Reduced to its headlines, my inner mommy war flashes like one of those endless neon tickertapes in Times Square: Motherhood is bliss… Motherhood is torture… Motherhood is bliss… Motherhood is torture…
This morning’s visual back story looked like this: I stood in my dusty garage watching a crew of men in yellow shirts load my most prized possessions into a U-Haul and drive away. No -- not my wedding jewelry and grandmother’s antique piechest. I’m talking about the loads of my three children’s too small, worn out, unused toys and sports equipment I decided to give to a children’s charity. The alternative was establishing a museum to my kids’ childhood. That was my first choice, naturally.
As I watched the yellow shirts, trying not to cry, I noticed a small handpainted wagon on the asphalt outside the truck. I have no memory of who gave this to our family. Someone who loves my children dearly, I’m certain. I do vaguely recall my children loading and unloading it over the years, with Barbies, plastic horses, and the five kittens we rescued from the alley last fall. But mostly, over the past decade of motherhood I was too busy creating Powerpoint presentations, checking 150 emails, changing diapers and making chicken nuggets (sometimes all at once) to record the degrees of pleasure my kids took from playing with toys.
Until this morning, I never noticed – not once – that this suddenly-precious wagon had my middle daughter’s name painted on it in purple letters. What a lousy mom, I thought. How could I have been too busy to notice her name for all these years? How can I give this adorable toy away?
You hated playing Barbies, the other part screamed, especially compared to turning around a magazine or launching the best sweetener on the planet in yet another country. You should be thrilled to give this junk away. The wagon no longer has wheels; my children could not even get a foot inside it now. I rejoice that my three dependents are now independent enough that I do not have to watch them play with little toys, or worrying that they are going to choke on one of the wheel screws or some other small leadpaint-covered part probably recalled by Consumer Protection when I was too busy taking a conference call to notice.
No one ever warns that motherhood is peppered with moments that are simultaneously, paradoxically torturous and blissful. Filled with bathos and gut-wrenching emotional punches. Motherhood has turned me into someone I do not recognize – someone so filled with love and emotion and other maternal hormones that I have believed in God –fervently – since the second my first baby was born and I needed someone powerful to pray to to keep my children safe. I have turned down promotions and quit jobs I loved – jobs I might have pushed someone off the Washington Monument to get back when I was in b-school – because my boss wanted me to work fulltime and I wanted to pick my children up at school dismissal every day.
I cry over old toys! And if there were a cure for motherhood’s unique combination of bliss and torture, I’d turn it down.