No one ever told me how hard this would be.
I took that first pregnancy test while my husband was away at work, and I nearly passed out with the fear of it. But then I told him, and we cried, and then we told our family, and it was only congratulations and cheers and excitement about this new chapter of our lives.
We brought him home in the backseat of our car. I sat beside him while my husband drove 30 miles below the speed limit down a busy highway, and we got to the home that was now his home, and he cried in the arms of his grandmother, my mother, and she handed him back to me as if I knew what to do with him, and it was then that I realized it would always be me.
I would be the one he'd come to with an empty cup for the milk-refilling, and I was the one he'd need to sharpen the pencil he was using to write his story, and I was the one who could magically kiss away the hurt when he stubbed his dirty toe on the sidewalk lip.
I was it. I was all. I was Mama.
And maybe it didn't fully sink in, the knowing that I would never have a day off, until that day I got sick or that day I felt too tired to do it or that day I needed to work a little longer.
I was barely able to climb out of bed one morning, but I was not allowed to call in sick to mothering. I had stayed awake all night with the newest baby, and I was not allowed to hold up my "just too tired" sign the next morning when the oldest crashed into my room before the sun had even woken. I put that "working" door hanger on my door while their daddy was on duty, and it would not stop them from barging in to ask me if I could help them get dressed so they could go out front and ride their scooters.
A mother is a warrior who never goes off duty.
These babies grow inside us, connected to our life source so our heart pumps their growing with every beat, and they develop fully and completely and beautifully, and then we bear down and push them out into the world, and even though the doctors cut that cord, severing the physical connection, they are still attached to our hearts in every invisible way, by heartstrings that let out slack when we'd like them to give us space and then pull back in when we need them close.
Sometimes we want to let out more of that slack, but they're not quite ready to take it, so we feel suffocated and used up and empty, and we wonder when they will ever, ever, ever do this one thing, just this one thing, just this tying a shoe, just this pouring their own milk, just this washing their own body during bath time.
And sometimes they need more slack, but we don't want to give it because he is our baby and we are his mama, and look how long those legs grew overnight and look at that face without the squishy spot above the eyebrows and look at those hands that tie shoes and pour milk and bathe on their own.
Every loosen and pull of those heartstrings is like a squeezing of our hearts, because, yeah, it's a thankless job, and, yeah, the days feel never-ending, and, yeah, sometimes we wonder why we did it in the first place, why we had so many so close together, why we chose a large family over a small one -- but we wear that name, Mama, Mother, Mom, with great pride and joy and love.
It's harder than hard, this mothering, and some days we love it and some days we don't at all.
"Seize the moment" is the only possible mantra for a mama.
Because there are days when he's dumped out his milk every time our back was turned so he could smear it onto all those spots we just cleaned 13 seconds ago, and there are days when the yelling has outlasted the not-yelling, and there are days we really like our kids and there are days we wish we could give them away.
But tucked between the frustrations of those days are the moments that make us glad, so very glad -- moments that tell us we wouldn't change a single thing, moments that shout it all over the hard, hard, hard places: "I am a mother, and there is nothing so outrageously maddening and outrageously beautiful in all the world."
And it's true. There isn't.