The other night I went to a local eatery to meet up with some Catholic mommas.
These ladies meet regularly at a local parish, to encourage each other in their motherhood and faith.
We sat around the table at this elegant venue downtown. A raucous “Salsa Night” going on at the restaurant just next door. Glasses of wine, plates of cheese and crackers and gorgeous cheese cake scattered on the table top. I think there may have been one lady there older than me. By a few months… Otherwise, these were all young mommas, with one, maybe two children. In their twenties.
One pretty blonde said, “Yes, I’m having to get used to the idea that I’m closer to my thirties than I am to my teens.” with a sad face. At first I thought she was joking. I mean, I really almost started laughing. But then I looked at her, did the math and realized, no. No joke here. These are young things themselves, these lovely wives and mothers. And I’m sitting here, the “experienced mom” at the table.
And as we sat and talked about diapers and potty training and college degrees and prayer and literature and tattoos and stitching and summertime and organic food, my heart swelled in admiration of them.
After a listening to their chatter for a while, I could tell. They were themselves.
I remember when I was in their place. When my children were younger I, too, was a frequent attendee of such mom meetings. I looked forward to the mornings when we’d gather together and sit around a table in the education wing of our parish. The children sequestered across the hall with some kind, generous college babysitters.
Maybe it was just the hour and a half of baby-free time, but I think there was more that drew me. The fellowship, the potential friendships, the sharing of ideas – all these things were good! They filled my brain with something other than dishes and feeding schedules and counting down to the next time I could sneak in a nap.
But, in those days, I also spent a lot of time comparing. As if I were conducting research on motherhood, I would analyze each lady. I’d get to know some of the moms with kids a little older than mine. The ones who seemed to ‘have it together’. Those who quoted intelligent articles and news sources and recited daily schedules worthy of of a home-ec award. “Ah, here we go,” I’d think. “This one – I’ll just copy her. She’s got it all figured out.”
And then, hours later, I’d spend my young momma day, immersed in my very real family, full of dishes and babies with needs and a house with no one in it to talk to, till later that night when my husband would come home. I’d think of “her” and…
“betcha $50 she doesn’t feel like this”
“betcha her kitchen is dirty-dish free and there are skillfully arranged roses on the living room coffee table. Because her babies know ‘not to touch’.”
“betcha she never wonders what other women are doing. The ones who are English professors or geologists or magazine editors. (All the things I’d once thought of becoming.) They never cross her mind.”
I had this unrealistic version of the Barbie/Madonna in my mind. I held myself up in comparison and failed every time.
It was years later, in the midst of a hard day, that one of my dear friends told me, “Lauren, it never does well to compare ourselves to others. It’s not fair to ourselves, or to God. We are each individuals.”
Or, as a friend recently said with a smile, “Compare and despair! Ya know what I mean?!”
We think parenting and motherhood and marriage should look the same. We may grow up in a family, or read a book, or meet an inspiring person, and we naturally think that that is the way it is. There’s the map to follow. There’s the person to “become”.
But no. That’s not it. You and I, we’re as different as the sun and the moon. As different as the geologist and the accountant. Just because we both have borne children and married a guy, that doesn’t mean we are to be paper dolls dressed up in the same paper dresses, with the same faces and undies and shoes.