Being a mom is hard work– not just the physical labors of love like feeding, clothing, nursing and chauffeuring, although that is a full-time job. What I’m referring to is the emotional investment we moms make in our children. I say “our” as I am a mother of two, myself. The emotional roller coaster of motherhood not only includes our own feelings of happiness and joy, anger and rage, sadness and grief – it also includes feeling the emotions of the children we raise. And from infancy through adulthood, that’s a lot of emotion to absorb, feel, and survive. This is not the place to debate a father’s investment – so I’ll speak for moms since that’s what I know.
Nothing pains us more than the helpless feeling of walking the floor holding a crying infant with an ear ache – knowing that we can do nothing until the doctor’s office opens or our nerves fray and we head to the E.R. That piercing, shrill cry of pain goes right to the gut. Or the fear you feel as you fill the bathroom with steam to calm the croup in a toddler’s lungs. Your heart breaks with pride and sadness the first day she climbs aboard the school bus and heads off to Kindergarten. The tears flow as you snap that first-day-of school photo.
We moms feel it all — the skinned knees, the first boyfriend, the son’s broken heart when his date cancels prom, the orchestra director who says he can’t play flute, her first car accident, the angst over back-to-school clothes, the extreme joy when the college acceptance letter arrives, the harassment she gets at school, the frustration and anger at a math teacher your daughter can’t understand, and then sometimes there are the big things like surviving divorce, a grandparent’s death, or a move across country. All those feelings for a mom are doubled or tripled or quadrupled depending on the number of children.
Last night, as I watched the moms of Olympian competitors, my heart went out to them. I, too, have sat through dance recitals, band auditions, soccer tournaments, spelling bees, piano competitions, theater performances – you name it and I’ve felt it at some level. I remember holding my breath, waiting for that next piano note and then the next and the next. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs – kick the goal, kick the goal – then, tears choking my throat at a loss of 10-9. I can still feel the pride when the theater lights came up on a perfect performance where all the sets and lighting worked and all his hard work paid off.
If you’ve been a mom, you’ve been there – once or twice, but most likely hundreds of times. Last night I watched the faces of the mothers closely. One mom mouthed step by step each move of a performance she knew as well as her daughter – a routine she could probably perform herself. I watched moms cover their faces, peek through fingers, stare at the floor, stand and yell encouragement, jump for joy tears streaming, tightly shutting their eyes at a heart stopping failure. Smiles of joy – tears of sorrow and each time the camera caught them in its lens, I felt it with them.
Sure, I nearly cried for the kids when the gymnasts were reduced to two winners, when Michael Phelps barely qualified and then came in fourth. But the moms were the ones who broke my heart. Because I know so well that those feelings for your kids have intensity over and beyond the actual event, the actual outcome – it’s the Mother Bear syndrome of protection and safety and “don’t mess with my kid.”
I found it interesting and refreshing that the press left the national champion gymnast alone for a long period of time to let her cry and grieve and process the pain, and I admired them for not showing the mother’s reaction, as tempting as that must have been. Perhaps the NBC producer who gave that directive was a “mom” or at least a guy with a big heart!