Has motherhood ever been featured on Dirty Jobs? If not, my 5-year-old would argue that it should be. Not that she's ever seen the show, but she has had an up close and personal look at her mom's dirty work.
We all recently succumbed to a stomach bug, and everyone was hurling all over the place. I fear my minivan will never be the same after one of the children projectile vomited in her carseat. (If anyone has any tips on how to remove the rank smell of vomit from leather, please do share.) Later another child would throw up all over me. Even later I'd find myself shaking and bowed over the toilet. My poor husband was the last to hit puke bottom.
Before I fell prey to the virulent bug, I hugged my sweet, sick girls and then proceeded to pick off chunks of food from the floor, their clothing, my clothing, their hair, my hair, and our couch. Madeline, my 5-year-old, stood by watching me clean up the scene and shook her head.
"Your job is disgusting," she said.
"It can be gross," I admitted.
No sense sugarcoating it, especially when coated in vomit.
I remember, when I was waiting to become a mother, imagining what it would be like. Most of my reveries were just that - sepia-toned reveries of me rocking a slumbering baby while the early morning sunlight spilled into the lovely nursery. I never considered we wouldn't have the money or the room to even have a nursery. Our firstborn's miscellany of baby gear was wedged in what couldn't really be called a room and was more of a nook in the old house we were renting while my husband was in medical school. She shared her room with stacks of books and the computer I learned to nurse at while I typed up freelance work to get us through my husband's last year of school before starting residency. It wasn't really my daughter's room at all. I changed a lot of her diapers there, but she mostly slept in my husband and my bed or on a single mattress on the floor curled into me. The 99 buck Consumer Reports best-buy crib that we shoved into the corner was nothing more than a space sucker (although I've used it more with subsequent babies).
Now that we could actually piece together a relatively nice nursery, I'm wise enough to recognize that a pretty baby room is more for the parents than the child. Furthermore, since I'd selfishly rather have a nice kitchen over a Pottery Barn-inspired (read: expensive) nursery, we have a very simple space for our youngest and diverted our decorating funds to other areas. The room is nice enough, and it's well-stocked with the most important thing - books and more books - but it's nothing fancy, which suits me (a not-so-into-interior-design-diva) just fine.
In other dreams of motherhood, I never imagined that one day I'd be immersed in so much hazardous waste removal or that I'd be peed, pooped, and thrown up on. Nor did I realize all the occupational hazards I'd face as a mother. In this past year, I have suffered a bloody nose (after a wound up child popped up while I was hovering over her); a corneal abrasion that required a trip to the ER and an eye patch after my little nursling - AKA slasher - clawed me in the middle of the night; and a large contusion on my thigh that was as big and purple as an eggplant (this trauma was inflicted upon me when I was trying to take out my massive double jogging stroller from the back of my minivan).
To my oldest daughter, I acknowledged the grossness factor as I scrubbed my puke-ridden hands with soap under a steady stream of hot water, but I also told her it's all worth it, partly because as moms, we all know that's what you're supposed to say, especially to your poor, puking progeny. And partly because the more you say it and choose to believe it, the truer it becomes that every single calamitous diaper episode, hurling mess, reeking leather couch, and gouged eye is - against all odds - very much worth it.
"Why?" my daughter asked.
"Because of you," I said. "And your sisters." She blinked, not entirely convinced, and I knew it wasn't a perfect explanation probably because there isn't one.
I sometimes I can't explain it to myself. When I was nursing my toddler at 2:30 a.m., feeling dehydrated after spending the last hour throwing up, I felt tapped out. Then there was the rough day when a toilet overflowed and water flooded our basement (again) and kids were screaming and crying and hitting, and I was exhausted having been up most of the night with the first child to suffer the malady of the stomach bug. I admit I wasn't particularly stoked about being a mom at that moment. I spent a good part of the morning barking orders and feeling sorry for myself.
Then one of my daughters plucked the tiniest white blossom from a plant in our yard and handed it to me. "I picked this flower for you."
I examined the flower, its soft petals, its smallness, and fragility. I thanked her and gently closed my hand around it - this gift of measured grace, a reminder from my child and my God why it is so very worth it.
My girls pick me flowers all of the time, and it seems they frequently hand them to me when I need a pick-me-up the most.
There will be poop. There will be puke. There will be nights when you want to scream out in agony because you're so exhausted. There may, sadly, be far worse: miscarriages, chronically sick children, lost sheep, all sorts of pain. I tell my new moms friends some of this, especially after a friend of mine once told me she wished that people would have been a little more honest about just how tough it was to have a newborn. I try to give moms who ask me what it's like - being a mother - a healthy dose of realism.
But I tell them something else, too. Just as I told my daughter when she was appalled by my job of puke removal, I remind them (and myself at times) that there will be flowers, too. Tender, budding new life entrusted to you - YOU. And if you can look past your solipsism and the endless diaper changes, sleepless nights, tantrums, and the pokes in the eyeballs, you'll see that while love hurts, sometimes very badly, it is what softens you; it is what opens the curtain to the most holy experience, a different kind of hard that never stops revealing that there will be pain that starts from the moment labor begins and sometimes sooner. But there will also be joy. And the joy will be greater than the pain.
And that is what makes it all worth it, my sweet, sweet girl.