Editor's note: This is an excerpt from "Choosing Motherhood: Stories of Successful Women who put Family First," published by Cedar Fort.
As I watched the German countryside bump slowly past my train window, I had the unsettling sense that I was being watched — and that the watcher was my sister.
“What?” I asked, peering over the head of the baby in my lap. My sister hesitated, her pale, freckled cheeks flushing carnation pink.
“Well,” she mumbled, now looking everywhere but at me. “So, if you don’t mind my asking,” she began again. As I watched the color spread from her cheeks to her neck, I wondered what question could possibly cause such discomfiture. “Why ...” she finally blurted, “why would anyone want to be a mom?”
I jerked my head, blinking. If she had leaped across our train car and boxed my ears, I would have been less surprised. My sister, a recently returned Mormon missionary from the Germany Munich Mission, had been living with me, my husband, and our three little girls in Frankfurt for five weeks.
Months before, when I told her we were going to Germany for my husband to take a language immersion course, she had insisted on coming along. She didn’t think much of my ability to navigate three small children through a foreign country on my own. “You will die,” she predicted. So she bought herself a plane ticket for a two-month pleasure trip with her three darling nieces.
But the trip was not always pleasurable, and the nieces not always darling. At first, I took her question as a thinly veiled complaint. Sure, the first month of our sojourn hadn’t been totally idyllic. No one liked to live six people deep in a two-room apartment for a summer. I could think of a better use for the 20 minutes we spent stacking and unstacking mattresses at the beginning and end of each day. And it was a challenge to keep a tiny European fridge stocked for three adults and three children.
But we were in Germany! We had floated on a riverboat past the famous Frankfurt skyline! Dressed the girls in princess dresses and visited the Neuschwanstein castle! Toured downtown Munich and sung with the Glockenspiel!
This was exciting motherhood — what did she have to complain about? Hadn’t I been the one with one child strapped to my back, one buckled in my stroller, and one clinging to my leg? Hadn’t I been the one to silence all the tantrums and petty squabbles? Hadn’t I masterminded the clean-up of multiple potty-related incidents in disgusting U-Bahn bathrooms? Hadn’t I ....
Ah. I started to see where she was coming from.
“What do you mean?” I asked, tossing my hair over my shoulder and hefting the baby from my lap to the floor. I stayed doubled over to examine the carpet’s small white-flowered pattern in a ridiculous effort to hide my face from my sister. “Well, my friend Betsy has been staying with her sister and nieces too, and we just can’t figure out ....” Great. Talking over my lousy life with the BFF.
“What do you have to look forward to every day? How do you bear the monotony? Why do you even get up in the morning when no matter what you try to do, you have these kids in the way?”
I felt my body stiffen and my blood rise. Was that all she had seen for the last five weeks? Through all the museums, the playgrounds, the Gutenberg and Brothers Grimm birthplaces, she had absorbed only my logistical difficulties? Snatching my baby back from the floor, I sat up straight and stared at her a moment. I struggled to gain my composure but failed. I finally shot back with a flustered, defensive answer — a haughty jumble of idealistic platitudes on the order of finding one’s life in losing it for another. She dropped the subject. I didn’t.
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