For as long as I can remember there was a standard-issue wall hanging in my parent’s kitchen that read, “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.” It’s the kind of thing you can only find in a place with “bazaar” in the title.
As a kid, I used to study my mother and puzzle over that statement. What did it mean? My mom worked three 12’s a week as an ICU nurse, volunteered at our elementary school, and bused us to numerous after school activities, not to mention the cooking and cleaning and homework-assisting. She was forever scheduling and coordinating as our busy lives swirled around her. I was fascinated by the assertion that if SHE wasn’t happy, no one was happy. Was it true? And indeed…when I paid attention, it was. Not only was it a downer if the Madre wasn’t cracking embarrassing jokes, but nothing was quite as fun when she wasn’t around. I’m a grown up now (or so I’ve tricked people into thinking) and still…when I am visiting my parent’s house, if my mom isn’t there for dinner, it’s just not as fun. I’ve discussed this phenomenon with my siblings and we are in agreement. Everything is better when mom is around.
Mothering is hard work. Ask any mama. It’s a lot of bodily fluids and sleepless nights and endless permission slips to keep track of and worry. Always the worrying. And to add to it that you alone are responsible for your family’s happiness? Must I always be cheerful, lest my crankiness, or annoyance, or frustration, inhibit my family from being joyful? Is that even possible? For a long time after Gianna was born, I struggled to figure out how to be a mother, and a wife, and still be….me. Should my marital status totally define me? Should my status as a primipara define me? Who was I? So much about me had changed, was there anything that had stayed the same?
I’m not sure when I realized that no; the proverb in my mother’s kitchen didn’t mean I always had to be the smiling love slave to everyone else. Rather, that simple statement acknowledged a power that is unique to us mothers: the power to set the attitude within our homes. It’s the power to serve gracefully and to call our families into service as well, to give of ourselves and be an example of sacrifice and charity for our children. Ah, but if only we always used our powers for good. Who has that kind of energy? I wondered. And where can I get some?
When Gianna started taking a weekly ballet class, another buddy of mine said, “We should do that. We should go back to ballet.” So, after nine years out of the studio, I bought myself a pair of shoes, tights and a leotard….and went to an adult ballet class. For ninety glorious minutes I thought of nothing else but plies and tendus and when I left I felt….refreshed. Oh, I had my pitifully out of shape derriere handed to me but…I was back in the game, baby. I was ready to change diapers and slap on band-aids and read the same book over and over again.
Every mama needs a ballet class. A time to go running. A place to do yoga. A girl’s night out. A spa day. A drive around the block in a quiet car where she can listen to whatever music she wants. The chance to luxuriate in bed for an extra 30 minutes on a Saturday morning. An hour of quiet adoration before Our Lord. It’s hard to find these moments, for two main reasons. For one, we’re the mamas and we get all guilty if we take time to ourselves. For another, it’s hard to admit we can’t do this on our own steam. However, we must find the time, cuz if we ain’t happy….nobody’s happy.
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