My firstborn stands beside me, the tip of his blonde head occupying the space above mine. He casts me one of his infectious grins as he puffs out his chest and holds his shoulders tall to prove the truth of his declaration.
I stretch myself up on tiptoe so I can look my fifteen-year-old in the eye.
I return his goading with a playful punch and remind him that “sometimes the best things come in small packages…”
But what I really want to tell my firstborn is that it’s his fault.
I’ve been shrinking ever since the day that tiny pink cross on a pregnancy stick declared his existence.
Before I willed him from my womb with pushes and prayers, before I held all slippery seven-pounds-seven-ounces of him in my arms, before I knew his name or the sound of his fast feet racing across the floor, I began to shrink.
Before I’d even scheduled my first O.B. visit, the chocolate-loving, Diet-Coke sipping, breakfast-skipping me dwindled away, while a calorie-counting, milk-drinking, broccoli munching mama stepped soundlessly in her place.
I read and re-read every page of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, underlining diet plans and exercise regiments while bidding farewell to my firm abs, my bladder of steel, and life without heartburn. I read how big my stomach should be measuring each week, and how much sleep I should be getting every night. I scanned lists of what to pack in my hospital bag and what to purchase for the nursery.
But there was no mention of how the me that had always been me would begin to shrink.
No one told me that, day by day, pieces of the woman I’d been would quietly disappear, as if that bump growing just beneath my heart was elbowing her out, making space for another life that would forever change mine.
I didn’t know it then, but I was learning the timeless dance of motherhood, a selfless sway that moves with the heartbeat of Heaven.
And, in time, I’d discover that this dance isn’t an ephemeral boogie or an occasional bop. It’s more like a perpetual game of limbo, an arduous blend of bending low and stooping steady.
So, I grew and I shrunk all at the same time, my stomach stretching thin and taut while the woman I once was waned and changed.
I dreamed new dreams. And learned to pray.
I worried and wished and wondered.
My waistline disappeared and so did my stride. And as I waddled into that ninth month of pregnancy, even the very air I breathed seemed to be shrinking as an unseen tangle of legs and life pressed hard against my ribcage.
Then when my water burst right there on our ugly plaid couch in that little apartment we called home, and the contractions swept me away on waves of hot pain and cold sweat, I didn’t understand that I was giving birth to far more than my first baby boy. I was giving birth to his mother, as well.
And when the doctor finally placed that warm bundle of wet wrinkles and soft flesh in my arms, I assumed that I’d lived through the hardest part of the dance. Surely labor is the ultimate act of bending low.
But after bearing five children and clocking five thousand sleepless nights, after wiping bottoms and blotting tears, after kissing skinned knees and praying over bruised hearts, surviving potty-training and driver’s training and all the commonplace moments in between; I’ve discovered what every other mother on the planet has learned– that the labor never ends.
Oh, we can leave the delivery ward and those babies can grow six-feet tall, but mothers spend a lifetime birthing hope and delivering dreams, bearing down in prayer and pushing forth in faith.
It’s painful. And messy, letting ourselves contract into smallness so that Jesus can grow bigger within us.
All the bending low and becoming less, the dying to self and being emptied of expectations and agendas, this is a limbo that demands grace and second-chances.
Just moments after my firstborn announces that I’m shrinking, he casts me a sheepish grin and asks if I could please pack a lunch for him. ‘Cause he’s running late, and he still needs to cram for that Physics test and find his track shoes and brush his teeth before we leave for school. And I really just want to sit down for a moment and take a sip of that coffee I brewed at 5 A.M., but I remember those eleven profound words from this luscious book. So, I nod yes to my taller-than-me teen, and I dig in the fridge for the ham and provolone.
“Becoming a parent is a lot like breaking up with yourself.”
Lisa-Jo Baker knows it. She pens it bravely in her mommy memoir.
I know it, too, because I’ve broken up with myself at least a thousand times in the past fifteen years.
And if you’ve ever paced the floor all night with a crying baby rather than succumbing to the comfort of your own bed. Or held puke buckets til your arms ache. Or folded underwear that’s not yours, then chances are, you know it also.
Motherhood is a slow death that ends in life, a breaking that makes us whole.
My daughter hollers from her bedroom. She needs her running tights, the ones I tossed in the washing machine at midnight before I collapsed into bed.
And my first-grader needs his mud boots. He’s tearing up the locker room trying to find them.
My preschooler is crying upstairs because her purple toothbrush has disappeared. Again.
And the clock screams that it’s time to hurry out the door so nobody is late for school. For a fleeting moment, I wonder if my sanity is hiding somewhere with that purple toothbrush, but those words echo through my mind, and I bite my tongue and race to the second floor to solve the mystery.
I find the toothbrush hiding in the drawer with the pony tail holders, pluck stray hairs out of its bristles and persuade my daughter to brush quickly. And as she whines about the toothpaste being “too spicy” and the sink being “too high”, I wonder if breaking up with yourself is just another way to describe this dwindling dance of motherhood.
Maggie’s running too much water in the sink and dribbling toothpaste down her dress, and I’m squatting on that sticky bathroom floor in search of the toothpaste lid that has rolled off the splattered counter-top. And as I put my knee in a glob of run-away hair-gel that has sat puddled on the linoleum for who knows how long, I picture my Savior bending low to join me in the mess.
I can’t hear anything above the morning din, but I know if I could just tune my ear to Heaven, I’d hear Him cheering for me as I twirl across this ordinary dance floor otherwise known as life.
And I realize it with fresh awe–how Jesus knows these steps, this shrinking sway. My Savior has lived the ultimate limbo.
“When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.” Philippians 2:7.
Because He lives in me, the One who stooped from Heaven to earth, I can keep bowing, breaking, and becoming smaller day by day.
Someone hollers from the kitchen, “Mom! We’ve got to go!’
I toss the toothpaste lid on the counter and head downstairs to gather my tribe.
I flip off the lights and grab the Barbie backpack that’s still lying on the floor by the door. My firstborn grabs his shoes off the floor and throws one arm around my shoulder in a hurried hug.
And standing there next to this child who called me Mommy first, I feel small.