Let’s Run This Lap Together

The disproportionality of the motherhood experience just smacks me in the face sometimes.

We all start pretty much equal, right? We’re young women in our twenties, we get connected to someone, maybe get married, feel suddenly completely impelled to have children, impelled as if our entire lives have been directed to that single purpose. Never mind the advanced degrees, the years spent building a career and a reputation, it’s having a baby that suddenly becomes the raison d’etre. Why is that?

And so, we stash our degrees and our ambitions, as least for a while, and we have these babies. We’re still pretty much equal. We’re all at the starting gate in matching running shoes, all of us fit, muscled, cute, hoop earrings, can run like the wind, smiling. Our sweat is so fine. We are perfect in our minds. Next will be strollers through the park, our babies, our products, ourselves.

And then, smack, out of nowhere comes the massive, exploding curve ball. Birth defects, heart problems, digestive conditions, developmental delays, cognitive impairments, deafness, blindness, behavioral disorders, learning disabilities. And one new mom is sitting at the starting gate in her new running shoes watching her fellow moms take off down the track and she is thinking, “what just happened here?”

The mom who’s stuck at the starting gate watches the other moms, her former peers, zoom down the track. They lap her, in car racing parlance, so many times that she and they lose count. To them, she is just a stalled car in the way. To her, they are privileged and lucky. And oblivious.

Even though the mom stuck at the starting gate knows she was dealt a bum hand, she still compares herself to all the other moms who are running around the track, their make-up flawless, world records being broken one after the other. She watches all this and she thinks: If I was a better mother, I’d be running with them.

You see where I’m going here? Mom left at the starting gate immediately blames herself for being stuck there. And. And this is a big AND. The other mothers let her think that if she was a better mother, she’d be running with them.

Right here, right now, it’s only the mothers of kids who have problems who even have half a clue what I’m talking about.

The corrosion of comparison is deadly.

When did motherhood become a competitive sport? And if it is a competitive sport, when will the judges introduce the concept of degree of difficulty? You know how in the Olympic diving competition, different dives have different degrees of difficulty? Divers are given scores on their dives that factor in their dives’ degree of difficulty so a really hard dive done in a mediocre way gets more points than an easy dive done perfectly.

But you know what happens? The mom stuck at the starting gate never tells anyone how insanely difficult her situation is. She fudges. She tells the other moms whizzing by that she’s having trouble with her shoelaces, a knot she needs to untangle and, as soon as she does, she’ll be running with them, baking brownies and comparing prices at Target. “Just give me a minute,” she says.

She doesn’t want them to know the truth. She doesn’t even know what the truth is.

The truth is that what she is trying to do – raising a child with a serious problem – is crushingly difficult. But she is so used to it, the extra work and worry, and so invested in the goal of normalcy and being like all the other moms that she minimizes her situation, makes it small and inconsequential. No worries, she says. Minor issue here. We’ll catch up. Just let me untangle this shoelace.

And the other moms put themselves in her place. Heck, they think, if I was her, I’d have untangled that shoelace a long time ago.

What’s her problem? they think. What’s the hold up?

It’s only when you become an old mom that you get it. Being a mother isn’t a competition. It’s a gift. Some of us are given really complicated packages that are hard to unwrap and harder to assemble and some get boxes with lids that lift right off with beautiful gifts inside, batteries already installed. It’s random. Hard to accept but it is.

We moms, we play the hand we’re dealt. And we need to be proud of that, of ourselves. And each other. Both.




10 Comments on “Let’s Run This Lap Together

  1. So what some of us do is go get on another track and take a walk, with other women going at the same pace. But for all that, we keep glancing over at that first track and wondering when/how to get back on.

    My point, I guess, is that it helps to find the other people going at your speed. My group, we meet monthly to talk, cry, and cheer each other on. And sometimes to complain about how it feels to watch the ones on the other track.

  2. And some of us never unwrap the gift of motherhood so never know the grief, the joy, the pain, the comfort. We’re not even in the race. There are small compensations that balance precariously with a huge hole in our experience of what it is to be human. Wow. Such a thought-provoking post.

    • It shows how myopic I am about this topic that I didn’t think of that. I read something today about how all labels are ‘hateful’ – which seems like an overly severe term – because they separate us from each other. The writer was talking about religious labels but it applies here as well. It doesn’t really serve us to decide we’re in mutually exclusive groups.

  3. So true. Couldn’t imagine what moms of kids with special needs, special behaviors go through. Odd as it is, the two groups – the sprinting moms, the moms stuck at the starting gate — kind of reflect a parallel to the conversations/experiences going on right now in the US about race.

  4. Great post, Jan. My kids didn’t have health issues, but there seemed to be other competitions and judgments – having to do with child accomplishments, wealth, social position, etc. I hated how I felt judged and how I judged. And now the judgment seems to continue – now between those who choose not to have children and those who have children. Men have their own starting lines and the race isn’t any kinder or gentler. I’m am so glad I have aged out of it – but maybe I haven’t. Maybe the judgment still persists with issues of aging. Damn.

  5. While raising my son with autism (he’s now 26) I realized very early that we would not be entering the “race”.We ended up being entered in a completely different race that’s more like a marathon. With no shoes, much less shoe laces.

  6. Yep. We’re not always kind to each other, are we? Judgemental. Those that don’t experience challenges or kids with challenges seem to think the rest of us make our own issues. That’s it’s a character defect or a lack of skill.

  7. Great post. From a mother who a child with chronic health problems in his infancy (now a fighting fit 32 year old 🙂 ), I know EXACTLY what it is like back on that finish line. This post hit home to me. Thanks.

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