One winter morning back when I was in seminary, an Old Testament professor of mine came to class ten minutes late. This was out of place for him – he was always exceedingly punctual. Yet Dr. H stumbled in the door just as many of us were gathering our books to leave. (There’s kind of an unspoken rule in academia that if a professor is more than ten minutes late, you can go.)
Dr. H was tall, funny, and knew upwards of eleven ancient languages. I’m pretty sure every female student had at least a little but of a crush on him. Usually well dressed, today he sported a rumpled shirt, a sport coat with one lapel folded weirdly, and hair that looked okay from the front but from the back displayed clear evidence of bed-head. He looked like he’d been through the war.
He stood at the lectern for a moment and took one deep, shuddering breath.
“I am so sorry,” he said, finally. “You see, my wife is out of town, and I’ve been a single dad this week to my two toddlers.” He paused and took another breath. “I am losing my mind. This morning I actually heard myself saying things out loud like, ‘No, the yogurt doesn’t go on the train.’”
I sometimes think of Dr. H, respected intellectual, reader of so very many languages, when my final white shirt (WHY do I even BUY white shirts?!) falls prey to a blueberry-muffin-faced toddler, I end up running late to yet another appointment, or I hear myself say things I never thought I would say out loud to another human being.
“We don’t put other peoples’ fingers up our nose.”
“No, you can’t wear the diaper box on your head to preschool. I don’t care if you’re a robot.”
“Finish your pizza or you can’t have another brownie.”
In those moments, it helps me to remember that if that smart, capable genius was utterly undone by two toddlers, there’s no shame in you or me being undone by parenthood as well.
The difficulties of motherhood are many. No other vocation begins with such bodily disruptions—the hormones, the stretch marks, the morning sickness, the constantly evolving shape—and it doesn’t ever end. We don’t get sick days. We don’t get paid time off. We don’t get…paid, period. The story of motherhood is that one second all we want is a moment to ourselves to think a thought, the next we will be watching our little ones walk across a graduation stage. Motherhood is a battleground. It is utter joy. It is complete exhaustion. It is like nothing else.
I am currently the resident snack packer and butt wiper for one small human, and my husband and I will welcome another this spring. Our son is a super sweet kid. He’s an easy kid. Yet there are days when my husband and I look at each other and say, “This is so hard.” There are days when we don’t think we can cook one more meal that he’ll just ignore anyway, handle one more night waking because his sock fell off, or think up one more answer to the ever-present “WHY?” There are days when one tiny person’s capacity for destruction and upheaval and dirt and mess leaves us totally baffled. There are days when everything is going swimmingly and then the stomach flu sweeps through town. There are days when one or both of us comes utterly undone.
And we only have one kid. Hoo boy.
On those days when I’m medicating my own exhaustion by letting our son watch a fifth episode of Paw Patrol because I just can’t even, I think of Dr. H, the brilliant scholar who taught his class an unintended lesson that winter morning, and I smile.
I get it, buddy. I get it.