Let’s face it, motherhood is difficult even on good days. It’s exhausting, daunting, and sometimes, defeating. Yes, there are wondrous moments, like when the kids actually do their chores or no one tantrums all day, but when tragedy strikes, motherhood morphs into something entirely different.
On Mother’s Day of 2014, my stepfather died suddenly of a heart attack and five months later, my sixteen-year-old brother committed suicide. Both of these losses ripped an enormous hole in our family structure. I loved my little brother like my own and he was more than an uncle to my kids, he was their brother. All five of us could make no sense of this, we were in great pain, and struggled through the days. This is when being a mother sucks.
There were days the only thing I wanted to do was sit on the couch and cry, but as a mother, I did not have this choice. All day, I tried to keep it together, to support my kids in their own processes of grief and understanding, while aching inside. There was so much yelling, so much bickering, so much stress during this time. Of course, going through it, I blamed it on grief, but in hindsight, I’m not sure grief was the only culprit.
As mothers, we are expected to stay calm and even keeled as life throws us massive blows. At my brother’s funeral, an older woman approached me and whispered, “Now, deary, you cannot let those beautiful cherubs of yours see you get upset. You must keep it together, they can’t see you fall apart. Your job is to be strong.”
I nodded politely, smiled through gritted teeth, and resisted every urge to punch her in the face. Yes, I was well aware of what being a mother meant, it was exactly what was killing me inside. The expectation to keep calm and carry on was choking.
And then, one day, when the kids were fighting over some stupid thing, I lost my shit. Like really lost my shit. I screamed, I cried, and I crumbled to the floor. I did not keep calm. I did not carry on. I sobbed, banged my clenched fists on the floor, and let snot drip down my face. All that anger, that pain, that sorrow locked up inside of me poured out onto the floor. I finally realized what I was doing, wiped my nose on my sleeve, and looked up at my kids. They were frozen, not in fear, but in shock, never seeing me, their mother, reduced to snot and tears. Without words, my eldest grabbed a tissue and the other two followed her over to me. They sat down on the floor and hugged me.
“I’m so sorry, Mommy, for all of this stuff that has happened.” my middle child said.
“It’s just not fair, Mommy.” followed my eldest.
My four year old climbed into my lap and said, “Mommy, it’s ok to be sad.”
He was right, it was okay to be sad. For god sakes, I lost two human beings that meant the world to me. Why did I believe an old woman who also thought smoking cigarettes and drinking martinis while pregnant was sound parent advice? Why didn’t I just let myself be a human who was in pain rather than a mother who was hiding behind a façade of normalcy?
There is no simple answer to that question, but I do know my kids needed to see me cry, to shout, to be angry because they were, too. They were also angry that death robbed them of two amazing people. They missed them just as much as I did, and they were just as confused as I was. Seeing me lose my bananas did not scare them, did not make them feel insecure, but rather, it gave them a chance to join me on the floor to cry, to shout, and for all of us to lose our shit–together.
We are all humans before we are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. The longer we avoid dealing with things because of maternal duty, the larger the damage later to both ourselves and our kids.
After our family meltdown, my eldest daughter asked me, “Do you ever think we’ll be the same again, Mommy?”
I had to answer her honestly, “Of course not, honey, there is no way we’ll ever be the same. We’ll adjust, we’ll move on, but there will always be a little spot in our hearts missing for those we lost this year.”
“Kind of like a crack in a cup?” she asked.
“Yes, exactly like that. A little crack in all of us,” I answered.
I could see her thinking hard, “but y’know what, Mommy, sometimes, cracks let the light in.”
And that is when motherhood does not suck, when your children wrap their dirty arms around your neck, interlace their sticky fingers through yours, and speak such beauty, such wisdom, such truth with such horrible breath. They are indeed smelly, sweaty shards of light in life’s unbearable darkness.
As one mother to another, remember: you are a human first, a mother second.