WHEN I first became a mother, I felt like I had been let in on a giant secret.

Yeah yeah, there was the miraculous arrival of this tiny wrinkly creature and the waterfall of joy pouring out of my ears and all that. But I was also really pissed that no one told me how stressful it was going to be.

“This is the hard part,” I told myself as I sponged breastmilk puke off of the ceiling fan after a particularly exuberant round of acid reflux. “When he starts school, it’ll be much easier.”

Then he started school, which brought a tangle of science fair projects started at 9pm the night before and the sudden refusal to eat anything with mushrooms and the endless piles of dirty socks so rank even the pug won’t go near them, and she eats cat poop.

This chaos was compounded by the arrival of another kid, and I grudgingly accepted that motherhood is basically indentured servitude with a giant helping of Stockholm syndrome, made bearable by sweet-breathed goodnight kisses and free refrigerator art.

Speaking of child-inspired afflictions, the last decade of weekday afternoons has consisted of shoveling something vegetable-ish in their maws before loading them up into the Absurdivan for their various activities, leading to a condition I like to call Full-Fledged Aggravated Carpool Empathy Disorder, or ‘FACED. (The acronym serves as a reference to its popular remedy, also known as Why I Wish I Kept Wine in My Purse.)

“When he drives, it’ll be way less insane,” my husband and I text each other before one of us shleps across town to play rehearsal while the other one dashes from work to get to the soccer fields on time.

Last week our dearest firstborn passed his learner’s permit test. Instead of relief, this has only brought my adrenal glands to new levels of distress.

Author Elizabeth Stone famously wrote that having a child is to “forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” She didn’t mention having to ride in the passenger seat while your heart lurches through the intersection at Bull and Victory during rush hour.

Maybe when he goes off to college I can relax...well, I ought to know better by now, right?

The laundry pile might get smaller, but even according to my own mom, the work and worry of motherhood never ends. (“You couldn’t have told me that before I got myself into this?” I whined to her. “I wanted grandkids,” she shrugged.)

I remind myself every day to be grateful, because I’m as lucky a mother as they come: My spawn are healthy and happy (save the teenage mood swings), and I have a partner to share in the chores, traumas and triumphs. That I can make the assumption that they’ll go to college puts us in a privileged class, and I don’t take any of it for granted.

Motherhood has also widened my heart for the rest of the maternal sisterhood. I see you other mamas out there, chasing down a lost binky in a parking lot in your work clothes and herding a bunch of 7 year-olds on roller skates into the birthday room at Star Castle. I see you putting back the fancy organic cheese because the paycheck only stretches so far.

Some of you have children with chronic illness or developmental challenges. A lot of you are doing it all alone.

I don’t care what color you are or what God you believe in or whether you can afford the real Sperrys or hope the fake ones will do, being a mother is goddamn hard. All of us love our kids and want what’s best for them, and the ones who have to do the same job with less deserve respect.

That’s the first thing I thought when I saw the footage of Baltimore Mama Bear Toya Graham smacking her son upside the head at the riot following the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police.

A million judge-y blog posts followed, some lauding her as “Mother of the Year,” others dismissing her as an abuser who should’ve raised her kid right in the first place. That she is black, single and has five other children has provided much fodder for the larger conversation about desperate times and desperate actions.

All I saw was one mad mother, angry not only at her son for making stupid choices but frustrated as hell that the concept of life, liberty and justice for all doesn’t seem to apply. Considering the negative narrative we all share of young black men and police compounded with the stressful vigilance of motherhood, I still think her reaction was not only appropriate, but necessary.

When Graham saw her son holding a brick and the Stormtroopers in their riot gear, she knew how it was going to go down. It’s highly doubtful that he would’ve slinked home if she’d just said “pretty please.”

“I don’t feel like I’m a hero,” she told the news later. “I wasn’t there to be recorded. I was there to get my child.”

Graham’s whacks on her son may not look like stellar parenting, but most of the mothers I know (or the ones I like, anyway) can relate to wanting to protect your kid so badly you lose your shit. Just wait until you pull up next to us after mine rolls through a stop sign.

Maybe when he reaches full-fledged adulthood...oh, never mind.

For now, my son is still around for me to wig out over, which means I got to commandeer him as my date to last Saturday’s Mother Son Ball. Hosted by Blessings in a Book Bag, the evening’s proceeds went to the local non-profit that sends healthy food home with students from Otis Brock Elementary every Friday to help their mothers and fathers make the frayed ends meet.

The gala was a celebraotry affair, attended by gorgeously-appointed moms and adorable packs of boys in tiny tuxedos doing the naenae in front of the DJ booth.

Personally, I was quite excited about the ball’s lookalike contest—I’d really hoped to wear matching sailor suits à la Lucille and Buster from Arrested Development, but Motherboy was having none of it. He did deign to shimmy with me for “Uptown Funk,” which was the least he could do.

I mean, if my heart is going walk around outside my body and operate its own vehicle, is it so much to ask that I get to dance with it once in a while?



Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.
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