“I Can Swim—That Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Drowning” is a working title for my life. You can open to any page, and you will find me trying not to let anyone see me fall apart. See me fail. Not wanting anyone to see that motherhood has amplified my anxiety. My incessant need to be good enough when in reality no amount of work can achieve the goal of good enough in my own mind. Asking for help would be admitting weakness, and in turn, accepting my own failure.
The necessity of daily tasks keeps me afloat. A 7 a.m. miniature foot to the face tells me I have to get out of bed today. An empty milk jug in the refrigerator says I am taking three toddlers to the grocery store after breakfast. Shower optional.
Today I am slowly swimming toward shore, but some days I’m only treading water to keep my head above the waves.
I need someone to throw me a rope.
How can they know I need help if I don’t ask? But how can I ask for help when I know I can eventually make it on my own?
No, it should be given to the single mom struggling to swim behind me. Or it would be better served saving the mama who has the child with a disability. What about the working mom who pulls night shift so she can make it home in just enough time to get all her babies ready for school, she definitely deserves someone to send a lifeboat for her.
Then I get hit with a well-meaning “You should put them in real school.” And the waves get bigger. “You’ve got your hands full,” from a stranger in passing as I drag a screaming child by the arm while pushing a cart donned with two others screaming in unison because they want a surprise egg. Obviously, the pre-game speech on how to behave in public fell on deaf ears. The rains start and it’s so dark it seems the shore is an unattainable feat.
But I can swim.
I am swimming, in circles maybe, but swimming nonetheless. On the verge of tears, I am putting bananas and milk on a conveyor belt. A beacon of light shines on my path.
“I have four, glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles,” the sweet cashier says with a smile. “Hang in there, mama.”
I come up for air.
On my way home, my phone rings, “Can I bring you supper tonight?” A familiar voice asks. A rope I didn’t ask for, but I graciously accept it and it pulls me in. A small gesture—it reassures me, it says “I see you and I care.”
When I make it to shore, I see the footprints of the ones who came before me—a solemn reminder I am not the first and will not be the last mother to ever feel lonely and tired.
These shores have seen moms from all walks of life rallying around the wounded.
Holding each other because they once needed holding themselves. Where they have found rest and laid aside the weight which so easily beset us. But these weights littering the shore are not motherhood and marriage. It’s not dishes and laundry. It’s not hearing “MOMMMY, WIPE ME!” for the hundredth time.
The chains weighing heavy on those of us who have made a life out of making drowning look like swimming are fear and anxiety. Depression. The never good enough syndrome. Comparison and discontent. So I can do without some of these weights today. My load can be lighter tomorrow.
I can find joy in motherhood when I realize everyone experiences seasons of self-doubt and questioning their ability to keep another human being safe and protected. This privilege has been offered to me by those moms who have been in these same waters for years, the moms who can recognize a young mom needing saving.
My heart is grateful, and while I am still here—two feet safely on sand, I will throw my rope out hoping to reach you. You who are swimming where I have been.
You who feel alone, just starting out on this motherhood journey.
I will come fold your laundry, I will bring you supper or your favorite latte. I will entertain your kids for the afternoon or ask you to meet me at the park for a playdate with all the squealing kids. And no, you do not have to ask. It will be my honor to extend a hand to a mom struggling to find herself worthy because I have been that mom. Just grab the rope and hang on.
You might be swimming, but it doesn’t mean you are not drowning.