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Highs and Lows

(and Everything in Between)

As mothers, we often sign up for stuff we don’t want to do.

Last week, this phenomenon showed up in my life in the form of an out-of-town, 2-day swim meet. If you’re a swim parent, you know that this means waking up early, driving across the state, carving out fourteen inches of space on a cold, metal bleacher, and listening to hundreds of people, young and old, screaming their heads off inside an echo chamber known as an indoor pool.

Sounds amazing, right?

Despite the inevitable pain I knew I would experience, I willingly offered to take my daughter anyway because swimming is her jam – it brings her more joy than winning the economics fair at school, getting a brand-new loft bed, or stealing Halloween candy off her little brother and not getting caught. Layla spent years searching high and low for her thing, and we have a basement full of guitars, lacrosse sticks, drama t-shirts, and slime supplies to show for it.

If I had my way, I’d be an honorary member of a club in my neighborhood lovingly known as DAST – Dads Against Swim Team. But, alas, it’s not my place to determine what floats my daughter’s boat. And I know all too well that one of the greatest influences on inner peace is your ability to not argue with what is in your life. In other words, go with the flow.

So, away we went to Warrenton, Virginia – literally in the middle of nowhere.

Rather than staying in an ordinary Holiday Inn that you can find in any city, we elected to stay in a gorgeous B&B (for the same price!), which was a first for both of us. James, the innkeeper, took good care of us, and the weekend went exactly as I expected. I knew what to expect because I study the lives of mothers for a living, and I’ve conducted extensive research into the highs and lows – or passion and pain points – of a mother’s day.

There are considerably more lows (pain) than highs (passion) in our lives, and that includes during swim team getaway weekends. So yes, the bleachers were hard, the other parents were super screamy, and there was no cell service or Wi-Fi inside the facility (can you imagine?!). I was expecting many of these annoyances, and I dealt with them accordingly – mostly by drowning everything out with earplugs and a good audiobook.

But, and this is a big but, I also expected that throughout the weekend several unexpected highs would also occur, and while less frequent, they would inevitably be more pronounced and, therefore, more memorable.

Thank goodness.

Having alone time with my little girl, who is ten years old and who, in the blink of an eye, will be sixteen years old, was something for the history books. We chatted about life and politics over dinner; we stayed in bed for hours taking turns with online personality tests; we freaked out about having to share a bathroom with other guests at the B&B; and we laughed hysterically when I came in the room and startled Layla, causing her to jump off the bed with the split-second speed of a spooked cat.

These were life-enhancing moments in the life of a mother-daughter relationship that could one day be on the rocks during the teenage years. But the real zinger came at two o’clock in the morning, when my precious little girl who now has a “please knock before entering” sign on her bedroom door and no longer sleeps with me when her dad is out of town, rolled over in our antique queen bed built in 1834 and grabbed my hand.

I held on for dear life.

And just like that, with a little palm-to palm-action, all the yucky stuff was instantly reframed. What long drive? I don’t know what you’re talking about – it was a beautiful day. Who cares about rock-hard bleachers? It’s better for my back to stand, anyway. And look at those parents screaming for their kids to swim faster, it means they love them.
They probably hold hands, too.

That’s the way motherhood works. Those one or two high points – the unexpected signs of love, affection, and gratitude – are enough to make us forget that the hard stuff ever existed. Wiped out in an instant, Etch-A-Sketch style.

As mothers, we wish the special moments would occur with more frequency, but my research suggests that’s not going to happen. It turns out that teaching tiny humans how to function in the world is hard, and you cannot buy, trade, beg, borrow, or steal your way out of the struggle that comes along with doing hard things.

So, instead of trying to make the difficult parts disappear, my advice is to push through the tough stuff and keep your eyes, ears, and heart peeled for the next high point that will erase all 156 things you’re tempted to complain about right now. Let go of the belief that motherhood should be easy, and hold on tight to the moments that make your heart skip a beat, even when they occur under the cover of darkness, in the middle of the night, for no one to see except you.

Those count, too.

Katherine Wintsch is a nationally recognized expert on modern motherhood, founder of The Mom Complex in Richmond, and author of “Slay Like a Mother.” The majority of her expertise comes from studying the passion and pain points of mothers around the world. The rest, she says, is accumulated from a little trial and a whole lot of error while raising her own two children, Layla and Alex.
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