I really, truly love being a mother. Nothing beats the feeling that swells up inside of me when I see my kids doing something new and/or wonderful. But I have to be honest - for every moment when it feels like my heart is going to beat right out of my chest with love and pride, there are about 500 hours of absolute mind-numbing drudge work.
Three meals, two snacks per day. 12 - 16 diaper changes. Reading the same irritating books over and over and over. Mountains of laundry. Sleep deprivation. Keeping up with the house and my job in 2 minute increments as I am constantly, constantly called upon to meet the needs of two nearly helpless little girls can feel overwhelming and impossible. Sometimes I really can't imagine how we're going to get from this point to their adulthood. It seems, sometimes, like they'll always be small and needy.
So, in a nutshell, it's hard to be Mary Poppins during those other 500 hours. I can bring my A game for the good stuff - the outings, the holidays, the stunning moments of parental bliss - but I admit that I sometimes bring my D game for the rest of it. I do it all, and I hope I do it well, but I don't always do it joyfully.
Lately I've been hearing a new phrase in Mary Grace's vocabulary, and it's cropping up more and more:
"You can be happy, Mommy."
The first time, I was changing her clothes. She had run away from me giggling, playing "get you," making it a game when I was in a hurry. I finally caught her and, in a huff, put her on the changing table. I proceeded to go about my drudge work efficiently and without joy. I didn't say anything. I treated her like a chore. "You can be happy, Mommy," she said softly. "I can be happy when you listen!" I snapped back.
I didn't think much of it the first time. But then I started hearing it more and more often... in the car, at the store, at home. Generally it doesn't come out when she's legitimately in trouble. She says it more when I'm far away in my mind. When I'm just going through the motions. When I'm thinking of the next 499 hours before the next magic moment, wondering how I'm going to get through it all. "You can be happy, Mommy."
I have never heard her say it to her Daddy.
I hear the plea in it. "I need you to be happy, Mommy!" she could be saying. "I need to feel like I'm not a chore, even when I'm not doing something amazing. I can't shine all the time. I need you to love me, and show it, even when I'm boring. I need you to be happy with me, even when I'm just being me."
You're right, kiddo. I can be happy. I'll try harder.