A few nights ago, right before bed, I posted a photo on Facebook. In the morning I woke up to several comments and a few text messages asking if I was okay. When I looked back at the photo I saw what they saw: A tired, worn-out expression on my face and a vacant, exhausted look on my son’s. It’s funny because when I posted it I thought, What a beautiful photo of us, but of course in the morning everything is clearer.
When I looked at it a third time, I realized this was a beautiful photo of us. Honest, intimate and real, this photo perfectly captured all the feelings in the room that night, and the reality of motherhood, which is as complex as this photo.
To understand the complexities of the photo, you have to first understand what happened right before it was taken. My 6-year-old son had come into our room holding his blankie tightly and urgently needed to understand where we go when we die.
Conversations like these—what I like to call “the big ones”—almost always crop up right at bedtime when my children are alone with us or alone with their thoughts. In the calm, quiet of bedtime and the darkness of a safe and cozy bedroom, there is space for them to emotionally dig deeper than they can during the day.
Most parents could give a swift answer and escort their children back to bed, but in our house, this question is far more complicated than it already seems. There are three adults in our family home: me, my husband and my father. Between the three of us, we have a Christian, an Atheist and a Jewish God-leaning Agnostic (not in that order). So a question that might normally be answered with “heaven” or “to be with God” is far more fraught in our house.
Add to that my own mother’s passing three years ago and you have a recipe for children who really get death and really, really want to understand what, exactly, happened to her. And in truth, don’t we all want to know the answer to that one?
So, his 7:30 pm question took a while to answer. And with that answer, all the feelings of my own grief, his grief, and the knowledge that I can’t really answer the question with 100% certainty meant that by the end of it, all that was left was to hold each other and let love speak the rest.
That moment is when the photo was taken.
When I pictured being a mother I never pictured this moment or the thousands of other moments that have shattered the myth of motherhood for me. Motherhood isn’t all hugs and kisses, unicorns and fairies. But it isn’t all late nights and messy hair and feelings of overwhelm either.
Motherhood is like this photo. It’s honest and real and beautiful and intimate and full of love and complexities. And that is what makes it so amazing. Nowhere in my life before children had so many feelings co-existed in one small space. Never has my heart been more elated, more full or more broken all at the same time.
But the key, I’m learning, is to embrace the complexity. To find the beauty in the worn-out expression on our faces. Because beyond that first glance, there is connection and comfort and so much love.