You can always reach for me

My husband wakes me up.

“Lola is calling for you,” he says.

Instantly, I’m annoyed. I mutter under my breath about wanting more sleep and stumble out of bed. The clock says 12:35 a.m.

“Mommy,” she cries out again.

I stumble down the hall, and the second I smell it, I know what has happened. Instantly, my entire body and mind are awake.

“Oh poor baby,” I say.

There is a big pile of throw up on the bedspread and she is crying.

“I was trying to figure out how to clean it myself,“ she says. “I’ve ruined Mother’s Day. I’m sorry mom.”

No. This is motherhood my love. This is exactly what it is.

I grab a clean blanket from the hall, strip her and put her in it. I clean everything up, put her in some clean pajamas, remake the bed, grab the sick bowl and make myself a place next to her on the floor. I settle in for the routine that I know so well.

Every time she throws up, I rub her back, wash her face and comfort her.

Drink this water.

You will be OK.

I’m right here.

I love you.

When she falls asleep, I rest on the floor and worry.

This is motherhood.

I still get my avocado toast and coffee in bed, but today I’m next to my sick girl who likes to keep her hand on my chest because it comforts her.

I feel her little body tremble with excitement as I open the gifts she crafted herself; a tissue paper flower, a little dog and a large cat created out of paper, a card with a heart wearing a sombrero and guitar (because she knows I like things that are funny) and a beeswax rose.

“You like it?” she asks.

Of course I do.

My boy delivers his gift and it is so perfectly him that I can’t help but swoon.

 gift

This is motherhood.

We decide to cuddle in bed and watch our favorite episodes of “Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge.” Both kids inch in as close as they can to me. I can feel their breath and warmth as we talk about puppetry, mechanism and our favorite designers. We vow to someday make our own puppet and giggle as we discuss the silly details and features our creature will have.

My mom comes over with hugs and kisses for us all. I make her coffee and she gives me a piece of paper with my “Letter A” on it. She snuggles in with us for an episode or two. I give her the bench we crafted for her and she loves it.

After she leaves, my girl’s fever spikes up and I hold her as she cries and whimpers.

“I hate being sick,” she says.

“I know love,” I tell her.

lolaI make her peppermint tea. I braid her hair so it won’t get in her face. She rubs my chest as she falls asleep in my arms, a little furnace fighting off the virus in her body.

This, of course, was not the plan for my day. I was supposed to go swimming, play cards, drink mimosas and be outdoors. It was to be chore-free, stress-free and full of sweet things to eat.

But that wasn’t what happened.

There was a time, quite recent in fact, that this setback would have sent me spiraling down into a place of sadness and loneliness. I’d have let myself be swallowed up.

Surprisingly, I’m good.

My heart is filled with so much love for my children that it feels like it just might burst. These not-so-little beings that I get to spend so much time with are my life.

They are my Mother’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not happy my girl is sick, far from it. But I’m making a choice to savor the moments of care and comfort I can give her, instead of focusing in on what I missed.

Today, my arms showed her my love.

Today, my voice was her sense of peace.

I am her safe place.

I am her feel better soon.

I am her mommy.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Sometimes you really do have to clean the bathroom

“I had some trouble with the bathroom,” my daughter’s friend tells me.

“OK,” I answer in a whisper from my place on the couch.

She stomps upstairs and I hear the girls playing again. They are not having a fabulous time and I feel guilty and angry. This was not the plan.

I watch the clock. My fever is gone, but the headache is so bad that I can barely lift my head without feeling sick.

I close my eyes and I hear a knock at the door. The play date is over and her dad is here. I make small talk as sweat pours off me.

“You need help with anything?” the father asks.

I assure him that I am fine as feelings of nausea sweep over me and I clutch the side of the couch to avoid falling.

“Call me if you need anything,” he says.

The second the door closes I collapse on the couch.

I hate feeling weak.

My mind yells at me that I’m worthless and pathetic.

Get up.

Push through it.

Knock it off.

My daughter brings me an ice pack for my head and I try really hard not to cry.

A few hours later my husband arrives. I’ve made it.

“What’s the deal with the bathroom,” he says.

“What?” I answer.

“It’s completely flooded,” he says.

Oh. That’s what she was telling me. I don’t get up. He brings me some medicine and forces me to drink some water. An hour later he and my daughter leave to go get food.

The medicine has made the headache a bit more manageable, so I will myself to look at the bathroom.

It’s gross.

Super gross.

That’s when some switch clicks and I go into full cleaning mode.

I go upstairs and grab towels to soak up the water. Then I go into the garage to get the mop and bucket and I wash the floor, the toilet and the hall. I’m dizzy and sweating, but I push past it.

My husband comes home just as I’m finishing up.

“I was going to do that later,” he says.

I don’t believe him.

It’s my responsibility and I push myself harder. I clean the guinea pig cages, because they are disgusting and they need it. I see tons more that needs to be done, but my body has had it.

I go to bed and collapse feeling satisfied that I did something.

See. I’m not worthless.

***

This is not an isolated episode in my life.

Whenever I feel the absolute worse, I feel compelled to push myself as hard as I can.

Some might call it being a martyr.

“Look at how hard I can work even when I’m sick.”

Maybe it is that.

It feels very primal to me.

“Please don’t give up on me, I can still be useful.”

For years I have seen this trait in myself as self-destructive and negative. I saw it as a result of not feeling cared for and loved by others. Not being able to ask for or receive help.

It’s probably all of that.

But I’m starting to see there is something else there too.

Something good.

There is a drive in me to do hard things. To push myself even when I don’t want to do something. To prove that I can do things even when it seems impossible.

It’s strength.

I am strong.

Being sick is just when it’s most noticeable, but I am strong all the time.

When I am at my lowest, I still push past those feelings of defeat and get up. Every day I fight my insecurities and move forward.

Even as I write that I think about how hard other people have it and I’m nervous to even call myself strong. I feel that if I say that, it will illuminate my flaws for all to see.

Others have struggles so much more than me. I know those fighting cancer, depression, bi-polar, divorce and daily physical pain so intense that they have to live on drugs.

Yet I call myself strong.

But I have to stop doing that. It’s not a competition of pain or struggle. It’s OK to think I’m strong and to be proud of the steps I’m taking.

Proud of how far I’ve come.

I’ve started tracking my food again and caring about what I put in my body.

I’ve started running again and signed up to run in a relay in December. I’ll run 6 miles.

I’ve made adventurous summer plans that push me to be active and around people.

All this terrifies me.

But I’m going to do it anyway. I’m going to demand more from myself and I’m going to start seeing myself as the person I am.

I. Am. Strong.