The sweat is streaming down my back but the sun is welcoming, not angry. My backpack is chafing a bit due to the sunburn I have achieved throughout the day. There is a satisfaction that comes with the hard work of exercising, of putting to use muscles which haven’t seen action for a while. I plod along, one foot in front of the other longing for the rest that lay ahead. My husband’s pocket spits out hip hop lyrics from Hamilton; his phone broadcasting the soundtrack. This keeps a rhythm, helps me move forward. We have already hiked two and a half miles up to a hidden waterfall, a wonderful reward for the hard work of going up. Now we have a mile and half remaining and my spirit is refreshed from the vigor of the excursion.
On this particular day, we purposed to do a family hike. Sitting at the kitchen table, five miles round trip seemed a bit more doable. Presently, one child lags as she looks for lizards, one is red-faced and forlorn and another is quickly losing the pep in his step. I’m seriously re-thinking our kitchen-table confidence.
I look at my 5 year old son and realize, he’s not going to make it.
“You’ve got this buddy!”
“You’ve done so well today! I’m so proud of you!”
I assess the unfolding events and realize that no amount of encouragement will get him to continue step, step, stepping down to the bottom of the canyon where we’ve parked our car. He’s done. The last thing I want to do is carry another human for the remaining mile, but with our littlest baby in the ergo on daddy, it’s my back that’s available. I hand daddy the backpack I’ve been carrying and take my son by the arms. “Jump!” I say as I swing him up on my back. My hands find each other behind me, under his little bottom. I tell myself to settle in because this little one won’t be hiking again today.
At first, it’s easy. Heading downhill and already sweaty, there isn’t much I need to worry about. But even the easy 50 pounds of a 5 year old will test a mother’s back. He and I sway and bob as we head down the mountain, and I feel his muscles grow slack; a sure sign he’s fallen asleep. My commitment must remain strong. With a sleeping child on my back, I cannot give up. He has no thought of my strength or ability to endure; only his own exhaustion. I smile a bit as I consider his total dependence on the strength of my back.
My back. It aches sometimes. It’s usually tense in one spot or another, from nursing, scrubbing, holding, dish-doing, or bending over to pick up errant toys. I usually don’t think about the aches. They seem a package deal with motherhood. But now, as I bear the weight of my boy, I think about my back and the strength it wields.
Strength to hold me up.
Strength to give good, strong hugs.
Strength to bring laundry upstairs or down.
Strength to bend and scoop up a crying baby in the night.
Strength to walk for miles and miles in a marathon.
Strength to labor and deliver 4 babies.
Strength to weep for the babies I miscarried.
Strength to let go and lean into my husband for his strength.
Strength to sit next to a sick child and make sure they fall asleep.
Strength to walk for miles through London, baby in the Ergo, blisters forming, persevering because it’s so worth it.
Strength to piggy back my children up to their beds because it’s fun.
We are nearing the parking area and I realize I’ve walked for nearly a mile and my little guy is still asleep on my back. My husband yells back to me, “Wow, Supermom, how are you doing?” I chuckle and say “I’m fine” because I really I am. Am I tired? YES! Am I sweatier than before? Also, yes! Do I regret that we took this hike, or that it was ultimately up to me to help my son reach the destination? Not for one second.
This is what motherhood comes down to. When we reach the travailing parts of the hike, we don’t sit in the dusty dirt and the hot sun and give up. We find a grit and resolve within us to draw up the feeble ones and carry them along with us, and we keep going. My back is accustomed to this task. My back is strong, like my love. I am strong; stronger than I ever imagined I would be. Motherhood can do that.
Mama, you are strong too.
You have been tested through pregnancy and birth. You have survived sleepless nights. You have surfaced after nursing through growth spurts. You have endured the gauntlet of toddler taming. You have been scoffed at and criticized and undermined and proselytized with every bit of “helpful” advice under the sun, and you have been found capable. With every burden you’ve borne on your back, you have prevailed.
You are strong. Resilient. Trust that strength. And while you’re at it, swing one of your kiddos onto your strong back today and laugh together at the fun of it.