When you're a mom, you have realizations. They happen at the strangest times...while peeling a smashed fruit snack from your daughter's coat, or while reminding your your son, "No, we do not push the off button on the Wal-Mart automatic self check out computer." My most earth shattering one is one I feel all moms to be should be prepared for, and it happened during the weekly trip to the grocery store. The following is a real time play by play of the events of that fateful afternoon
I guide each of my four children out of the car, and not into the parking lot to be hit. We pass the coin operated toys and I convince all children that those aren't fun to ride anyway. Then I guide them away from the shopping cart we moms love to hate...the one that is a CAR. I think to myself that if they are trying to make our jobs easier, make the thing into a BUS already. We pass the well meaning people reminding me that I do indeed have my hands full, as I push more kids than groceries along in my trusty cart. The one in the front stands up, as I am comparing prices of breakfast cereal, and I save her from falling on her head in the nick of time. We fill our cart, and head over to the free cookies at the bakery, when suddenly we realize the child who was walking with us is no longer. I frantically wheel all kids around as we call for the missing child. He is found staring at the Spongebob macaroni and cheese box, wondering why we don't get THAT one. Relieved, I scoop him up into the cart with the other two youngest, and push the cart with all my mommy bicep power. We head back to the cookies, and I get one too, and we make a beeline to the checkout. Of course the checkout line is overrun with sweet nothings calling out to the children's cavities, “let us grow you, let us help you prevail!!!” What child can resist the call of these sirens? Little hands reach out to grab the Hubba Bubba, asking, “Please can we have one?" while deft mommy and older sister hands sweep little hands away. Out to the car again. All little ones are safely contained until they make it to the haven of the vehicle. After some squeezing and stepping on fingers and toes, all kids finally make it into carseats. I breathe a happy sigh of relief as the thought comes to me.
When you are a mom, 98% of your job is herding. Yes. Herding, as in a shepherdess gently caring for her sheep. Or maybe not always so gently, but certainly full of concern, care and love. We do the countless tiny things to preserve the lives and well being of these little ones entrusted to our care. Because they need us, and they want us to guide them. I know I wish I had been prepared for this before I had my first child.
The job of herding doesn't just apply to moms with more than one child. It starts with the first, then grows. When the first child becomes mobile, you notice that you no longer do that purposeful career-woman look-straight-ahead-walk. You find yourself analyzing where your little one might hide or wander to, or what she might pick up to eat. You notice yourself playing out the worst calamities in your mind, and then making every effort to prevent them from coming to life. Irons get put in the back of your closet. Knives are kept at the back of your tall cupboard. Protecting your children's innocence becomes a priority. You want good food for their minds. You guide your children's eyes from the terrible horror movie covers right at their eye level as you try to rent a family movie. You teach your children to be cautious around strangers, and are cautious even around people you know. You find it hard to let someone else do your job, even if it's for a 2 hour movie. You guard your children like no one else can.
When more children come along, your care does not diminish, but grows to fit each child, This is when your herding job gets more complicated. You are forced to multitask, predicting what each child's whim might compel them to do at any given time. Then you must evaluate whether action has to be taken on any of these presupposed whims. If the window is left open, will my four year old try to fly from it? If the wading pool is accidently left out in cold weather, how many children will decide to swim in it? If the lost pitbull comes to visit our house, which child will want to pet it, and how do I teach the child to be cautious, but not irrationally fearful? When one child is missing, you find you depend on the oldest to be like the sheepdog, carefully guarding those left behind until you find the lost child and rejoice. You research where predators live in your town, and are careful to do your best to protect your children, and to teach them how to be safe. You teach your children which foods are nourishing to their bodies and which will make them sick if they gorge themselves on them. You teach them to do things in moderation, and try to explain why it doesn't always pay to follow the crowd.
We pour our souls into the care of our children, often going cold and hungry merely because we forget to put on our coat or eat a bite of lunch. We do this without monetary compensation. We do it because it is who we are, and what we were made for. The moment we deliver that first child into the light of day, we begin that job. We do this work because we love it, and because we know that is means something. If we were not doing it, who would? We can't imagine, and so we herd. We train our children to respect authority, and show them that we are there to guide them through life. We make mistakes, and learn painfully from them. We always come out of trials with greater respect for the responsibility and joy that is motherhood. When you are a mother, you are the ultimate sheperdess. And you are loved for it.