My heart, it felt like a steel elevator ready to slam shut. My toddler’s whines about an itchy shirt tag at bedtime started loosening my grip on the red doors I patiently propped open all day long. “I’m feeding your sister. You can change your shirt but I can’t cut the tag right now.” He cried, picked out a new shirt, pulled it over his head, then off and on again several times. “Go to sleep,” I finally said in my deepest baritone as I glanced at the clock and tried not to wake the sleeping baby in my arms. My open heart shuttered with a thud and dropped several flights. My chest tightened. Love fled the room. “Go to sleep,” I said again. “I’ve had enough.”
I heard the ugliness in my tone. I could feel my lips pressed together, poised for blame. I rationalized like a woman who lets an elevator close on a stranger. “He needs to get over it.” “I can’t fix everything for him.” Yet, this wasn’t a stranger. This was my son. This ability to cut myself off from someone I love is something I’ve been working on and praying about almost daily. Holding my heart open, even when I’m annoyed, tired, hungry, anxious, and frustrated takes dedication and most importantly practice. I quickly felt the tension in my body and found myself on the wrong side of love. I reluctantly placed my free arm on Brandon. I softened a little. “Let me help get your shirt back on,” I said with a stiff jaw still two floors south of contentment.
I can’t and shouldn’t fix everything for Brandon and I’m not going to cut every tag out of his shirt until he gets married. I can fix my reactions to him. I’m watching it and working on it every day. I keep a copy of Shelia McCraith’s Love More, Yell Less in the bathroom (she gives 100 alternatives for yelling including shouting into where else? A toilet.) I’m reading it slowly day by day. It’s a book for moms like me who want to conquer their urge to yell. She’s behind the Orange Rhino challenge and offers a plethora of tips and tricks. Yelling is my last resort and it takes me straight to the shame-filled basement of my heart. I’m doing much better but I still need practice dealing with anger (usually fear based) and managing my soon-to-be preschooler’s antics. While I want my kids to understand how much I love them (even when they’re a wreck over a shirt tag) I don’t always show up that way. Instead, I think “it’s just a [bleeping] shirt tag.” I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m sure this is just motherhood.
Marianne Williamson says everything is either “love or a call to love.” (Brandon and Addison are either showing love or giving me a reason to show them, unconditional love.) Therefore, motherhood often feels like I’m taking calls in an overcrowded help center where I’m expected to cheerfully respond to emotionally charged customers all day. My prayer lately: “God, help me answer every call to love, and let these calls to love become less frequent because I’m showing up lovingly throughout the day.” Part of my work not yelling means feeling my emotions rather than reacting to them. I am committed to being the most mindful and empathetic mother I can possibly be.
Actually witnessing my heart close to my son felt like a breakthrough. My emotional experience was very much a physical one too. This awareness allowed me the opportunity to change course and avert a guilt-laden scream session. I stopped myself just in time. I didn’t solve the problem. He still cried. I still couldn’t cut the shirt tag off. My empathetic touch calmed him and healed me. I expressed myself (albeit in a terrible tone.) “I’ve had enough.” My chest relaxed a little more as Brandon fell asleep. I needed to answer one more call to love—the call of a tired mom of two. I showed up. I stood inside my heart and realized I’m the one holding the doors. Tomorrow I’ll do better. Tonight, I gave everything I had left. It was enough.
Camaron Brooks is a mother of three energetic little ones. She loves her family, coffee, writing, reading, and getting outdoors. She’s inspired to live her best life through mindfulness, gratitude and impromptu dance parties in her living room. She’s the author of Studio Baby. She chronicles her sometimes hilarious first year as a mom, reflects on her time working as a reporter and offers a takeaway, affirmation or set of questions after each chapter to help other moms embrace the journey.