While at swimming this morning, a mom came in with her four children, one of whom was supposed to be in the class with Kepler. That other little boy did NOT want to be in the water. I watched as mom whispered murderous threats in his ear, holding his upper arm too tightly. He resisted over and over. It was a classic power struggle, and he eventually won when she’d had enough and set him down roughly on the bench to wait for his siblings to finish their lessons.
And I remembered. I remembered what it was like to have four little people to lead. Sometimes they didn’t want to follow. Most of the time they did, and we had a LOT of great times, but I recognized the set of her mouth, the urgency in how she held his head to whisper into his ear, her face as he resisted her over and over.
He was just being a kid. I don’t know why he didn’t want to swim, but I definitely knew that the harder she pushed him, the less cooperative he was going to be.
I watched the scene with compassion. I wondered what I could say to her. Did she need to be encouraged? Would she appreciate a listening ear? I didn’t speak with her at all, but I saw her leaving with her four kids when we were heading to our car. She was a thunder cloud, and I wondered if she was going to give them a tongue lashing once they were all seatbelted in. I know that’s what I did sometimes, as the pressure would get to me to get everyone to do what they were supposed to do.
I wondered what led her to decide to put three of her four kids into swim camps at the same time. Getting them up and out the door requires twenty tons of patience. At least, that’s how it was for me.
It’s been many years since I had four tiny people accompanying me everywhere. And back then, Greg worked only a couple blocks away, so he could come home for lunch, unlike these days when we see him so seldom. I remember even with that support I would yell at those babies. I can’t imagine now what could possibly have justified me yelling at them. Nothing, that’s what. And I don’t know what could have relieved the burden I felt to be a perfect mother, with perfect children.
Maybe swim mom isn’t experiencing that at all. Maybe it was just a rough morning, and that particular kid is sunny 97% of the time, and this was an anomaly. But it seemed like a little more than that.
I think I might write her a letter. I think this is what it would say:
Dear Mama Of Four Beautiful Babies,
You may have noticed me leave with my little boy yesterday, the one who was in your reluctant swimmer’s class? But then again, with as much as you had going on, you probably didn’t notice.
My little boy is the fifth of our five kids. His big siblings are 22, 21, 19, and 16. Once upon a time, I looked a lot like you, herding my troop from place to place. Of my older four, 1 and 3 were somewhat challenging, whereas 2 and 4 were very easygoing and agreeable.
I found myself constantly overwhelmed by all the needs, all the questions, and all the options. Have you ever felt that? Kids are so amazing, but they require so much attention, so much energy, so much wisdom, so so so much patience.
I didn’t always have the patience, let alone the wisdom, attention, and energy. In some ways, I couldn’t wait for them to get a little older so some of the pressure would be off me. In some ways, I loved the wonder of them. Watching them learn new things, see new places, be their precious selves in all their perfect imperfection.
I know from seeing you bring your babies to swim that you are a wonderful mother. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t feel like it a lot of the time. Being a mother of several children is very challenging, as I’m sure you know. When I was a kid, lots of families had four or five or six kids. But our parents didn’t have to deal with seatbelts, carseats, booster seats, hand sanitizer, germs on the grocery cart, trying to feed our kids healthy food in a world chock full of junk, a million options everyday, the unending information flow into our brains, our heightened awareness of the dangers in our world, cell phones, child locks, and about a hundred other everyday things we have to attend to these days.
It’s definitely possible to have a large family and thrive in the process, but I found that I had to redefine success in some areas, plus I needed to be about 85358853578 times more compassionate toward myself.
Sure, it’s part of motherhood to give of ourselves, and to do it beyond our comfort level, but I believe far too few of us take care of ourselves to by finding our oxygen and breathing it in deeply before we try to put our kids’ oxygen masks on.
If you are one of the wise women who have figured that out, more power to you!! If you find yourself struggling, I will tell you that the two best things I could have done for my children was to be incredibly compassionate toward myself, and found ways to nurture myself and get refreshed in order to be the best version of myself.
I don’t know if you are a SAHM, but I was/am, and I believe it is a job that is rife with challenges that are also opportunities. But when I was in the thick of things, I only understood them as challenges.
All this is to say, I have been in a similar place with multiple young children, complete with one who seemingly didn’t ever want to do what I wanted him to do! And I wanted to let you know that I saw you and I identified with you and I trust you and I believe I you.
Best wishes. Take care of yourself!