Each night when I put my son to bed, I imagine all mothers in solidarity at the end of the day collectively let out one big, all-encompassing sigh—the single sigh that defines motherhood. And this is how they got here.
A mother and her husband rise before the sun has even peeked over the horizon. They creep into their son’s nursery and gently nudge him awake. The husband changes the boy’s diaper while the mom gathers all the things to put in his diaper bag. She sneaks in some last-minute kisses and cuddles before he is whisked away from her. She longingly calls after him and soaks in those smiles he returns her. She gets ready and heads to work.
Another mother across town is greeted with a torrent of slobbery kisses as her kids rush into her bedroom and dive into her bed. She tackles them in a big embrace and ushers them down the stairs to begin the day. There, she manages to make breakfast, clean up, change diapers, brush teeth, and get them dressed while they cling and laugh all over her.
The other mother arrives at work and is welcomed by more kids who demand her attention.
Before she can even fire up her computer, they are already piling into her classroom firing off questions. She smiles at them and patiently rattles off her answers. She spends the day teaching, grading, planning, diffusing arguments, and encouraging. Every now and then, she checks her phone to see the updates about her son. She misses him a lot, but she knows he is in good hands. She directs her attention back to the other kids she loves. Her day carries on.
The one mom finally wrangles her kids outside. She straps her son in the stroller, and her other son insists on tagging along behind them. Along the way, she calms a tantrum, ties a shoe, wipes a nose, picks up multiple dropped toys, and answers many questions. They arrive at the playground and the kids take off. She realizes she is still in her pajamas.
The mom at work finishes the day by responding to emails and straightening up her room. She grabs her bags and heads home for a brief pitstop. She scurries around the house, wiping off counters, clearing up clutter, putting away laundry, and changing her clothes before hopping back into her car to pick up her son.
The mom at the park eventually lugs her kids back home and the day passes in a flurry of arts and crafts, storytime, naps, lunch, playtime, and snacks. At the end of it all, she surveys the mess: crayons, crumbs, toys, books, and dishes scattered about.
She picks some of it up while the kids are down for naps and manages to rest for just a bit before she goes to pluck them from their rooms.
The mother arrives home with her son, and the two squeeze in some walking and playtime before it is bedtime. A little while later, the dad makes it home, and the three of them have dinner. Halfway through, the little boy declares he is finished with dinner by throwing up his hand and whining and kicking his feet. The mom and dad do their best to keep him entertained, so they can finish wolfing down their own meals. When the toddler reaches his breaking point, they take him out and then commence washing up and wiping down as one of them plays with the boy. Soon, a huge wail announces it is bedtime.
The father arrives home and greets the other mother. The kids run wild with the dad as the mom prepares dinner. When it is ready, they all gather around to discuss the day. One of the boys inevitably flings food at this brother, and the other pouts that he doesn’t want to eat his vegetables. Someone gets scolded. And someone spits out his food from laughing so hard. Afterward, the table and floors look like a scene from a battlefield. The parents start tidying it up.
Meanwhile, the other mother prepares the nursey for bedtime and runs the water for the bath. The son and his mom splash around in the water, and the little boy erupts in a fit of giggles, but his mood changes when he is dragged out of the bath into his room. The mom holds the squirmy toddler down as she puts on his diaper. She chases after him when he tries to scoot away from her. She lathers his lotion on and wrestles him into his pajamas. It’s almost time.
Likewise, other mothers in all situations are ending their days.
Mothers and fathers all over the world are tucking in their children, cuddling with their sons and daughters, rocking their babies, and holding their little ones as they drift to sleep.
The mother scoops up her child, grabs his milk, and collapses into the rocking chair. She lets herself close her eyes for a brief second and out comes a tidal wave of emotion—all the happiness, frustration, pain, laughter, tears, sorrow, and joy of the day. She made it to this moment. This moment when the world seems to stop. This moment with her son wrapped up in her arms. She sighs.
And with her so do a thousand other parents.