The other day at the store I saw a mother and her adult daughter in a tense discussion. As I got closer, I saw that the mother had a cast on her leg and was using one of those scooter-carts. The daughter was refusing to return the scooter once the mother rode it to the car. In all her martyr glory, that mother looked at her daughter and said, “Don’t worry; I can just hop to the car.”
There is a magical transformation that takes place when a mother first holds her baby. Women change from mere mortals to mothers with powers we never knew lived within us: the power to function on two hours of sleep, the power to wear our hair in a unwashed ponytail for weeks, and the power to be completely unfazed by the spit-up that covers everything we own. It is during this transformation into mothers that we are also endowed with the magnificent gift of martyrdom.
Moms sacrifice a lot for their families and we do it happily. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t wield that fact like a super power every now and then. We want our families to notice and appreciate everything we do for them and we are not above simple manipulation to get the recognition we so rightly deserve.
Last week I had a cold (the same cold my daughter and husband had the week prior but of course mine was much, much worse). Being sick puts a mom at high risk for playing her martyr card anyway but my husband only worsened the situation by telling me to stay in bed and rest. He said he could handle everything. He can handle everything?! He thinks cleaning means moving the pile of magazines from the living room to the bedroom and I’m pretty sure he has no idea where we keep the washing machine.
A non-martyr would possibly let him take a crack at the chores or just resign herself to the fact that she will have to do them later when she feels better. A martyr does things differently. I got out of bed, put on my robe and shoved a bunch of tissue up in my sleeve, grandma-style. I announced to my husband that I couldn’t stay in bed and rest when there was so much to do.
“Honey, I’ve got this under control. Go back to bed,” he said and as I looked around, the house seemed in order. But this only angers a martyr because she can never be outdone.
“I have to clean the windows,” I said and sniffled pathetically.
“The windows haven’t been cleaned in four years,” he replied.
“I know. I have failed my family for far too long. I can no longer force you to look out dingy windows. No, don’t worry about me, I will clean these windows today,” I coughed for effect and rummaged in a drawer for a towel and grabbed the Windex.
The only thing that can thwart a really great martyr-manipulation-moment is the husband who will call the martyr’s bluff.
“The windows don’t need to be cleaned right now but go ahead if you want to,” he said. This is not the response I was going for. I wanted him to weep with admiration and throw roses as I descended the stairs to clean so selflessly for my family.
Too stubborn to lose the momentum of this martyr episode, I walked outside and got to work on the first window. I saw my husband so I sneezed repeatedly and leaned against the window with all the passion of a high school theater student. My husband was completely unimpressed.
I ended up cleaning every window that day thanks to my husband and his refusal to be manipulated by my martyrdom. What I was hoping would be remembered as “The day mommy selflessly cleaned the windows so the family could truly enjoy the fall colors even though she had a temperature of one hundred and four” suddenly became “The day mommy went crazy and wiped all the windows with a dirty towel then fell off the stepladder, blacked out for a minute and came to with the dog chewing up all the tissue from her sleeve.”
If I’m still sick tomorrow, I think I will be forced to go out and chop some firewood. My husband will bow to my martyrdom when I start up his chainsaw and head towards the tree holding up his hammock.