As mothers, we walk around with our chests decorated with invisible badges. These badges aren’t recognized or applauded or given any kind of ceremony. But we know they are there, our mothers and sisters know they are there, our closest friends know they are there. Some mothers have just a few, meaningful badges. But some mothers have many; the badges cover their bodies, overlapping each other, fighting for space, each one hard-earned and unseen.
Some badges are earned with two pink lines, those lines that were desperately wanted and wildly fought for.
Some are given with each meal that you are unable to eat, nauseous, sick and swollen, crying pitifully over bowls of cereal.
Some are awarded with the expansion of skin, the loosening of ligaments, the loss of breathing space in your lungs.
Some badges are given after mountains of paperwork and so much hope and sometimes even travels overseas. And then the badge is pinned to your chest with that first wide-eyed look at the small person that came from somewhere more fragile and wondrous than even your body.
Some are pinned on during birth plans that didn’t go the way you’d hoped.
Some are earned painfully; with your belly being sliced, your body being being sliced, your whole self being splayed out and sliced and then sewn back together again.
Some badges leave physical marks; shiny lines that shimmer like fish on the ocean of your belly. Hemorrhoids the size of Texas. And your breasts, lets not even talk about your breasts.
Some are earned in the trenches of tiredness, while you stumble to the chorus of mewling cries and the scent of milky sweet skin and the tears that inexplicably roll down your face.
Some are given on other nights, maybe years later, when you sleep on the couch next to your small person, propping them up every so often so that they can breathe, worrying when their feverish hand burns your arm. You are awake and alone in the dark of the night, being silently awarded another badge.
Some are earned every time you choose patience when trying to explain why clothes are important or why biting hurts or why candy can’t be medicine.
Some are earned during that moment when you can’t see exactly where they are. The panic rips through you and you search and run and, oh my god, there they are! and the relief takes your breath away.
Some are earned with their first broken-friendship tears, or their first failures, or their first glimpse of self-doubt.
Some are pinned to your chest while you wipe the table or sweep the Cheerios or fold the socks or pour the milk or toast the toast or simply survive the tedium of doing the same exact thing every day.
Some are hard-earned during the eye-rolling, the whining, the screeching, the fighting, the sass, the growing up. Some arrive when they don’t come home. Some when they lie to you. Some when they push you away as hard as they can.
And then you earn the one that shines brighter than all the others, brought with a headful of gray hair and a heart that probably feels a bit bruised and tired from all the other badges poking into it. That one you get when they go out in the world, alone, to hopefully earn their own badges.