I can gravitate between a noble sense of martyrdom, believing that I am the best mother ever and my children should be adoring me at every moment, and a nagging sense of failure, wondering why I can’t get my act together. Why can’t I shake the underlying tone of irritation that comes as I reply to “Mommy?” for the 500th time? Why can’t I respond more joyfully to a request for more milk when I have just sat down to eat my lunch? Why can’t I keep from snapping when my daughter asks me the same question for the 10th time in 10 minutes?
Today, it was the poop. And then it was the dirt. And then there was my daughter’s favorite game of 20 unnecessary questions. And then there were the scribbles on the new table.
The poop came and interrupted my lunch. I swear my daughter waits to do her business until I sit down to eat, after I’ve ensured that everyone else has been fed. The call of “Mommmmyyy! I need you to wipe me!” is too perfectly timed with my attempted first bite to be coincidental (Yes, we’re working on teaching her to wipe herself. It’s a fine art, okay).
Then came the dirt. After sending the kids outside, so I could tackle the kitchen in quiet, my mind began to whir and I actually sat down to write, something I hardly ever manage to do. Then came the call, “Mommmmyy! Micaiah’s doing something bad!” It’s always vaguely communicated, leaving me to wonder where we are on the scale of “bad.” Today, it was mid-level bad. Dumping dirt from the garden bed all over the play gym, his siblings, and himself. Bad enough to have me seriously irritated.
The dirt cued the questions. “Mommy, can you wash my feet?” over and over. “In a minute,” I said for what felt like the 900th time as I shook dirt from his hair, scrambled to clean up the mess from the morning craft, and rushed to put on my 2 year old’s sheets I’d washed after he’d leaked on them this morning. Dirt or no, it was nap time.
The last straw was the scribbles. While I was doing those things, the two year old was getting artistic on the brand new, white table I had just bought for my oldest’s lego building. It’s not like I thought there was any way that table would stay white. I was just hoping it would stay white for longer than a week.
My daughter chose the moment of me furiously scrubbing the table to ask yet again, “Mommy, nowww can you wash my feet?” “I said HOLD ON!” was my patient, maternal reply. Even as I yelled and felt justified in my yelling, I knew I was about to be filled with regret. I knew I was going to have to go to my daughter and confess that I had failed.
Mothering littles ones is lowly work. It should probably have run in the title sequence of Dirty Jobs. This week I have cleaned pee off the floor, wiped too many poopy bottoms to count, cleaned smeared guacamole and yogurt and other gooey substances from many surfaces, and so on. There’s always dirt. There are always crumbs. There’s always something sticky. In the words of Luke from Gilmore Girls, kids always have “jam hands.”
The truth is sometimes it all feels…beneath me. Once upon a time, I had a lot of potential. There are a lot of things I could be doing right now, I sometimes think…things that wouldn’t so often involve dealing with other people’s bodily functions. Yet here I am, the resident butt-wiper.
That’s when that noble sense of martyrdom creeps in. I am a martyr to my cause, a silent sufferer, an unsung hero. Surely, when I’m dead, they will resurrect monuments in my honor. There might be a movie. At the very least, these children of mine should recognize and appreciate all that I do. Maybe even let me eat my lunch uninterrupted.
Most of that indignation evaporated at the sight of my daughter’s crumpled face. She just wanted me to wash her feet. To wash her feet. Hello, Jesus, looking over my shoulder saying “Ahem.”
There was another who washed the feet of messy, needy people. And He didn’t do it with a chip on His shoulder, grumbling about all the other things He could be doing which for Him was like…sitting on a throne of glory in heaven, ruling over the universe. No, He did it joyfully. He did it humbly. He did it on the way to a cross.
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:14-17).
Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He didn’t have to do that. He didn’t have to come wash our dirty feet and put up with our nonsense. But He did. It was anything but pretty and it was most definitely beneath Him. If anyone had a right to complain about the lowliness of His job, it was Him. Yet He never did. He served faithfully, in love and obedience.
Jesus was Lord and Teacher. I am neither of those things. I am not greater than my master. So what if I laid aside my sense of martyrdom? What if I actually relinquished my sense of superiority to my task? What if I joyfully embraced the humbleness of my job and stopped begrudgingly trudging through it? Jesus says I will be blessed.
As I told my daughter when I asked her forgiveness, it takes a lonnnng time to get a new heart and God is still working on mommy’s. I know I will continue to struggle with this. I know I will not become a joyful servant overnight, but I also know God is slowly working His heart into mine.
After all, good and beautiful things grow from lowly dirt and a little poop makes excellent fertilizer. Lucky for us moms, we have plenty of both.