Unlike many journeys that begin with the bustle of packing and loading and an abrupt departure, this journey begins with a quiet wait. At first, it’s that familiar expectation of the private event that has marked time for you since your earliest adolescence; the arrival of the only blood in nature that signals all is well. But this time, your wait is ferried on a prayer that the usual cycle will not complete. This time there will been an interruption and the real wait begins.
You wait for the earliest signs – the nausea, the tenderness, the thickening. You wait at the doctor’s office, and you wait for the right moment to tell your newest, biggest secret. You wait for that first quickening deep inside where before you’ve only ever felt hunger. Now someone else is there always eating, never hungry. You wait for the tests to come back. Is it a boy? A girl? Do we want to know yet? If we know, then “it” becomes “him” or “her,” and then a name.
Days and months tick by and you wait for more signs. The next ones will be strange and scary. Messages from the strongest of the human muscles, the womb you’ve always housed but never needed until now. And then the final sign – water. Always a sign of life.
You wait for the tiny mouth to latch and suck. You wait for the nurse to take the baby, so you can sleep. Then you wait for your baby to return. You miss someone you didn’t even know only hours before. You wait for the strength to stand, so you can continue your journey. You take your child home.
You wait for the eyelids to finally drop. Then you hover above, a witch-like puppeteer, guiding the air in and out with only your will. Just days before, this creature was inside your body. It’s not possible that he can breathe on his own. You watch him sleep. Then you sit quietly with him as he nurses, and you remember the tabby cat who, one hot summer, found a cool spot under the porch of your childhood home to birth her litter. She barely moved for days, just lying there – a hydrant with eight spigots. You have new respect for her lethargy. Now you know she was resisting her urges to spring and pounce in favor of the temporary, but urgent, task at hand. Your admiration for her will grow as you continue your own nurturing vigil.
More days and months tick by. You wait for the coffee to brew, the Motrin to kick in, the water to boil. You wait outside the preschool classroom for the crying to stop. You hold your breath on the playground as he asks a bigger kid, “Will you play with me?” You telepath a request to the bigger kid, “Please be kind.” Then you the stand the watch while they climb and slide. You perch at the edge of the bathtub until the last bubble dissolves.
You smile and clap and wait for the elementary school band concert to end. You wait in the parking lot for soccer practice to end. You wait for the straggler to get to the dinner table, so kitchen duty will end. You wait for quiet, so you can watch your show.
As more days and months tick by, you learn that waiting is not passive. To be still and patient is to be engaged in the activity of steeling impulses and resolving to move forward with little outward sign of motion. Nature respects this stillness. Think of the lioness stalking her prey and our tame canines going rigid and still when they are most serious. Think of the Emperor penguins who stand together against the frigid arctic blasts and the beaver who makes herself into a raft, floating on her back as she hugs her infant to her chest.
Nature pays heed to the poised struggle of the wait, but our human culture does not. “I’m not going to just wait around for you,” people sometimes say. To do so would be demeaning to an important and urgent agenda. “Is my burger ready yet?” an impatient customer asks his “waiter,” the closest thing we have to servants in our modern culture. We even call them “servers” now, maybe for the pious connotation. There is honor in servitude, putting oneself before others. Waiting, on the other hand, is perceived an aimless vacuum. But aren’t waiters like so many mothers, standing by to make sure others have what they need?
Evidence of our collective disrespect for the mastery of patience is everywhere. A book excerpt featured in a nationwide newspaper exclaims that a few “Power Moms” have successfully combed the universe for extra particles of time and created a “25-hour-day.” One woman’s secret is a super absorbent towel that dries hair 70% faster. “Now she spends three minutes blow-drying her long brown hair rather than 15” – the unintended message being that a woman who hasn’t reached the pinnacle of her professional industry while simultaneously raising healthy, well-adjusted children is just not savvy enough to find and capture the hidden minutes of every day. Afterall, if you really put your mind to it and get organized, mothering can be squeezed in between drying your hair and packing for your next business trip.
Our culture lauds large, visible gestures – post-worthy evidence of crazy busyness. We listen to the loudest, most persistent voices and the empowered agents of change. We are transfixed by sound and motion that fill the entire circumference of the circus tent; the swing, that gaining momentum, defies gravity even as it flies toward the ground. But motherhood is so often silent and invisible, the darkest seat in the very last row. Motherhood is standing in the kitchen and checking the window every few minutes for a sign of the returning car. Perhaps our collective disregard for this kind of calm waiting is related to the modern devaluation of motherhood.
Somewhere out there a woman is worried about her own mother’s recent health scare and the persistently flashing check-engine light in her car, but she sits with her 5-year-old as he insists on tying his own shoes. She encourages him as his chubby paws fumble with the laces. She glances at the clock, but she stays at her post – the trusty tugboat to the battleship of her child’s concentration. What is her story? What are her secrets?
Editor’s Note: Making of a Mom is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.