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Why Being a Good Mom Is a Choice

I work hard at what I do, and with as much joy and gratitude as I can muster along the way, because I want to be doing this job of mothering, and I want to do it well because I love both myself and my family. And this job is hard -- it's absolutely true that parenthood is the most difficult work there is.
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Sometimes motherhood feels like punching a time card.

To be fair, I only vividly remember doing this at one job.

It was my first job, where I worked as a seamstress, and we had to punch in and out on these little cards that strangely reminded me of elementary school testing papers, when I was always overly concerned that my penciled-in oval would somehow not scan right.

My husband is due home at 6, which, in physicist time, means probably 6:30 -- ok, 7.

Today, I felt like a rockstar that no one listens to. (My husband suggested David Lee Roth.)

My day began by making a birthday cake from scratch. It consisted of two different buttercream frostings. I actually ground up one of my snobby dark chocolate bars to put inside of the mint frosting -- a chocolate-mint cake, in case you were wondering -- with my pataconera -- two wooden paddles hinged together to squeeze plantains between for a specific Colombian dish -- because I couldn't find either my meat mallet or my rolling pin since we moved -- cough, cough -- a few months ago.

This was only one small chunk of my day, although it was a big, huge part of my heart.

My daughter turns five tomorrow.

I can feel the puke climb my throat from dinner just saying these words. On the other hand, I'm not someone who laments a child getting older -- it's a part of life and it's gorgeous to watch our children grow. Still, how on earth is she five?

And the house did not smell like chocolate today. It smelled like poop.

Because, yes, I made one homemade chocolate frosting and one mint frosting and one rich chocolate cake, but I also cleaned up three baby poops within the process.

Simultaneously, I still managed to make this cake with love -- I believe in making things like birthday cakes, and food in general, with a heart-full of good intentions.

And my husband had a long day at work, today of all days, when I knew that I had wanted to make this elaborate cake, and not at seven o'clock at night until midnight when my intentions would not, frankly, be that great.

So I played it by ear.

That's what you do when you have kids: you play it by ear.

Yet I'm a planner; I'm a planner who enjoys a little flexibility for, say, changing up my scheduled 9:00 a.m. weight-training workout from legs to chest and legs -- I'm really negotiable like that.

But scheduling pretty much flies out the window when children are involved because of things like poop.

We went to look at a swing set over the weekend for my daughter's birthday gift. (My husband is now officially banned from all Craigslist-purchase perusing for an uncertain number of weeks.)

The guy selling this swing set should have been ashamed of himself. The thing was falling apart and not safe. He had a rat tail that was probably as old as his swing set.

Anyways, we are on the way home, and it took us, in physicist time, 15 or 20 minutes to get there -- it took us over a half an hour. So we are driving home and my birthday girl is confused because, thankfully, we had her stay in the car so as not to be disappointed if it didn't work out and the baby is fussy -- like, real fussy.

And then we smell poop.

The moon roof is open and it's bad -- like real bad.

The baby is screaming.

I tell my husband to pull over so we can check her and this guy, who is the calmest guy in the world, yells, "Oh my God!"

I get out of the car and it's basically like she's taken the most glorious shit of her life thus far, in her car seat, without a diaper on. Like that and then worse.

I'm doing my yoga breath on the way home, but it's not working that well because every inhale reminds me of why I'm doing my yoga breath.

We wash the baby and her car seat and my birthday girl is still confused as to what the hell happened to her "special" Saturday morning, but, nonetheless, it turns out fine. Except it's not. I realize later that evening that I'm still on edge from the whole morning we had.

Motherhood involves a lot of poop.

It involves talking so much that I get irritated at the sound of my own voice.

Motherhood is often like one, big, fricking gigantic time clock of looking forward to the break room, which, essentially, means putting my feet up on the ottoman for about an hour, having a glass of wine and some of my snobby dark chocolate before I fall asleep.

Except that motherhood is not like any other job -- you never are off the clock. My heart is never off duty.

I am forever and ever thinking of my children in a way that isn't obsessive or unhealthy, but is more like a fragrance that constantly permeates the air, even when other smells are more obvious to those around -- kind of like baking a chocolate cake and poopy diapers.

And tomorrow is my little girl's birthday. Sigh.

Our family tradition is to blow out candles in the morning when the house is still kind of foggy grey and the orange-yellow sun is hitting the trees outside of the window just right.

We do this because I never really liked having to eat cake after a big celebratory birthday dinner and not getting to fully enjoy it because I'm stuffed. Also, when cake is involved from dawn, it pretty much feels like a rockin' birthday all day, no matter if you have to actually punch time cards afterwards. (This has been our tradition since my husband and I lived together as boyfriend and girlfriend, with much different job descriptions.)

There is no better job than motherhood.

There is nothing more fulfilling than the look on my daughter's face when she saw her cake for the first time and tried a finger lick of both buttercream frostings I had made.

Yet, at the end of the day, when I'm spent, it's difficult to remember this. More, it's effortful to consider that my attitude is often my choice.

Not that I'm not legitimately worn out, or frustrated or a hodgepodge of other mothering feelings, but it's my choice to see my life as either a time card or an experience.

The reason that I felt like a rockstar this morning is because I was absolutely determined.

I was determined--when I woke up with a schedule so full and no adult help--to put forth my best labor and to do so happily. Partially, this is because I genuinely believe that some things, like making a child's birthday cake, really should be efforts filled with love. Additionally, it's because I find, over and over again, that my day is shaped and colored by the attitude that I bring with me through it.

I felt like a rockstar that no one listens to, however, because my daily, full-time mother-work is typically performed without cheerleaders and horn tooting (unless you count farts) and cash bonuses, etc, etc.

No, I work hard at what I do, and with as much joy and gratitude as I can muster along the way, because I want to be doing this job of mothering, and I want to do it well because I love both myself and my family.

And this job is hard -- it's absolutely true that parenthood is the most difficult work there is.

What's also true is the love.

Everyone tells you about it, but it's impossible to convey the love I have for my children through words, even to them.

So, although I'm a "word person," I place my love, alongside my feeble verbal attempts, into my daily life with my kids -- I attempt to show my love through making cakes, and reading books (for the tenth time in a row) and gently changing diapers and planting kisses on scraped knees.

And I don't punch a time card, as it turns out. Instead, I honor that sometimes being "mom" is an overwhelming role, but one that I'll volunteer for repeatedly.