the high-pitched cry of an offended toddler, and I gave up.
With the four-year-old still in my arms, I squatted down and scooped up my squawking toddler. I hadn’t even stood fully before she stopped screaming and reached over to hug her sister. I shook my head a little and smiled in defeat as I approached the other moms at the bus stop.
“It’s a good thing you have strong arms!” one of the moms exclaimed.
“They are only strong because of them!” I laughed, nodding toward the combined 70 pounds of curly-headed cuteness in my arms.
We chatted for a few minutes about the intense physical demands of young children. Then the bus pulled up. The second those elementary school kids came pouring out of the open bus door, we morphed from chatty friends into mom mode. Backpacks were handed over, hugs were given and received, and a flurry of conversation began. My daughter attends full-day kindergarten and always has a lot to share.
Between after-school conversations, snacks, a little time on the backyard swing set, and the dinner, bath, and bedtime routine, those roughly four hours between bus pickup and bedtime are the shortest and fastest of my day. Amid all that, one thought stuck in my mind all afternoon: “I am strong because of them.”
My mind wandered six years back in time to sore bicep muscles inflicted by my eight-pound infant after hours upon hours of rocking and carrying her everywhere I went. I couldn’t fathom how I would manage as she got bigger and heavier; but amazingly, my strength grew in equal measure to her weight gain. Soon my muscles adjusted and holding a baby all day became second nature. A year and a half later, we welcomed another beautiful daughter and I became even stronger than before. Despite a fantastic double stroller, I carried those two little girls a lot; one in each arm with my cross-body diaper bag slung across my chest. And I was sore again, a lot at first. But with time, just as before, the soreness faded and I became strong.
These arms of mine are two of my greatest assets as a mother. They carry and cuddle babies and big kids alike. They are soft places for my children to rest, and a safe place when they are scared. My arms lift and love through every grand gesture and mundane task of motherhood, of which there are many.
And it’s not just my arms that have acquired strength. It’s all of me. The constant giving that we do as mothers stretches me thin sometimes, and I have felt weak and weary. My soul feels sore sometimes. But we move forward, even in our weakness, and later we can look back and see that we’ve grown.
I remember so clearly the first time I took my oldest newborn daughter to the store by myself. I thought I would have a panic attack in Target. I was no nervous she would have a crying fit and my milk would come in, or I wouldn’t make it home in time for her next feeding. I left the store with a full cart, sweating and still a little anxious, but triumphant!
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I took my three daughters shoe shopping. The toddler quickly got to work unloading all the shoes from the racks, while I sat on the floor helping the big girls with unfamiliar laces and buckles. Luckily it was a slow day at the store, so we had the run of the place. By the time we had picked out new shoes for my older girls, the little one had covered the floor in mismatched shoes. She was so proud of herself, of course! We got everything put back and even managed a mini meltdown when we had to leave behind some rainbow light-up shoes. We all left happy enough and, mostly, calm. My new-mama self would have never believed such a feat was possible.
In fact, it was only possible because I had been taught and stretched, and at times had been really, painfully sore. It turns out that each period of soreness passes, and through every one, I learn how to handle situations better, how to ask for and accept help, how to keep my cool when I would have lost it before. And I realize that I’m stronger now—because of them.
QUESTION: How have you gained strength through your children? What can you do now that you once would have thought impossible?
CHALLENGE: Try to take a broad focus when you are struggling during a challenging time. Remember that it is in these “sore” times that we develop greater strength!
Edited by Kimberly Price and Nollie Haws.
Images provided by the author; graphic by Anna Jenkins.