Plate-Spinning Octopus Moms

Last night two dear friends treated me to dinner for my birthday.  We had a wonderful time catching up and sharing the latest news in our lives.  I find our monthly times together very nourishing to my soul (and, last night, to my stomach too!) because we are three women in different seasons of our lives and yet we share much in common.  Aside from being past colleagues for a state-run mental health agency, which gives us immediate common ground for advocating and relating on mental health and wellness issues, we also connect as women, wives, and mothers.  In fact, our childrens’ combined life stages span every stage of child development except birth and the teens.  My one friend has a 5 year old and 2 year old while the other has a 6 year old and 9 year old.  I am humbly admitting I am the oldest and my three children are all young adults.  I have a sister-in-law who has us all beat with 9 children at every stage of life except birth and she could tell us a thing or two I’m sure but she lives far away.  When my friends and I worked together over five years ago as therapists in a clinic, my own children were teens and still in school, my one friend had no kids then and the other one’s were babies!  We helped each other then and also now just by sharing the joys and challenges of each stage of life.  Equally important is the support we give one another to pursue our dreams as women, often the part we lose sight of in our roles as wives and mothers.

The image of motherhood that came to mind last night as we talked and that has often come to mind in the past (and this was LONG before Octo-Mom made headlines) is of a plate-spinning octopus mom.  Picture it, the eight-legged sea creature keeps numerous plates circling rapidly in the air without dropping one.  While the octopus mom always has an arm or two free to reset the wobbly plates that are slowing down and in danger of falling, we real-life human moms do not! 

Last spring, I got to see an amazing and unbelievable performance by the Chinese Acrobats from Beijing and one of their incredible feats was plate-spinning.  They made it look so easy!  Even then I had this image in my mind of a plate-spinning octopus mom and watching them made me realize how nearly impossible this life-long challenge of superhuman multi-tasking called motherhood REALLY is!  Oh, I remember the feeling of going in so many directions at once with my kids but, thankfully, those are the memories that fade as time goes by and I wonder “How did I (WE…I’m NOT devaluing fathers here because without them mothers might truly go insane!) do it?” 

The plate-spinning acrobats, I must realize, begin their training as children and spend unimaginable numbers of hours of practice requiring determination, patience, commitment, love of craft, and discipline.  I admired them so much for their talents and skills that they now share with the world.  Other than the childhood years of playing mommy to our dolls and pets, most moms are rather unprepared for the task of motherhood.  We imitate our role models, mothers and grandmothers, if we are lucky to have had good ones in our lives, but most of it we figure out as we go through each stage of life with our own guinea pig babies.  We plate-spinning moms must accept that unlike octopi, we DO NOT have eight hands and arms available to us 24/7.  Sometimes we will do better (out of necessity) to focus our attention on the most wobbly plates (our kids) and the tasks required for them, but try not to forget the steadily spinning ones who somehow seem to self-propel on a daily basis without much intervention from the parentals.  The overlapping elements between plate-spinning acrobats and real-life moms are definitely: unimaginable hours of practice, determination, patience, commitment, discipline, and LOVE.

Are you going to drop a few plates now and then?  Well, hopefully, not literally, but figuratively, you can count on it!  I made mistakes and I will continue to make mistakes but if LOVE is our modus operandi, our compass, our prayer, and our heart’s plea, then we will humbly admit the error, correct it if possible, make amends if needed and move on.  But, please, don’t fool yourselves into believing that you are truly equipped or expected to be a plate-spinning octopus mom!

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