I’ve been thinking about tattoos. Not in the way that I did as an eighteen year old, wandering Hampton beach, daydreaming about a butterfly or an ink anklet of flowers – but as a nearly thirty-five year old mom, writer, photographer, wife, domestically average cleaner, meal maker, craft assembler.
It’s been over a year now, and I’ve been thinking.
A year of considering how I label and define myself, even as I defy the idea that we are the sum of any labels we bear at all.
It has been a year of looking at my life changing. My skin, changing. My body, changing. My contentment with it all, growing.
A year of knowing how I’m thankful that the eighteen year old Melanie did not have the means or the guts to ever actually sit down and tell the world who she (thought she) was, in delicate ribbons of ink needled into her skin.
And so, I consider – what small thing is so important to my heart that I need it to live as words on my skin? What, if you and I were ever to cross paths, but not speak a word, do I want to you to know about me? And where, do I want to say it from? And, I wonder, if (almost) thirty-five year old Melanie has the means, does she also have the guts?
And I wonder, will a sixty-five year old Melanie look at herself in the mirror and wince, wondering how she could have let her right-in-the-trenches-of-motherhood-self, get a tat that was clearly just a cry to the world that she is not just a woman who has a just-in-case Pull Up in her purse and Goldfish crumb hand prints on her pants.
It’s been a year of thinking.
Tonight as I helped Asher unbutton his shirt to get into his pajamas, Vinnie looked over and said, You’ve got a pretty great mama, Asher.
Asher didn’t hear him, and so he repeated himself, but this time said, I said, Asher, you’ve got a pretty good mama, you know that?
(Cue big, squishy, five year old hug from Asher.)
I don’t know why Vinnie changed what he said, or if he even realized he had, but I appreciate the repeated version more.
I’ll take a sincere pretty good, over an aggrandized Great! or a Best in the (whole wide) World.
Because those are such hyperbole, they make me feel like a marble, dropped into a giant metal drum. The drum is large and echoes as I move, but I am just this tiny marble, rolling with the vibrations. I’m not great, the drum I’m in is great.
Hyperbole is not enough to fill my heart (unless it comes from my five year old, who lives in the land of larger than life and who loves me to the entire universe and back again and as far as you can love me, I’ll love you just that much further. And he means it. For real.)
So, yes. Pretty good is, well, pretty accurate.
I’m not a great mother.
I’m pretty good.
I dropped my baby once (and caught him between the washing machine and my knee.) I’ve forgotten to play Tooth Fairy. I’ve been known to turn breakfast into brunch or lunch into linner on occasion, because the hours just escape me and before I know it, I’ve missed feeding them at any normal time of day. I’ve grabbed my camera to take a picture, before helping my child from being stuck beneath a closing deck chair. I status-update their lives.
I burn toast.
I blow dirt off of dropped apples and stick them back in my kids hands.
I will stay in bed until the last possible moment.
I’m not great. Not by a long shot.
In my off-season earlier this year, I worked on the side project Just a Minute: Moments in Motherhood.
Each household, each mother, was inspiring – not in their perfection or their greatness, but in their complete lack of pretense, in the dishes in their sinks and the boxes of macaroni and cheese on their counters. It was like a sigh of relief you could hear from around the country as other mothers all together peeked in on the ordinary lives of these women and realized, Oh! We’re doing okay.
No, forget okay.
We’re doing pretty good.
This week, I did a piece connected to the project. A home birth. It was a beautiful, wonderful experience, being a fly on the wall to a birth. A birth! A whole human life, with unlimited potential and an entire story yet to be written – a person – who was not here with us the day before, came into being, right there, before my eyes.
A mother labored, a family grew by one beating heart and baby’s cry. Bam.
Giving birth is downright awesome. It’s also exhausting, loud, perhaps messy, sometimes long and never -ever- predictable. (Just ask my friend who gave birth in her living room…who wasn’t planning for a home birth.)
All that said, what occurs to me most of all, is just how biological it all is. Birth, is a bodily function.
And I don’t think motherhood is, necessarily.
Having four labors and four babies in the past ten years, doesn’t make me a mother, any more than swimming in the ocean makes me a dolphin. The physical act of bearing children, while amazing and beautiful, doesn’t mean I am due flowers and cards once a year in a cultural nod of reverence.
Being a mother is an act of compassion and a lifestyle of putting others ahead of yourself.
It’s why my own mother lived in “mom” jeans and the same sweaters for decades, while my sister and I wore Champion sweatshirts and shopped at the mall. It’s why my mom made dinners in the morning before leaving to work 3-11 on weeknights, so that her family could eat together at the table, even as she sat in a break room.
It’s why my mom is the first person I call when I know of a prayer need and it’s why her friends call her first when they are struggling. She is a mother. And I think she would be considered a mother by many, even if she hadn’t ever been able to have children of her own.
To be honest, motherhood is something some women I know – who have never labored and who are not biological parents to children of their own – do better than me. Give them the cards and flowers, please.
I’ll take some encouragement and a high five, for now.
So, as I was saying when I started this post, this has been a year of considering things, like tattoos, and what I would like you to know about me, should we ever see one another in a subway car or at the beach, but without speaking a word.
And I’ve struggled with not wanting to be labeled just a mom, or mother (first and foremost) when I have lived a life of my own interests long before my first labor, and will continue now, and on into after my children are grown.
But, considering these things tonight: Motherhood as compassion, as putting others first – Versus – some scrawled stream of consciousness from Kerouac running down my forearm, or even something as small and cryptic as ellipses on my wrists.
Oh, I think I’ll choose motherhood.
And, hope to always be, at least, pretty good.
(*Tattoo in featured image is just a temporary.) 😉