Message in a Bottle (To All Future Mothers)

Whatever Your Expectations Are, They’ll Woefully Fall Short

Mockingbird / 3.16.21

This excerpt comes from Charlotte Getz and Stephanie Phillips’ book, Unmapped: The (Mostly) True Story of How Two Women Lost at Sea Found Their Way Home, p. 79-86. A mosaic of personal essays, pocket liturgies, and pseudo-fictional plays, this book is as fun and zany as it is insightful and full of grace. 

To the young woman who is certain to eventually find this, you’re welcome. […] Here’s the thing, gurl. Sometimes you are physically displaced — like in the case of a refugee or, say, a dutiful wife following her precious husband’s career pursuits. And sometimes you become someone completely different than you were. As in, you were an artist, you are a homemaker. This can happen overnight. It’s terrifying.

We used to be the most impressive moms. You know, before we had kids and everything.

Our pretend kids ate all their vegetables and never embarrassed us in public. They potty trained immediately, and until then, we carried their accessories in the cutest designer Coach bags, which never emerged from a bathroom with smears of poop.

Oh, and our marriages were perfect, sexy like in the movies, because fighting over stupid things and being too tired for sex is for losers. And our careers? Fulfilling! So there we were, these women (much like you) who had managed to #haveitall, smiling beatifically and non-judgmentally down at the rest of the world from our skyboxes of perfection. Our imaginary kids slept through the night from eight weeks until forever; we deftly managed our part-time jobs with the type of work/life harmony that most only dream of; our marriages were like a tasteful porno, and our identities were super likeable and founded in all the right places (Jesus, duh).

Then … we actually had the babies.

I don’t think either of us expected to engage in hair-pulling fights with her two-year-old. Or to put a decade-in-the-making career on the way back burner so that her husband could take the reins on her student loan repayment and she could stay home with her kids. Which sometimes feels a lot more like indentured servitude than a cherished and time-honored tradition to uphold. It’s even possible that while her kids were at school today one of us ate lunch in her car after a shopping outing just for the sheer quiet solitude of it.

This is not a good look, by most standards: picking through a takeaway box inside a car, hair unwashed and unstyled, gym clothes mocking the lack of an actual gym visit, and the unmistakable scent of unshowered flesh (combining with food) to create an atmosphere of general stank.

But this is, for us, more often our picture of motherhood than the one we (and you) planned, which looked more like this … (cue swirly dream screen):

This is a bitter tonic to taste. We know. You’ll recover in a minute.

The weird thing about our Future-Self vision is this: we were never really all that swanky to begin with. Our inner selves have long betrayed our actual selves: high strung, messy, wine-loving, comfort-loving, TV-loving, SUV-driving wackadoos. Oh, and go figure, we were actually made for this mom stuff. So what if it looks like a five-alarm-fire in Russia most days? That’s just how it is okay?! We need reminding, every minute of every day, that our kids aren’t the rotten ones — we are. Somehow, remembering this — how pitifully in need of God and grace and love and rescue we are — actually fuels our own tanks to rescue and give to and love our kids. This is a weird identity that feels new because, in some ways, it has robbed us of the possibility to be anyone different: calm, well-fed, in control, and sober. There’s no time or energy left for self-salvation projects like a vacuumed car (or a Clorox-wiped lifeboat).

So who are we now that we are stuck in our exactly-as-we-are-ness?

We’re a lot like our kids: bossy, needy, helpless, whiny as hell, growing like weeds, and loved. What doesn’t God do when our hands are tied?

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