(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot and can also be found on The Huffington Post.)
When you were young and untethered, it was no big deal to take to
your bed when you got hit with a cold or a stomach bug or a hangover.
You probably called your mom and your friends to complain, posted
"Waaaa, I'm sick" status updates, and guilt-tripped your partner into
bringing you chicken soup or Gatorade or a meatball sub.
become a mom, though, there's none of that. The minute they put that
tiny newborn in your arms, you have this very scary, very raw
realization that it's all on you. And from that moment on, you learn how
to suck it up. You have to, because you're getting up three times a
night to feed a newborn, pacing around in a half-dead, zombie stupor as
you lull your wailing baby into calm. Somehow, you manage to bathe and
clothe and feed this precious creature, even though you yourself smell
like sewer water, and are subsisting on sporadic sleep and pretzel
In some broken-down moments, you may scream, "I can't do
this!" Except you can, and you do, because you're a mom now. You
wouldn't have it any other way. And when you emerge from the fog, maybe
four months later, you've been broken in. You've toughened up, you're
stronger, and you're armed with a fierce determination to protect your
baby from all bad things.
We moms often feel like we should be
invincible, that it's really the only fair thing. When your little one
needs 150 percent, then damn straight you're going to give him that.
Only it doesn't leave much room for weakness in you... at least, that's
how it seems. I can't get sick, I just can't, you think to
yourself, as though the mental pep talk is any match for the nasty germs
your kids are bringing home from school. It's not just that being sick
totally sucks, which it does. The hard part is that you still have to be
able to take care of your kids, especially if they're the ones up all
night with a bad cough or queasy stomach.
You also start to feel
this heavy, heartbreaking weight to be immortal or, at least, be around
for the next 100 years. Your kids need you. They need you when they're
little especially, but won't they always need you? The thought of not
being there for them is terrifying, in a way that keeps you up at night
and reminds you to see your internist and get your moles checked. Of
course, yes, you want to be around for graduations and marriages and
grandkids, but you mostly just want to be around for them. You don't
want bitter in any of your child's sweet moments, no pause wishing that
Mom could have been there to see this.
There's also this sense
that you now need to be a better person, a good example, a real grown-up
who is on top of it and together and doesn't forget to buy milk at the
grocery store. OK, stop crying. No yelling. Calm down. Where's your head at?
You talk to yourself and rally yourself, with high expectations of how
you should be. You should be better. You're a mother, for god's sake!
is, moms are not invincible, even though life would be so much easier
if we were. We get knock-down, drag-out fevers and stomach bugs that
have us crying for our own mommies. Some mothers get really sick,
fighting battles much bigger than runny noses and vomit. And we fall
apart regularly -- often in front of our kids.
Still, as moms, we
are stronger, we are tougher and we are pretty impressive, if I do say
so myself. Even when we're sick, we get them to school and help with
homework and make dinner. We probably put on a little more TV than
usual, but hey, at least we're resourceful. We put smiles on our faces,
pretend it's not so bad and try not to let them see us sweat. We keep it
together, for their sake. Then, once they're out of the house or sound
asleep or the sitter/Daddy has taken over, we crawl under a blanket and
will ourselves to heal. Or we pour a big glass of wine and text a friend
(because we're too tired to call) to talk about our crappy day. Or we
just sit there and cry and feel sorry for ourselves, because sometimes
we need that too. We are human.
To our children, though, we are
invincible. We are superheroes. We are the make-it-all-better bad*sses
of the universe. They look to us to protect them and help them feel
safe. But, they also look to us for guidance on how to be. How will they
learn that it's OK to get sick if we don't get sick and then get
better? How will they learn it's OK to cry and get mad if they haven't
seen us get upset, breathe and then get over it?
We wish our kids
were invincible, but they're human, too, just like us. We can't give
them superpowers or impenetrable hearts or eternal life. There are going
to be boo-boos and tears and sickness. That's just real life. So maybe
the best thing we can do is be resilient, and show our kids how to be