On Being Human

Motherhood can have ups and downs. Exhausting, beautiful, hilarious, frustrating, magical, overwhelming. I used to joke to Alex that new motherhood was like traveling abroad. You’re tired and jetlagged, and you haven’t showered and you have a cramp in your neck and you’re sort of inexplicably sticky, but then you look around and the world feels beautiful and otherworldly and you’re glad you came.

My friend Leigh wrote a fantastic post last week about how motherhood can sometimes feel tough to navigate, and it reminded me that everyone’s life—no matter how effortless and polished it may look from the outside (when you see women on blogs, in magazines, even just on the street)—without a doubt includes the same tricky moments, worries, doubts, ups and downs. That’s what it means to be human and real, and we should celebrate and love ourselves for that.

Recently, I came across this poem (excerpt below). I have such respect for all mothers, and women overall.

The Lanyard” By Billy Collins (an excerpt)
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

(Top photo of Toby and me. Bottom photo from Nirrimi)

  1. You are my aspiration, I possess few web logs and rarely run out from brand :). “He who controls the past commands the future. He who commands the future conquers the past.” by George Orwell.

  2. I’m sitting here exhausted rocking my 5mo in his swing with my foot and typing this with a tear in my eye, and all i can think of is how I can’t wait until he can give me a lanyard, or anything else that he thinks of as a gift.

    • Rebekah says...

      im here too. Except he’s 8 mos and teething and crying

  3. I printed the poem and put it in my card for her birthday yesterday. We both teared up, thank you for sharing.

  4. Do you have baby fever yet?

  5. This is one of the most beautifully, well-put statements about motherhood I’ve heard to date:

    “I used to joke to Alex that new motherhood was like traveling abroad. You’re tired and jetlagged, and you haven’t showered and you have a cramp in your neck and you’re sort of inexplicably sticky, but then you look around and the world feels beautiful and otherworldly and you’re glad you came.”

    I’m not a mother yet, but this certainly makes me feel inspired about motherhood and the feelings it brings.

  6. I read this whole poem, declared it one of my new favorites and immediately emailed it to my mom. Thank you.

  7. Anonymous says...

    I have a mother’s day gathering every year for my friends. Dessert and grown up time is a nice way to end the day. Every year I read this poem. I saw him perform it and loved it.

  8. I love this! <3

  9. A Aviotti says...

    I really enjoyed reading this post. I can definitely relate to the going abroad reference.

  10. Love Billy Collins and this poem. I could never understand why my mom kept such silly things…but since my four year old started bringing home her “lanyards,” I know.

    I really love your Motherhood Mondays posts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  11. Melisa says...

    That poem is everything.

  12. All so true, indeed. The Lanyard is one of my favorite Billy Collins poems. I typed it out for my mom one year on Mother’s Day. Now that I’m a mom, I can’t get through it without crying!

  13. so wonderful to hear others feeling the same about motherhood!
    what i have been really appreciating lately is OUR mothers selflessness. My Mum had 4 daughters and never pursued a career, everything she did was for us. Here I am working part time, YEARNING for some kind of career that will also allow me to work part time, not easy. all the generations of mothers before us must have been so unsatisfied, or perhaps just more content and appreciative?!

  14. What you’ve written is so true Joanna. Thank you. Kelly

  15. Joanna, I think you and your readers’ll love to hear Billy Collins reading “The Lanyard” in its entirety, for PBS’s “Poetry Everywhere”: Poignant, and his deadpan is hilarious.

  16. Lovely post, thank you! I joke that no one ever posts to Facebook pictures of the baby awake at 3am, or their dirty hair after days without a shower, or the arguments with their partner… yet it’s easy to think that everyone else has it made while you struggle with jet lag. ;)

  17. Motherhood is like travelling! That’s an amazing analogy :) I don’t have kids yet but I like to travel, and I think this is the best thing I’ve ever heard that could better prepare me for motherhood down the road. Thank you.

  18. that poem is spot on.

  19. Lovely. The sentiment in this post reminds me of Glennon Melton’s “Don’t Carpe Diem” essay:

    Her description of Kairos time reminds me of your description of traveling. Sometimes you have to step outside of the uncomfortable details to see what’s really happening. I don’t have kiddos, but I think that perspective can apply to work and relationships too. Certainly a good thing to start practicing!

  20. Wow! Thank you for the link to your post about depression and weaning. I just started weaning and had no idea this was an issue.

  21. Prairie dog says...

    Thanks for choosing such a lovely excerpt, Joanna. For those who wish it had been printed in entirety, isn’t that a great excuse to check out Billy Collins’s website? Or to start your own poetry appreciation blog. :) Published poetry is open to interpretation and circulates freely in the public– so hypothesizing about how Collins “meant” the poem to be read isn’t the point. The point is it is meant to be read and enjoyed! As it is in this beautiful post.

  22. I’ve heard Mr. Collins read this poem. It’s actually meant to be quite funny. I hope your readers are hearing his voice.

  23. Laura S says...

    I absolutely LOVE your analogy of motherhood, especially as an avid traveler and someone who is currently pregnant with baby #1. :)

  24. That poem has been my favorite since my two boys came along – I truly hope one of them makes me a lanyard someday!

  25. This is such a great poem. It’s not very long – you did it a major disservice by only posting an excerpt. I’m sure Billy Collins meant it to be read in it’s entirety. Your readers are smart and literate folk – we can read a whole poem. Here’s hoping that you’ll edit your post and include the whole thing.

  26. Anonymous says...

    This is such a great post and a beautiful poem.

  27. This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. As an adult child of two working parents, I have grown to have no end of respect for both of them. When I was little, I thought there was no one more perfect than my mom. Her career, her outfits, her ability to organize all of our lives so well, and everything in between seemed flawless. Now that I am an adult, I’ve realized that when I thought she could do no wrong, she was wondering if she was doing anything right. I know even now that my brother and I are older, my mom is constantly wondering if she is doing everything right.

    I can say without a doubt that the moms who worry the most about messing up are the ones doing their best. More than ever, my mom is my greatest role model for all that she does, as I’m sure you are for Toby. Even when we don’t act like it, we couldn’t be more grateful to have our imperfect moms by our sides.

  29. Denise Sommer says...

    Talk about a timely post. (first of all I want to say I love your blog and it’s the first time I’m commenting) My daughter will be going off to college in a few weeks. Yesterday at a family/friend party, I was told by my sister-in-law that my daughter was telling a group of people that the reason she got into a great college with several scholarships was my support and guidance, that she couldn’t have done it without me. WOW – My lanyard for my heart and soul, I shall wear this proudly. By the way, I am sending this to all my friends who are sending off their children to college in a few weeks, and they are many, it’s from the Prophet. “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite and he bends you with his might that his arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the acher’s hand be for gladness for even as he loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.”

  30. you should Youtube The Lanyard poem being read by Billy Collins. It brings me to tears every time. Truly beautiful.

  31. This comment has been removed by the author.

  32. My daughter just returned from sleep away camp. She was gone a week and it almost killed me! But speaking of being real….the time I got to spend not doing the mom stuff was fabulous. My husband and I got to talk without interruption, eat really late, go on long walks with the dog. My daughter brought me a sweet stuffed horse from her camp store as my “lanyard” :)

  33. Beautiful.

    My kids sometimes watch a show called “Martha Speaks,” which is about a dog that ate alphabet soup and can now talk. After watching this episode, my kids run around the house and yell “Billy Collins IS A DOG!!!!!”

  34. So in love with Billy Collins. Definitely one of my favorites. Glad to see him here.

  35. Kenny (Yes i'm a woman! Despite the manly name) says...

    I’ve been reading your motherhood posts, starting from the balance series and now this. What i like about your them is how you seem to want to encourage mothers to just be real. I remember you wrote something like “normalize” the ups and downs of motherhood. I can’t help but think is it because you feel mothers are so competitive with each other?? Because i feel this. I’m a first time mom, i have a 10 month old, and i feel like other moms put so much pressure on themselves and others to be perfect. Like everything has to be organic, homemade, you can’t even feel worry when a child’s sick (because we as mothers have to know exactly what to do), etc. i’m glad there are still mothers out there like you who doesnt judge and just be real. Keep writing! :)

  36. Needed this today…thank you.

  37. I love this. I’m not a mom, but I’m always flabbergasted when I’m reminded all the things women have to handle (I know men don’t “breeze” through life either, but…..I’m thinking we have it harder).

    I recently told my boyfriend that I wish all men had to be reincarnated to women just so they’d get it. You mean I have to buy makeup, skincare (god forbid I age), a yearly OBGYN appt (and men can’t even be TESTED for HPV?! Are you kidding me?), birth control, overpriced tampons/pads, and not to mention just the general worry/over-analyzing we do. It kiiiiiills me… especially when I hear things like, “But you never have to buy your drinks.” Uh, right. I’d rather just buy my own drinks, thanks.

  38. Thanks, I needed that today.

  39. I absolutely love Billy Collins, and I’ve especially been loving your Motherhood Mondays posts. I’m a foster mom to a seven-month-old, who we’ve had since she was four weeks old, and I’m ten weeks pregnant, so I love all of the different perspectives you focus on! This is really lovely.

  40. Oh, I love this… and what timing… I just got off the phone with my mom, and during the hour+ we chatted I was expressing so many worries and concerns about our baby joining us in a couple months. I was worried about picking the right stroller, and diapers and financial concerns… and she just simply told me not to worry, in that wonderful way only mom knows how. This was a perfect post to read right after that conversation. :)

  41. You know about Nirrimi? I absolutely love her photos and her home birth story. Thanks for sharing!

  42. I was so happy to see that last photo! Here is a link to Nirrimi’s blog ( She posts some of the most heart-warming photographs and memories of her family. Her little Alba is such a sweetie pie!

  43. Wow – so powerful. Definitely calling my mama on my way to work today.

  44. What a beautiful, encouraging little post! I am expecting my first baby in November and am anxious about all the changes and worry all the time about screwing up. Fortunately, I have a sweet, supportive step-daughter who always reassures me and a husband that finds a way to allay my fears. In the end, its nice to know that there are others who have found a way to make it work.


  45. Beautiful poem, and so true! I have two kids of my own, but the poem made me immediately think of silly things I gave my own mom over the years. And now that I’m a mom, I know that it was enough!

  46. I am a new follower. Absolutely LOVELY photo and words. That photograph just says it all!

    Lynn a.k.a. Dylan

  47. My children are all grown up but I still have the many things they made for me; cards, necklaces, a jewelry box made out of popsicle sticks. I wouldn’t part with them for anything. thanks for sharing with us!

  48. oh my gosh you are now my favorite person ever. i thought I was the only person who loves Billy Collins and LOVES The Lanyard. it’s my FAVORITE poem of his! by far!!

  49. LOVE that poem! i am expecting at the moment, it made me a bit emotional!

  50. wow, I am crying. I can still blame hormones if I have a 7 month old, right? ;)

  51. Anonymous says...

    That lanyard meant everything.

  52. Sonia says...

    I really loved the honesty and questions raised in the post by your friend from Marvelous Kiddo. While our circumstances and backgrounds may be different, the feelings and worries and craziness re: motherhood is pretty much universal!

  53. Very sweet thoughts on motherhood, I love that you compared it to travel. Great pictures too, that bottom one made me melt x

  54. I’m not a mother yet, but I love traveling abroad — so if your analogy is anything to go by (and other readers seem to confirm that it is) then I’ll be happy mum. :)

  55. It is so true, your description of new motherhood. Our daughter is now just over 4 months and I feel like I’m now just getting the hang of things. It is beautiful, scary, overwhelming and full of joy all in the same second.

    Wonderful poem!

  56. lissalou says...

    Joanna – This poem is the best poem for children and mothers everywhere! But you’re missing its MOST awesome ending. Can you find the full poem and post for everyone? Thanks – Love love love your blog!

  57. I’m almost 4 years into motherhood, and I still feel a little jet lagged! But it’s definitely been a vacation.

  58. One of my very favorite poems. It makes me weep, every time. xox

  59. Beautiful! I love your analogy.

  60. meredith, i know:) my mom actually said the same thing. she was like, his lanyard IS enough, she would have loved it so much.

  61. I can imagine it must be like travelling, foreign and exciting but also terrifying. My mother always says we will never appreciate all she has done for us until we have our own children and we are suddenly faced with the 24 utter dependence that only a newborn brings…but that we will probably be too busy feeding and shushing and holding and not sleeping to thank her, but she’ll know, because she was the same once.

  62. I love your analogy! That poem is really sweet–but you KNOW that lanyard meant so much to his mom :)