The first time I took my daughter to Vancouver for the day, she was five-weeks old, colicky with a severe diaper rash. I packed everything. I brought extra clothes for her, extra clothes for me, diapers, diaper cream, wet wipes, a breast pump, bottles, blankets, a carrier, a stroller…I was so worried that she would start crying and that I would turn around, helpless, for the one thing in my limited arsenal of soothing strategies that would stop those dreaded cries. I wanted to be able to reach for something that would stop the feeling of panic that started in throat and sunk down into my chest until I felt empty and useless as my daughter’s face got redder and redder.
We packed all our supplies our SUV and ventured to the airport to meet my friend. We used some of the things, but not all. I was glad I had them—just in case. They made me feel like I might be able to make it through the day, like I was a good mom, like I had done my best to be there for my baby.
At the end of the day, I sat in the car in the ferry line up waiting to go home. It was pouring rain, so much so that I could barely see the headlights of the car in front of me. As it rained, I prayed that my daughter would keep sleeping in the backseat. I tried to picture how I could change her diaper in the pouring rain, the car so full of stuff that there would barely have been room to lay her flat. The stuff I’d brought was no longer helping me to me a good mom, it was getting in the way.
Years later, as I took a solo trip to Vancouver, I packed as little as I could—underwear, a charger, a book, a sweater, toothbrush. Even so, as soon as I got to the city, I ditched anything I didn’t need at the hotel. I just wanted to wander around unincumbered. I kept my cell phone, keys and a lipstick in my coat pocket but nothing else. I took this trip to be myself again, to stop thinking about making lunches, booking swim lessons, waking up at 4am to find a stuffy. Just to be free. It was glorious.
My urge to wander weightless got me thinking about all the many, many things we carry in motherhood, how they weigh us down or how they can make us feel like good or bad mothers. All the tasks we carry—sorting through hand-me-downs, meal planning, decorating the house for the holidays, creating lists of childcare options, hosting Easter dinner, booking soccer lessons, keeping track of the latest “best friend” at daycare.
Then there are all the things feel pressured to do as women—be a certain weight, wear makeup to look less tired, host family dinners, participate in fundraisers, remember birthdays—the list never ends. Somehow the domestic to-do list gets bigger when we become mothers—even for things that are unrelated to motherhood itself. It got me to thinking about which tasks are necessary and which ones we carry anyways, even though they may not help us or our children.
What do children need from us?
They need a lot—our weary bodies to carry them, our souls to comfort them and hold them through all their many emotions, our finances to provide shelter and food, and our higher selves to show them how to walk through the world with integrity.
But they don’t need us to be thin.
They don’t need us to be on the PTA.
They don’t need every extra-curricular and elf-on-the-shelf and LOL doll and home-made gluten-free spinach muffins.
They may want some of those things, or we may want to provide some of those things, but they aren’t actually necessary. The trouble is that without all this mental and emotional and physical labour and the giving-up of ourselves, we often don’t feel like good mothers. We don’t feel like we’re doing everything we can do for our children. We worry that we don’t measure up or that our children won’t feel loved. Yet, children are resilient. Their well-being is often tied to our happiness, not the level of clutter in the house and the frequency at which we serve them Kraft Dinner.
I don’t know what the answer is. It’s hard to give up on the image of the mother you thought you’d be. It’s hard to ask others to take some of it on. It’s hard to disappoint our children. It’s hard to disappoint ourselves. Let’s just hope that everything we do—every Pyjama Day we remember and gymnastics lesson we book, and cucumber stick we chop—still leaves us with enough. That at the end of the day, we still have our spiritual necessities—our emotional equivalent of cell phones, keys and lipstick.
Nothing more. Nothing less.