Mrs Satchel: This woman's work

I can understand why some mothers might retreat into the ether-land of nothingness once their children are at school, floundering like a fish in a puddle that's drying up under the merciless afternoon sun in a desert land. Because once all is invested into the little ones, then what is left of mum?

She is tired, she is flailing, she is disappearing...unless. Unless she is able to somehow wrench from this whole motherhood business a sense of self so purposeful and so strong that anything can be overcome because she knows - knows to the depths of her soul - that this child, these children, are utterly dependent on her for nurturing, strength and security as they find their feet in the world, and tumble and tumble and fall and fall, and get up again and seek mother's approval for a job well done.

It is hard work; harder work than you will ever know. Harder for me than labouring over words at a computer, because that is something you can control. Little people are unpredictable, unfathomable, unwieldy creatures. As one mother puts it to me, "That is why God made them cute, right?", because though you get up to them night after night after night, and cuddle and coo and caress and feed them at your breast, there is also pure, utter delight.

The way her eyes alight in the morning and seek out your face for assurance; the way she snuggles into your chest after waking from a nap all bleary-eyed; the way she goes with you everywhere, like a human appendage affixed to your side, agape, free-wheeling, careening about the place. There is joy. There is laughter. There is a mutual bond so deep and so strong that the very idea of any harm coming to her makes you rile up like a lioness protecting her cubs. You will do anything to defend her.

Most of all, you want to shelter her soul, her spirit, from what is awful in the world. The fight starts early. The cruel child in the playground who will not let your child take their turn going down the slide; the towering toddler standing over a smaller one and demanding a toy.

All you want for your child, deep down, is for them to be kind. To say, 'Hello', to strangers and also, ‘Goodbye’. To wave at passers-by. To care for the poor, the elderly, the downtrodden and not think that life is a free ride. To give abundantly, to receive graciously and appreciate all the good, simple things. To stay true to her convictions, to love with abandon, even when it hurts so much she wants to throw the towel in. To rise and shine. To take the world, or a pocket of it, and make it her own. To turn rain clouds into opportunities for gumboot wearing and splashing and not to feel down. To beat back bad headlines and troubling thoughts and horrible things that threaten her peace in the world and beautiful individuality.

To sing. To giggle. To throw caution to the wind. Because, this life thing? It's for living. And living - really living, not just existing, is hard. It's tiring. It's frustrating. It's monotonous, but also exhilarating. And not just when you are young.

The trick is to look up. Look up! LOOK UP! At the clouds as the storm comes in. At the rain drops that form on silken leaves in the garden. To notice things. Children are excellent at noticing, as another writer has said. Adults, not so much as they go about their routines - coffee, newspaper, train, work, lunch, work, train, workout...check! (Though not all, as this young man attests). And some will check out completely.

But apart from the natural things in the world, she must notice people. Look them in the eye. Give them a firm handshake. Treat each and every one as if they were the most special person in the whole wide world. Because that is what her parents thought of her. And God, too. But how is she to know that if she is not seeing you being you? If you are a copy, a counterfeit, a shadowy presence in her life? What will she learn about you? And what will she take from that to make her own? Did she believe you valued your own life as much as hers?

Because life is a gift given by Him to be used and not frittered away in fear or playing the waiting game – waiting for the right time, the money, the green light; just sitting, stagnant, in that nothing-place of in-between living and dying; surviving but not fully human, crippled by anxiety, nervousness and indecision; until the frustration grows so great in strength that it must COME OUT.

And it does. But not in a way you’d like her to see. Mummy not coping is distressing. It is worse than stubbing a toe or taking a fall onto asphalt. It bruises and confuses and throws her world into a spin. And so decisions must be made there in the Nothing Place, which is neither north nor south. Do you become a half-person, barely realised, always unsure and uncertain and very, very small. Or do you become fully yourself?

It’s risky. Easier to tow the line, follow the pack, hold back, retreat. Others might judge you. Eek! To choose your own adventure, your own life’s course, is hard, that is for sure. But whatever else did Christ die for? To allow you to wallow away, to rot, to hang, or to live fully with passion so deep and resounding that all the world seems to sing because YOU are making your own music.

Not all will like the sound.

So what will it be? Life is not easy, no simple thing that can be packaged up and sold in a single glossy magazine on the newsstand. It is messy, chaotic, unpredictable; troublesome, irksome, unfathomable. The key is to find your peace, that deep well of love inside of yourself and to pick up your cross and carry it, not looking back but forward.

Onwards we go. Because while you clean up and fix up her every mistake – the milk spilt on the kitchen floor, the broken tea cups, the chalk drawing on the floor – and explain away that which she cannot yet understand, like the toy baby mauled unrecognisable by the dog, Christ is doing the same for you.

For every fault and shortcoming and moment of sheer ugliness; for every poor decision, hurtful word and deception, there is grace. You still want to know her even if her behavior has been abominable and out of control. And He still wants to know you. When she comes to you, puts her arms around your neck and says, “Sorry, Mummy”, you melt. He does the same. You will forgive her and take her back again and again and again, and you’re grateful that she repays you in kind.

Love truly conquers all. To love thy neighbor, to love a child, one must love thyself.

Erica @ Girl With a Satchel