Passing the Mother Test

I first became a mother at the age of 38 when my husband and I became foster parents to three children under the age of five. Three frightened, angry, fragile kids who spent every waking minute – which, between them, constituted pretty much 24/7 that first year – thinking of creative ways to destroy the house and get on my last nerve.

Admittedly, some days were better than others. The days I didn’t get a shower or a square meal – subsisting on goldfish crackers and leftover sips of juice boxes – happened more often than I care to think about, even ten years later. The days I spent scrubbing unmentionable substances off bathroom and even bedroom walls, muttering under my breath about the injustice of it all. Wondering whether I was crazy to think that I had it in me to mother these three rugrats.

If motherhood was graded pass-fail, some days I most certainly did not pass muster. I knew, going in, that I was supposed to be changing these kids’ lives. Only gradually did I wake up to the fact that . . . these kids had been given the herculean task of changing me.

I was going to have to pass the Mother Test.

Now, this test is unlike any other test you will take in your lifetime. It’s not a pass-fail; neither is it based on a 100-point or sliding scale. Rather, it’s a cumulative score accumulated over the course of a lifetime . . . with the final grade revealed only in heaven.

This doesn’t prevent any of us mothers from grading ourselves, sometimes mercilessly. That first year I remember standing in the shower, railing at the ceiling: “Holy Mother, if I don’t get two consecutive hours of sleep sometime in the next 3 days, I’m going to lose my mind. Please HELP me!”

Sometimes I thought I heard a celestial chuckle. And yet, there was always the hope of a promise, too – a promise that we hear echoed in this week’s second reading.

“… Let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”  Hebrews 4:15-16

Ten years later, now when I lie awake at night, it’s because of the quiet – the oldest child moved onto another home years ago, my daughter is sleeping through the night most nights now, and my son who is living temporarily with another family… well, let’s just say that his absence keeps me awake at night far more often than his presence ever did. Sometimes I miss him so much, my arms ache for wanting to give him a hug.

The testing continues. What has been the hardest test for you so far?

Heidi Hess Saxton, new Editorial Director at Ascension Press,  is the author of Raising Up Mommy and My Big Book of Catholic Bible Stories. Heidi blogs at A Rosary for my GPS, an online resource for mothers of adopted, fostered, and special needs children. She and her husband foster-adopted their two children in 2002.