Today was just one of those days for me. You know the kind: the day started off wrong, the kids were out of sorts, my patience was thin and nothing seemed to go right. No matter how hard I tried to salvage the day, I kept falling short. My kids rebelled against me for it: they cried, the whined, they pushed boundaries, they refused to listen and I struggled to figure out how to meet their needs.
Nothing makes you feel worse as a mother than not meeting the needs of your child.
By lunchtime, I felt beat up. Guilt washed over me for my continued impatience. My harsh words. My less-than-sweet tone. I felt weak for being so tired and unable to keep up with the active demands of my 3 year old and 8 month old. Bitty Bug was in a funk today, no doubt from teething. I picked her up, I put her down, I fed her, I rocked her, I tried to give her a nap. Nothing worked, and I felt helpless. Wearing a shirt adorned with spit up and the ringing voice of an annoyed preschooler in my ear, I'd reached the frayed end of my rope. Tears welled in my eyes, and I was quite sure that if anyone in the world was not cut out for parenthood, it was me.
And then. And then Little Chica asked me to read her a book. So I did.
And it changed my day.
Her sticky fingers pored over the expanding library of children's books we own, landing on the hard cover of a story we'd never before explored together. It was a familiar tome to me, and she snuggled into me as we settled on the couch to read its words. It was not long until these paragraphs were on my tongue:
"What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day… "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand… once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." — Quote by Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real)
We don't become mothers all at once, such as on the day we give birth. It's a thing that happens to us, over time. Over time, our patience is refined, our waists hugged by spindly arms, our cheeks are kissed by grubby lips, our hearts are broken over their pain, our hope restored by their innocence, our faces wet with tears for them. Becoming a Real Mom hurts sometimes, but a hurt that is worth the pain.
Being a Real Mom does not mean having all the right and modern things: bright shiny diaper bags, touchscreen phones, contemporary books on raising children, organic baby food, brand name clothes, the perfect body, amply styled hair. Even in our finest moments, we'll never have it all together. Our hearts will always harbor insecurity, doubt and fear. And in those motherhood moments where we are caught off guard, we find we are made of greater things than these; things that cannot be found in a store or secured with money.
Once you are a Real Mom, you cannot be ugly (despite the weight you've gained or the stretch marks plastering your middle). Once you are a Real Mom, you can't become unreal. Being a Real Mom lasts for always.
You become a Real Mom because your children love you. They really love you.
Today, as I snuggled with my daughter, reading the wisdom of The Velveteen Rabbit, I was changed. I found strength in the words upon the pages of a children's book. I rejoiced in the hardships I'd faced: not only today, but over the past three years I've spent as a mother. I embraced the pain, the struggles, the anxiety, the loneliness, the inadequacy. I accepted every time I felt I'd failed my girls, moments when I caused their tears, invoked their anger, fumbled to ease their discomfort. For with every difficulty I experienced, I became all the more Real. Real to my children. Real to my husband. Real to the world. Real to myself.
Oh, how I long to be Real.
So, I encourage you, mothers: embrace your faults. Accept the hard. Overcome the difficulties. Learn from the mistakes. I encourage you to keep on, to not give up, because when you think you've all but lost your way, you are really closer than you think.
It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become."
I encourage you: become. Become. Real.
Stephanie Anderson is a West Chester, PA mom. Read her blog, Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Mom, at ModernDayDonnaReed.blogspot.com