dickow_cherylSince I don’t want to exaggerate, I’ve purposely counted all the large plastic totes that occupy a walk-in closet in our basement. There are 27 in all. This doesn’t include the ones stashed away in bedroom closets nor does it take into consideration the miscellaneous items that don’t fit neatly into storage bins and so are lovingly placed upon high shelves or wrapped and placed under beds.

What, you may be wondering, is in these bins and storage spots?

In fact, you may be thinking you need to contact that "Hoarders" reality show to let them know about me.

Let me assure you that all the bins and their items do not overflow into the living space of our home, nor do they represent my obsession with anything other than my children’s "growing years." That’s right; these bins hold, for me, the treasures of motherhood. There are paintings, homemade cards and Christmas ornaments, prizes won and trinkets received. There are a few stuffed animals, maybe a blanket or two and as much as humanly possible a lifetime of memories.

My boys are now 22, 20 and 18 and the number of bins is no longer increasing. The totes now wait as my sons individually claim his own particular boyhood; and I’m able to admit that when that time comes, each may or may not choose to keep these "memories." Certainly each boy may opt to reduce his dozen or so bins to a valued few. All these choices will be in each child’s own realm of authority, of which I will fully respect.

Some people might scoff at the idea of having kept so many things from each child’s boyhood; but for me these represented in some way my own struggles with being a mom.

Let me explain.

For some women, motherhood is "second nature." For others, motherhood is a time of challenge overridden with joy. For still others, motherhood is something to be completely avoided.

And then there is that whole in-between area of motherhood: joy caught up in stress; happiness overshadowed with exhaustion; blessing intermingled with burden.

I guess I’m one of those found in the middle.

While I always understood the inherent joy that was mine as a mother, I also often found myself overwhelmed. I had three sons within five years and not a whole lot of help around. By nature I am a very personal person and so the idea of reaching out to others—who really would have been, essentially, strangers—was just not something I could do. So I soldiered on to the best of my ability. I readily admit—and have written columns about it—that I could not have been a mother who would have had time to blog or to read blogs. It would have been something that would have put me over the edge, for any number of reasons.

That’s just me.

And now I feel I have to be honest about my experiences because I found, years later as the Associate Editor of Today’s Catholic Woman, that there are a lot of "me’s" out there. Many times I received private emails that broke my heart; women being hurt (intentionally and unintentionally) by other women; women being judged (intentionally and unintentionally) by other women.

But let me be clear that my boys are wonderful young men; and were delightful young toddlers.  More than anything else, my feeling overwhelmed was more about me than about them.

And so I saved every piece of their childhood; because I knew how precious and fleeting it was and how while my heart ached to be more relaxed and joy-filled in the day-to-day motherhood experience, my mind raced with ways to cope.

Today, as my oldest has just graduated from college and my youngest enters his senior year in high school, I can relish the moments that brought me here. Just looking at the totes makes me smile and fills my heart with warmth. I know that God’s grace and mercy were always in my life and that the journey has been a blessed one, even if I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

Standing at this point in life where my boys are becoming men and my own life is rapidly changing I feel called to share some of those experiences with others. In particular, today, I’m here to say, from the depths of my heart to mothers who may be like me: God is with you!

Let me add: don’t underestimate the value of a large tote bin! You may find that having one nearby and placing an item in it now and again has great value.  It might just be that the performing of such a simple task gives you a better grasp of the fleeting and precious joy that is your child and in that moment be better able to grasp your own preciousness as well.

Copyright 2010 Cheryl Dickow