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  • Ishta Mercurio

Pandemic Motherhood

Years ago, before I was a children's book writer, I was a mom. Nothing more, nothing less. My days were spent cooking and baking and leading my homeschooled children through activities designed both to educate and to entertain, and if the laundry was folded by the end of it, that was a bonus. It was both joy-filled and exhausting, an unending drone of days, each one exactly like the one before, except slightly different. It was both a pleasure and a prison.


It didn't last, of course. It never does.


As my children grew, so did their needs and wants: baseball and dance lessons, workshops and costumes and oh, the competition fees! And hotels. And school, where the teachers were anyone but me, and where they also had the time and the resources to support gifted-LD learners. Emotional needs and social needs and personal development needs led to financial need, and so, gradually, I spent more and more of my time on Authoring and less and less of it on Active Mothering, until finally my days were spent mostly with a pad of paper in my hand or a keyboard beneath my fingers, and not in the kitchen surrounded by the detritus of motherhood and family. The bread maker fell out of use, and eventually got packed away. The science experiments were replaced by laptops, and homework assignments given and graded by Someone Who Was Not Me, and more and more, my attention shifted away from designing lessons for my own children and towards designing lessons for school visits. It was its own drone of days, this time each building on the one before, leading to Something Greater, something that might one day somehow resemble a career, maybe, if I kept at it.


And then the pandemic hit.


Suddenly, my sons could no longer go to school, although they still have school to attend. And my husband could no longer go to work, although he still has work to do. And my internet could not keep up, and my financial contribution was deemed not enough to be made a priority. And the store was rationing even the gluten-free bread, and at $6.99 a loaf, teenaged boys eat more bread in a week than we would ever want to buy, anyway.


So the bread maker was hauled out of storage, and last night I pressed it into service for the first time in I-don't-know-how-long. As the mixing paddles mixed, Love Nugget, who is now 13 and taller than me, came downstairs, all stomach and innocence.


"Are my earsies deceiving me?"


"I'm making banana bread," I said.


"I recognized the sound."


"Some sounds are so ingrained, you never forget them."


And then I remembered that he and his older brother used to help me make bread, sometimes. It was something we did at least twice a week. And I remembered that once, we had filmed our adventure, and I had then spent half a day splicing the footage together. I remembered the endless drone of those days, the exhaustion of desperately wanting my life to amount to more than just mothering, of wanting my 4.19 GPA and early acceptance to college and having lived in three different countries to add up to more on a tombstone than simply, "Here lies Ishta, beloved wife and mother." The desire to make a mark on the world larger than the two young people I was shepherding through it, and the dread of watching the clock run down on a life in which the days run into one another like drops into an ocean, indistinguishable and indistinct.


I dug up the video, and found nothing of that. Instead, I found joy.


The joy of spontaneity, of the kind that children bring to every conversation in those years before they learn to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves. The joy of being one's pure self. The joy of living each moment fully, and of being fully present. The joy of kindness given and received, and the joy of grace offered and taken. The joy of making a mess together and calling it life.


To be a mother is to walk a high wire: to balance meeting others' needs with meeting one's own, always probing ahead, always stretching to anticipate the future while mending the broken pieces of the past. It is simultaneously an act of foresight and damage control. Much of the time, we fail and fall. But in amongst the failures, woven through the fabric of motherhood, there are moments of joy.


I don't tend to celebrate days. My birthday, Mother's Day... They are days, just like any other. The sun goes up, the sun goes down. There is laundry, and baking, and bickering. There are meals to be cooked and eaten, and there is homework to be done, and there is news to be read and shared, and there are conversations to be had, and there is television at the end of it all when we are too tired for conversation but not yet ready to abandon attempts at Family Time. Why celebrate these days, in particular? What is to distinguish today from tomorrow, or from yesterday, or the day before it, or the day before that?


I do not celebrate days. But I do mark them.


Today, I will fail. I've failed already--I had hoped to finish this and have it up before breakfast, and here I am, typing on the couch, surrounded by the sounds of crunching as my children eat the breakfast they have prepared for me, my own plate balanced on the arm of the couch, my bacon growing cold. But soon, we will watch this video together, and we will relive those moments of joy. And then we will make new ones.


Today will not be perfect. It will be a day like any other Pandemic day, like all the days in the long age-old history of motherhood, indistinguishable and indistinct. But it will be marked with joy. And this is my hope for all the mothers out there: that among the inevitable failures, you find the moments of joy, and let those moments mark your days.


Happy Mother's Day.



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