I wasn’t even a mom when I first used this phrase. Well, I wasn’t quite a mom.
It was the day of my college graduation ceremony. There I was—dressed in a black gown, thrilled to be receiving my bachelor’s degree—when I spoke the false words.
“What are you doing after graduation?” a caring friend asked.
Glancing at my large belly with a smile I said simply, “I’ll be just a mom.”
I wasn’t disappointed, just truthful. With a new baby arriving in a few weeks, I wouldn’t have time to pursue a job and career. I’d already made my choice: motherhood.
Still, my answer didn’t seem quite as adventurous as my colleagues who were going on for higher degrees or enviable jobs.
I mistakenly thought I had spoken the truth. I would be “just a mom.” But I had no idea how false my words were.
~~~~~ 22 years later~~~~~~
At 5:30am the alarm rings. I roll over to turn it off and remember that my husband is out of town…again. I’m a single mom for a few more days this week.
My exhausted body tells me I CANNOT get out of bed, so instead I lay there for a minute and think through the day: the meals, the carpools, the homework, the piano lessons, the preschool. There is so much to be done! Who is going where? When must they arrive? What has to be done before they leave? And the never-ending question, “What’s for dinner?”
My mind cannot possibly solve all of the puzzle pieces or unknowns, and so I finally crawl out of bed. It’s time to make breakfast.
I open the cupboard and see the oatmeal. Again. I have made at least a million gallons of oatmeal in my life. And a million peanut butter sandwiches. And sliced a million oranges for lunch. And wrapped a million carrots. And buttered a million pieces of toast. And don’t even get me started on how many morning ponytails I’ve brushed or diapers I’ve changed.
Mothers totally comprehend eternity and infinity.
In fact, I’ve lived a million days like this one: waking children, cooking for children, helping children, dressing children, feeding children, cleaning up after children, signing homework for children, sending them out the door, folding laundry, sweeping floors, washing dishes. Sometimes I even envy Cinderella.
With the tasks of the day looming over me I cannot possibly get my slippers to move. So instead I sit down on the couch and shut my eyes… just for a few more minutes. But, no matter how well I did it yesterday, I must do it again.
The clock is ticking, so I finally stand up to wake the first batch of children.
On mornings like this one the falsehood from my graduation day comes back to me, and I hear discouraging voices.
You are just a mother. You are just a mom. You are just one more robe-clad bleary-eyed Mama calling up the stairs to wake sleeping kiddles. Your daily routine is empty.
But the beauty of this moment is that my minuscule perceptions are completely and totally false. Despite the exhaustion and mundaneness, these feelings are not real.
They are actually a farce and a dream.
First, the voices are wrong because I do go on. I do get up each morning. I do wake up children. I do make the breakfast. I do brush the hair and kiss the cheeks and hug them goodbye. Yes, like every morning, and every other mom around the globe, this Mama goes on. And on and on and on… Like the Little Engine that Could, or the Titantic, or the Energizer Bunny.
We don’t stop because we can’t. And that’s the paradoxical beauty of our situation.
Motherhood is forever. Once the decision is made, there is no turning back. In fact, even on those mornings when we do stay in bed, or do skip fixing dinner, or do forget the homework, we are still mothers—indispensable, never forgotten.
The world would stop turning without us. Literally. And the sooner we come to realize this amazing fact, the more empowered we are to go on.
Second, the discouraging voices are false because we will never be “just”. We will never be disposable or invisible or even secondary, no matter how the legislators and the regulators vote. We are the world.
But with all respect, these truths are hard to remember at 6:00am.
I call the children down to family prayer. I cook the oatmeal. I kiss high-schoolers goodbye. I pack lunches. I find lost library books. I comb tousled hair. I listen to piano practice. I sweep up crumbs. I find matching socks. I zip up the backpacks and the coats.
And the world turns.
I somehow survive this morning like I have survived a million mornings in the past. And as I work, the glorious truth unfolds.
By the time the kids have eaten breakfast, their happy chatter and eager smiles have miraculously lifted my spirits. Their sticky hugs, their shared concerns, their innocent conversation carries me up and over the mountain of motherhood.
Somehow the very souls that increased my burden have actually resolved it.
In fact, by the time they walk back through the door that afternoon after school, they are literal saviors. Their happy chatter heals me. Their souls are my souls. Their accomplishments of the day are my victories. Their friendships and kindnesses have filled my bucket. This reality is surprising, and our shared existence is exhilarating.
We eat dinner. We do homework. We feed chickens. We fold laundry. We brush teeth. We resolve calculus. We read stories. We say prayers… And over and over again these small efforts become big. My minuscule motherhood moments have become monumental.
As I crawl into bed that night I count my victories, and comprehend who I really am—the Mama beyond the “just.”
I am the scientist (my son) launching satellites around the globe.
I am the missionary in Sweden (my son) changing the world one door at a time.
I am the student secretary at the university (my daughter) managing service events.
I am the DECA president, (my daughter) traveling across the nation to compete in marketing.
I am the first chair flute (my daughter) performing at the state band festival.
I am the Scout patrol leader (my son) teaching First Aid skills to his peers.
I am the student leader (my daughter) sharing hope with others.
I am the Science Olympiad contestant (my son) practicing with his teammates.
I am the bubbly first grader (my daughter) reaching out to the injured classmate.
I am the adorable preschooler (my son) carefully writing his name and sharing smiles with all around him.
Temporal accomplishments are certainly not the goal, but influence is the natural offspring of effort, and my children make me shine.
I have never been to Sweden, or the moon, or the Science Olympiad—yet I have miraculously impacted those corners of the world.
Who knew that one oatmeal-making, hair-brushing, story-reading mama could affect life with this scope and magnitude?
I know nothing about satellites. I cannot speak a word of Swedish. I can’t play the flute, or recite the Scout Outdoor Code—but I am all of these things because of my children. It’s a humbling and exhilarating realization!
And this motherhood success is irrelevant to numbers. One child or twenty, the hand that rocks the cradle literally rules the world. Children make us more than we are. They make us who we are!
In fact, Mother by definition, is everything. The world. The future. The universe.
The very opposition that entices us to be “just a mom” is evidence enough of our eternal and influential nature. Our daily struggle provides ample proof that our role matters.
The mornings of exhaustion. The mounds of oatmeal. The million pony tails. The pages of homework. The hours of piano practice. These are our stepping stones to exaltation.
In the end, the truth will set us free. We are not and will never be “just” mothers.
We are MOM. We are MAMA. We are MOTHER.
Take notice. We are the world.