A Spectral Dream

I was once awakened in the middle of the night by the unmistakable sounds of a child rummaging in the bathroom. Pillaging, if you will. I mean, it could’ve been legitimate bathroom usage, but my half-wakened state and grizzled maternal instincts told me there was skullduggery afoot. 

I got up to investigate. And also to pee because I’m an old lady and that’s what we do: investigate strange noises and pee in the night. 

What I discovered shook me.

My son was using the bathroom. 

The suspicious noises I had mistaken for shenanigans were, in truth, the sound of him replacing the toilet paper

That’s right. The kid who consistently leaves a trail of particulate and mayhem in his wake was up at 3 am putting a new roll on the toilet paper holder. 

Let’s let that sink in a moment, shall we?

He used up an old roll. Got a new roll. Put that roll on the actual dispenser. 

He put it on properly, too. I watched as he adeptly scrunched the springy bit and expertly threaded it through the new roll. He got it on the dispenser with nary a struggle, confidently releasing the spring which is known to flummox even the most veteran of toilet paper roll replacers. He quietly snapped the fresh roll into place. Then he turned to me, tipped his metaphorical hat, and was gone. 

Gone like a dream, or a spectre, or a spectral dream…

Upon further investigation, I realized that my son had placed the roll on in such a manner that the paper unrolled in the proper way. As I sat down to pee, I noted that the paper unfurled perfectly with the usable squares descending gracefully from the top. For a fleeting moment I considered that this might be proof, the very scientific proof I’ve been looking for to substantiate the theory that my children are not, in fact, barbarians.

What’s more, the lad disposed of the empty cardboard tube in the appropriate garbage receptacle. It was not laid to rest beside the trash can like so many fallen comrades before it. No, the battered little tube fell softly into the Walmart bag trash can liner clinging to its last three-ply fragments with the satisfaction of having achieved it’s purpose. The bag softly rustled as the tube landed, a gentle reminder that if a roll of toilet paper is replaced in the woods with no one around to observe it, the ripples caused by its replacement will make waves for eternity. Or something like that.


This happened weeks and weeks ago. To this day I am haunted by the remembrance of this event, routinely shaken to my core at having observed such a spectacle with my own mortal eyes. Every now and then, when I am gathering flotsam, and other sundry miscellany, and the scattered odd bits of refuse off of the bathroom floor, a vision of that night casts itself upon my mind’s eye and I think to myself, “Yeah, that did happen. Didn’t it?” 

Motherhood: The Maximum Threshold

Hey, gang…how y’all doin’? I hope you’re well. I wanted to talk to all you mamas about something that I’ve noticed many, many times in my years of motherhood, but that I was recently reminded of in a Facebook comments thread.

Here’s how it usually goes: Someone will post something about struggling with motherhood and it’ll get a chorus of “me too’s.” Inevitably, somewhere in the comments, one of those sentiments of solidarity carries a caveat, “I feel that, too, but I only have X number of kids.” It’s got that unspoken sense of comparison and failure that says, “It’s okay for you to feel that way because you have more children than I do, but if I also feel that way then I must be doing something wrong because I don’t have that many kids. I must be failing.”

Y’all, that is straight up bull slaw and I will not have it.

Listen to me. Your personal max is just that, the maximum threshold of challenge you have ever personally navigated. Struggle doesn’t discriminate based on family size, experience, age, or any other variable. This shiz is hard regardless.

We do this comparison/failure thing all the time with all sorts of things. You’re allowed to complain about being sore after running because you’re an ultra marathoner. I however, should shut up and stop whining because I can only run six miles, never mind the fact that I’ve only recently taken up running. You’re allowed to struggle with exhaustion after your work week, but I’m “only” a stay at home mom or I’m “only” a student without a “real” job so I should have nothing to complain about.

Guys, this is not only completely untrue, but it’s also unhelpful and unhealthy. When we’re talking about this issue as it pertains particularly to motherhood, I think it’s even more dangerous. Motherhood is intrinsically connected to the depths of my identity in a deeper way than being a runner, or an employee, or a student ever could be. My identity as mother defines me to my absolute core, so a sense of failure as a mother is felt far more deeply than any other failure I can think of. I think this is true for most moms I know.

We all know that comparison is as unhealthy as it is a natural response to being a human. We’re constantly tempted to check where we are in relation to the herd. Are we behind? Ahead? Keeping up? Holding people back? It’s human nature, which makes it that much harder to resist.

Mamas listen unto me. Hear my voice and take a second to really think about this. You are currently working at the maximum level of motherhood you have ever experienced. Of course your experience of parenting feels like it’s pushing you to your limit because it is. The number of children you have does not dictate the level of difficulty you are allowed to experience. I have friends with one child, friends with five kids, even a pal who has eleven. Each and every one of them is allowed to feel the magnitude of what they’re being asked to do on a daily basis. It does not matter if you have one child or fifteen, you’re allowed to feel the weight of that responsibility. You’re also allowed to be annoyed by the noise, mess, and sacrifice and also to laugh about it all. Numbers simply do not count here.

We wouldn’t expect a novice runner with shin splints to suck it up and stop complaining just because she’s never run a 10K or a marathon. Shin splints hurt no matter who is experiencing them. We wouldn’t tell a student cramming for finals to shut up and work just because she’s not currently a lawyer. Intellectual exertion pushes us to our limit regardless of the level of work we’re doing.

Mamas, you are allowed to take up space. You are allowed to admit things are hard and frustrating. You’re allowed to say, “me too,” and laugh at the absurdities of motherhood right alongside your sisters who are juggling more or fewer children than you. You are allowed to be there in the comments section, taking up space, and being part of the community. You’re allowed to be there, because here’s the thing. We want you there.

Comparison wants to whisper shame and tell you that not even your struggles are enough. Comparison wants you to be small, and insignificant, and alone. But in my experience, the right group of moms, and honestly the group that I’ve worked hard to cultivate and attract to my posts and writing, is the kind of group who wants you. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on another voice validating us. If you don’t show up, we’re missing out on a chance to love you. If you don’t comment or say, “me, too,” we’re missing out on another voice in the herd reminding us that we’re all in this together regardless of family size, experience, or ability. We need you to show up. Desperately.

Now, I know that not all comments sections are kind. We obviously have to be wise and share our hearts with people who are safe and can be trusted, but that’s true no matter if we’re sharing on the internet or in-person. The other side of this is that we need to be on the look out for mamas who are making those comparison comments, the ones we can see who need a little extra validation. Those are the friends (or strangers) we need to speak up for, offer a hand and a reminder to that they’re important and loved. We need to take care of those mamas. Odds are, we’ve been on the receiving end of another mother’s kindness, too, and it’s our responsibility to pass that on.

Motherhood is such a gift. We get to experience creation, sacrifice, and intimacy with another human in ways that are almost inexplicable and then we get to have that person puke on us, and make us laugh, and walk away. It’s hard and it’s funny. Motherhood pushes us to our absolute maximum threshold every single day. The silver lining is that we also get each other. We get to be part of a community of sisters who gets us and sees us right where we are. We come in all shapes, sizes, numbers of kids, types of jobs, different cleaning styles, religions, ideologies, and so on. There are infinite differences, but we can all agree that this is the toughest, most rewarding gig we will ever have the privilege of holding down and navigating it alone is just not an option.

You belong here. You are wanted, and needed, and necessary. I hope you know that, my friend.

xoxo,

Mary Susan