When Julia Roberts had her twins, she posed with them in People magazine under the headline, “Best Role Yet.”
I related. Though I’ve never quite achieved my artistic dreams, I’ve had them, but when John Michael was born, I knew one thing.
If I never do anything else in my life, I will have been great because of him.
I still believe this about him and his brothers. They are my crown. I also believe that while being mama is the [surprisingly] most natural, fulfilling, and always-happy part of my life, being a parent is something I regularly bemoan. It is hard because it is wrought with all the things. You relive all your growing pains, stage fright, heartbreaks, anxiety, overwhelming pressure, major life decision-making, mistakes, disappointments, and fear. You carry it all, multiplied by the number of children you have, and most days it’s fully manageable and other days you sit beside hospital beds* or lie awake and try to remember how long a heartbreak hurts.
(*Our July 2019 included one mysterious virus and one ruptured appendix. We’re fine now, with one less organ between us, but yikes.)
As a world-champion pain-avoider, it has been a chore accepting the following truth. I first heard it from speaker Glennen Doyle, when a fellow mother said she felt shame for the hurt her divorce had caused her child because “my one job was to protect my children from pain,” but Melton said, “That’s not true.” She asked the woman: what do we want our children to grow to be? The answer: compassionate, empathetic, kind. And, how do they get there? Doyle asked. Through pain. Our job is not to protect them from the things in life that shape us most. Our job is to help them let it.
Andy Grammar has recently put the sentiment in a song that I feel was written not for the person it’s to but for the mamas who need reminded that the things we wish we could take for them are the very things they need.
‘cuz I love you more than you could know
and your heart it grows
every time it breaks
I know that it might sound strange
but I wish you pain…
This song is not for the faint of heart. “I hope you cry,” he sings, “and tears come streaming down your face”…I hope your doubts come like monsters… that when you finally arrive you find you’re nowhere close…I hope the help you want never comes, and you do it on your own…
You guys, I sob. For so many reasons. First, I know it’s true. Facing cancer made me a fully different and better human than I was before, and not achieving all my dreams has made me humble and fierce about understanding what truly brings us joy in life. Second, I know it’s true for them, but I never, ever want it to be. I don’t wish them pain and never will, but the song comforts me because it reminds me they’ll be okay. They’ll be better, in fact, because of the very things from which I wish I could save them.
On Tuesday of this week, my youngest had the 2-point conversion after one of the touchdowns in my favorite game of his 8th-grade team’s football career so far. We beat a team to whom I have watched my kids lose a few too many times. The air was crisp, and the moonlight Tiger orange. It was a beautiful night, and our children were glorious. On the way home, he slept, his football jersey smeared with victory, his face still smiling from the thrill, and I listened to this song and prayed I could take all the less-glorious moments I know are sure to come. Both things make us grow. A life without a moment or two of glorious would be misshapen, too, but darn it if the hard times don’t have purpose.
Today is the twentieth anniversary of my motherhood. Twenty years of learning to accept that we can endure more than we want to and, in fact, become who we most want to be because we do endure it.
At twenty years a mother, I’m still only trying to trust this, especially for three incredibly beautiful humans who made me great.
To the first of these, John Michael, happy birthday. I played Chris Rice during my labor with you and still find his voice the soundtrack to my happiness, but Andy Grammar is getting me through now. I hope there are songs saving you and that you trust life makes you as it’s breaking you, not instead.
Hold on, loves. This is living. And, living is the reward.