I sit in bed late at night and tap these words out on a laptop propped up on a pillow on my bed. I’m usually in an old ratty T Shirt and raggedy sweatpants. The radio in Zoe’s room is playing songs I’m tired of hearing. Pete’s wrapping up his own emails.

While his daughter wraps him like so many blonde curls around her finger. Postponing bedtime like an artist.

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While the boys wind down. Loudly. Between battles at the bathroom sink, toothpaste flying bright blue in every direction.

Muscles flaunted. Bedtime stories begged.

Until they climb up the bunk bed ladder and give in to the exhaustion that their parents have been carrying for years.

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There’s this moment of exhale between the dishes and the rounds of breakfast tomorrow when I sit down to write. And often it feels like I write the same thing. The same thing I’ve written before, the same thing that many good writers before and after me will write about motherhood and its hard lows and aching highs.

But maybe we keep writing the same things because the same things need to be said over and over again.

Because tomorrow I need the same strength to make it through that I used up today.

Because by the end of today I’m spent and I need to know I’m going to be able to hike through tomorrow.

So at way-too-late pm I sit down with this computer and I wish I could reach through it and give you a medal.

You there on the other side of the screen. You who yelled at your kids in the minivan this morning after they wouldn’t cooperate in the mall, the doctor’s office, the playgroup.

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I like imagining you. I like meeting you. Because you look a lot like me and I feel more normal in my crazy when I hear from you.

I would give you a medal if I could.

I would give you a medal for sitting through all those hours of basketball practice.

I would give you a medal for sweating over that meal that everyone instantly declared “disgusting.”

You over there – you get a medal for keeping your cool while your kid raged the whole way through the grocery store.

You get a medal for remembering to buy milk. When you’d already checked out and unloaded all the groceries into the car. You get a medal for going back when it was the last thing you wanted to do.

You get a medal for making it through homework. Again.

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You single parents, you get a medal for faithfully showing up over and over again with no respite, no down time, no break. You get a medal for modeling heroic, anonymous sacrifice. For being the safe place, the chaser-away-of-bad-dreams as well as the coach, the make-up artist, the hairdresser and the Monday Night football guru.  For answering the hard questions that have no answers and looking truth in the eye and teaching your children by what they see in your eyes, your life, your nine to five that they’re going to be OK.

You working moms, you get a medal for the long hours you will commute before the rest of us get up. You get a medal for the courage it takes to keep home a place of food and warmth and security. You get a medal for bravely bundling sleepy kids up against cold and homesickness, for the trust it takes to share your children with someone else’s care. You get the hard won reward of trusting that the God who built our kids will parent them in our absence, will grow them in courage, and teach them over time that this is what love looks like – to lay down our wants for the needs of our families.

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You stay-at-home mamas, you get a medal for your over-touched, over-tugged, over-stimulated, over-worked, under-appreciated day in and day out of pouring out and answering the question, “what did you do today?” You get a medal for showing up at work 24/7 without a business card or a title or a bonus. For finding creative ways to respond when your husband’s colleagues, the pediatrician’s receptionist or the insurance salesman ask, “Do you work?” For never getting to go to the bathroom alone and forgetting when last you ate a meal hot.

You grandmas, you get a medal for loving from scratch again. For loving your children by encouraging their parenting, giving them room to fail, and even more room to succeed. For baby sitting, for arriving with chocolate chip cookies, for showing up because you heard the desperation in her voice. For loving those grand babies so hard it spills out of you and makes them irresistible again to their parents.

You dads, you get a medal for listening to the hundred thousand words that your women pour out after a day of dieting on kids and chaos, commutes and over commitments.

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You get a medal for listening even when you don’t understand, for loving even when you’re confused, for changing that diaper, taking the midnight shift, rubbing tired backs, muscles and whispering the words, “beautiful and beloved” into exhausted ears.

You family and friends, you kin and churches and support groups. You women who remember what it was like to live on four hours of sleep and don’t try and pretend it was pretty. You bakers and bringers-over of meals. You who know to leave when the baby falls asleep, to fold the laundry that’s sitting out, to stack the dishwasher while she’s stacking time-outs and bottles.

I give you a medal too.

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I give you thanks and gratitude. I give you a standing ovation and a whispered hallelujah chorus. I give you our tired hearts and our humble appreciation. I give you our sense of humor restored and our ability to get out of bed tomorrow.

You.

You all who build with people, patience and the cement of faithfully showing up.

I give you a medal.

You and you and you. Each one. An invisible essential medal.

That you can see when the light’s just right, reflected in miniature eyes.

All photos of our family in this post by the incredibly talented Mallory MacDonald.

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