*Editor's Note: This post is an adaptation from Tim O'Brien's book “The Things They Carried”
The things moms carry have very little to do with necessity.
We carry spare pacifiers in every crevice of our purses, shoes for feet that can’t yet walk, contingency Goldfish for screaming toddlers in Target. We carry diaper bags and backpacks and messenger bags laden with games and toys and accessories for the off-chance that one of them will be exactly what our child needs in that moment.
We carry breasts heavy with milk, a few extra pounds in our midsections, bags under tired eyes that haven’t known peaceful sleep since the plus sign appeared on the pregnancy test.
We carry the belief that any snot-nosed punk who picks on our kid at the playground deserves the handful of sand that was thrown in his eye, even if he is only three feet tall.
We carry the bone-deep weariness that is derived from a state of constant vigilance, from hyperawareness, from cradling feverish children at 3 AM when the pediatrician can’t be reached and the phone just rings and rings.
The things moms carry are determined to some extent by pure madness.
We carry two extra lovies in case both of the others happen to go on hiatus with the stray socks and Tupperware lids. We carry baby wipes in our purses long after our children are potty-trained; we carry tiny knit blankets and newborn onesies with which we can’t bear to part.
We carry a running list in our minds at all times of exactly what we need to get out of the house successfully. Tap shoes, swim goggles, the crunchy granola bars (no, I said NOT THE CHEWY ONES) the orange sippy cup with the blue lid and the purple dinosaur sticker on the bottom.
We carry our sleeping children, limbs dangling, heads lolling, sudden, blessed inertia amidst an existence marked by constant movement. We carry the guilt that our lives are too fast, too packed, too stretched at the seams to appreciate what it means to be truly still.
We carry the crushing worry that our child could someday be the victim we so often shake our heads at sadly on the news: the bullied, the assaulted, the child trapped in the classroom with a shooter roaming the halls. We carry the paralyzing fear that the same child, the one who couldn’t sleep without a nightlight until age 11 and planned funerals for dead bugs, might someday be that very bully, that very rapist, that very shooter who brings harm to someone else’s child.
We carry a torch for great dads everywhere; the ones with bottles poking out of their pockets in the grocery store, the ones sitting in business meetings with pink painted fingernails, the ones who know all the words to “Let it Go” and teach their sons about what it really means to be a man—bodily functions aside. We carry a special place in our hearts for the men who can still make their wives feel sexy after three kids and a c-section scar, the ones who lie and say it doesn’t feel any different down there, really, they swear.
The things moms carry vary by situation.
Elizabeth’s mom carries every single container of store-brand mixed berry yogurt that the supermarket stocked today, because it’s the only thing her picky toddler will eat since last Wednesday. Lucas’ mom carries ten pounds of putrid hockey gear to the washing machine every afternoon; Ella’s mom the 64 art projects she finds that her daughter made at daycare this week when she empties her cubby on Friday.
Alex’s mom carries his beloved blankie in her purse where he can’t see it, because he said he’s too old to bring it to his first sleepover. She carries it because she knows there’s a chance he might still need its comfort when his courage falters at the last minute. Or that she will when he marches bravely into the house without it.
We carry the burden of not being enough for our children; of not being physically present enough or emotionally available enough, of not being a strict enough disciplinarian or a lax enough dreamer. We carry the disappointment of not being enough for ourselves: of letting our children’s hopes and fears and aspirations crowd out our own.
We carry the regrets of all we didn’t see, do or accomplish before our children were born: the foreign oceans in which we never skinny-dipped, the salsa class we never took, the bed we didn’t appreciate until we had to share it with three other bodies during a thunderstorm or after a particularly scary Disney movie.
We carry the unease of wondering if our next child could possibly be as loved, as perfect as the others, if they will complete our families or make us question why we tried again. We carry the absolute conviction that they can and are; at the very moment they enter the world.
We carry those babies within our bodies for 10 months that seem like 10 years, warring with the feelings of reverent awe and utter annoyance. We carry their weight, their heft, their substantiality, every rib-kicking, bladder-pressing, this-week-he’s-a-blueberry ounce. We carry them despite all the unknowns, until we learn them through osmosis—“she doesn’t like loud noises, feel her kicking?”
And then they’re born and we send them off into the world carrying our very existence in the palms of their hands.