Motherhood is traditionally defined as that period of time which a mother spends raising her children. Yet for anyone who was, is, or even has had a mother, it is obvious that the word really entails a myriad of duties.

Inevitably, a mother is a nutritionist of sorts. Solely responsible for the nutrition of her family, she must constantly be aware of what is or is not entering the mouths of her children. Not only that, a matriarch must be able to realize that a piece of apple, found behind the sofa by a toddler and immediately popped into the mouth, has less nutritional value than a fresh apple. Lest one think that feeding children is easy, try feeding a two year old. The little one sits on his throne, awaiting his meal, only to reject it as unfit for consumption the minute it appears before him. Or he may accept it, only to use it as a flying missile to hurl at anyone who passes by. My own two-year-old child may ask repeatedly for a peanut butter sandwich, but when one is prepared and offered, will scream “NOOOO!” and run in the opposite direction.

Another aspect of motherhood is that through some unwritten law, one becomes immediately responsible for every item in the home, and must be able, upon questioning, to state the whereabouts of the aforementioned item. At any given moment, mother may be asked the location of a shoe, a CD, a book, or even a particular screw. Surprisingly, a skilled mother is usually able to give rough coordinates of the requested item. I often surprise myself in this regard. Once my husband asked me where his flathead screwdriver was. My response was, “ I don’t know! Check in the junk drawer in the kitchen, toward the back on the left.

Other maternal duties include acting as doctor, diagnostician, nurse, and occasionally a pallbearer at the funeral of a beloved pet. Specific methods are used to carry out diagnosing illnesses, or to determine the need for outside help. A touch of lips to a forehead can measure temperature, and a sniff of the nose will diagnose a yeast infection. Observation alone will indicate the need for a doctor, when a child who is normally tearing your house apart, suddenly decides to spend the day lying on the sofa. A keen ear will diagnose a congested cough versus a dry, hacking cough, a hungry cry versus a sleepy cry.

Wisdom is a welcome addition to any maternal role. Knowing when to referee a disagreement between offspring, the exact moment when blows are likely to be thrown, or when all one needs is a hug from the other. An intuitive mother picks and chooses her battles, allowing her eight- year -old to wear a bizarre combination of colors and seasonal garb on occasion if only to prove a point: listen to Mom! Being able to recognize the fine line between disobedience and independence, or naughtiness and sleepiness requires experience, as does recognizing that a little love and affection calms many an intense situation. In addition, it is necessary to remember that childhood is such a sweet, fleeting time of life and that it is important to allow a child to experience all that childhood brings with it, without trying to fix or prevent every mishap--only the ones which jeopardize health or safety.

Keeping a family clothed in school clothes, play clothes, and costumes is another task of motherhood. This includes the occasional sacrifice. I remember my own mother cutting up her wedding dress to make a Cinderella costume for me in time for Halloween one year. Often, she would forego purchasing clothing for herself in order to ensure that we had new clothing to wear for school or a special occasion. Such selflessness is a characteristic inherent to motherhood.

Also inherent to motherhood is doing laundry. Piles and piles of dirty clothes soon turn into piles and piles of clean clothes. Sorting and folding, classifying and stowing are included in the daily routine of a mother. Fighting the sock monster that steals socks, knowing that somewhere in your child’s room is a secret stash of dirty clothes, having an intuitive hunch that your nine-year-old is wearing dirty underwear under clean clothes, such skills come only from experience.

The various hats and responsibilities that weigh upon the chosen few, the mothers, are many. It is through soul-searching, seeking knowledge, and life experience that mothers are created. Good mothers are not born; motherhood is not a built-in talent, but one that is developed. A special place in Heaven is reserved for those who have met the challenge of motherhood; it is labeled a “No Screaming-yelling-crying-whining-drooling-complaining Zone”.

jkb 1999