This past week was one of those hard, restless parenting weeks that happen from time to time, for reasons small and inconsequential, a missed nap here, a cranky morning there, a two feed night when we’ve all gotten used to just one, a couple of 4:30am wake ups. Nothing really bad or major happened, but still, it’s felt like a slog, one of those weeks where I spend a lot of time staring at the clock, wishing down the minutes until nap time, and then the minutes until bedtime.
It’s partly this never-ending winter, and the fact that we had SNOW on Wednesday. It’s also the unyielding cold, made worse by the fact that the calendar and the bright sun suggest much warmer temperatures.
I’ve just felt off, cranky and tired, agitated more easily, stuck inside and out of ideas for toddler entertainment, and guilty because I’m out of ideas. We’ve watched way too much TV. We’ve eaten fast food and grocery store take out instead of home cooked meals. It’s seemed that there hasn’t been a minute where one of the babies didn’t need something. The second Ryland has gone down for naps, Bobby wakes up, needing to be fed or held or changed. And the moment Bobby dozes off, Ryland wakes up from her nap, wanting snacks or Sesame Street or to go outside (and the thought of the bundling of both of them to go for a walk keeps us indoors, followed by yet more guilt about keeping them indoors).
It’s just been one of those weeks you know? We all have them, when we just feel like we’re not hitting the mark as moms, and as a new mom these weeks can be amplified by our exhaustion and our hormones. Add in the late in the year cold temperatures and it was just a perfect storm of blah. I spent too much time on my phone, wasn’t present enough. I got agitated too easily, raised my voice at small things and then felt bad about raising my voice. I messed up the timing too often, and Bobby had to scream one night while Ryland got bedtime stories, and another night Ryland had to wait for her usual post dinner bath because Bobby needed to be fed. It was one of those weeks where the days felt extra long and filled with a indistinguishable haze of diapers and sippy cups and breastfeeding sessions.
It all sort of came to a head last night when I put Ryland to sleep. It had been another long, hard, indoor only day. All I wanted to do after putting Ryland to bed was a rare moment of peace to eat the Chik Fil A cobb salad I bought earlier (I took my kids to the drive through of Chik Fil A, because I was that desperate to get out of the house, but that overwhelmed by the thought of taking them anywhere other than a drive through #momoftheyear). And I thought I would actually be able to do this, because Bobby had miraculously fallen asleep in the Rock n Play right before Ryland’s bedtime. I knew he probably wouldn’t doze long, but it would probably long enough to scarf down the salad. He shouldn’t be hungry, because I had fed him right before bath time, less than an hour earlier.
I put Ryland in her crib, kissed her, and then slowly closed her door. Literally the second it clicked shut, I heard the sounds of whimpering from the living room, then full blown cries. It was like the little sucker had timed it.
I put a pacifier in his mouth, turned on the white noise feature on the swing, and got my salad hurriedly ready while running to replace the pacifier every .3 seconds.
If I could just sit and eat it at least, with two free hands and no one attached to my boobs. That was all I needed. Like 5 more minutes. 5 minutes to sit and not be holding someone or nursing someone or touching another human. You get so touched out by the end of the day when you have little kids, like your nerve endings on your skin have all been exhausted by so many little, grasping hands.
I sat down with my salad, my beautiful, beloved salad that I had been waiting for all afternoon. Bobby looked at me. He looked at my salad, as if putting together what I planned to do. And then he erupted, wailing, red faced, big tears.
I will admit to you that in that moment, with a fork full of delicious Chik Fil A goodness halfway to my mouth, after a long day alone with two babies under two, after being awake since 4:30, my initial emotion at my screaming infant was pure and unadulterated anger. My baby was crying, and I was pissed! Super pissed. Why did he hate me? Why wouldn’t he let me eat my Chik Fil A Cobb in peace?!
And before I could take a breath, I felt that anger leave my mouth in a rush of words that included “why” and “ugh” “I just want to eat my salad!!” and maybe some expletives.
As if I hadn’t already won mom of the year by letting Ryland watch like 7 consecutive episodes of Sesame Street and getting fast food for dinner, I now was cursing at my 4 month old. Because he was acting like a baby.
It was a low point.
I, of course, immediately felt like a monster. I scooped him up and held him close and put him in the Boppy to nurse. And I simultaneously cried a little and tried to eat my salad while dropping forkfuls of romaine and bacon bits on my nursing child.
My meltdown was stupid and brief. It was over almost literally nothing. It was human.
It was just a hard mom week. Plain and simple. Again for no big reasons. Just a lot of little, trivial ones that upon closer examination really don’t hold up or seem to matter anymore. Especially after I came across this beautiful quote when I was finishing up Little Fires Everywhere last night during a 2:30am nursing session.
“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart.”
Oh there is so much about life right now with little ones that can be hard and frustrating and exhausting (and I know it could be so much harder, I only have two!). But my goodness, this messy life of ours is also so ridiculously, heart explodingly gorgeous. The parts that make it hard, the babyness of it all, the tiny limbs that wrap around your knees, the constant need for mama, the cries in the middle of the night, are so inextricably tied to why it’s so damn great. I usually remember this. I usually try to keep it all in perspective, to realize that even the hard parts are a gift, that these two little humans, from the moment of their births, filled my universe with a million bursts of light, and that every blow out, every tantrum, every sleepless night or missed meal is not only worth it, but part of it, weaved so deeply into the fabric of our existence that you can’t separate the beauty from the pain. I know I will miss the hard parts too, because when the hard parts are gone, so many other parts will be gone too. I will have to learn to survive, like the quote above describes, with less and less of the physical nearness of my children. Every day they will separate a bit further from me as they gain independence and confidence and maturity, and while that’s good and necessary and important, it’s also heartbreaking.
I can’t change it. I can’t make them stay babies. All I can do is hold these moments, as close as I can, hold them deep down to my soul, embrace it, all of it, even the hard parts. It doesn’t mean I gloss over things or pretend that this is all effortless. It doesn’t mean I stop looking for humor or community in the struggle. I will always do that.
It just means that I stop, at least once a day, preferably once an hour, once a minute even, and breathe this life of ours in, deeply and fully, breathe it in until I’m full with it, with all of the detail and color and sound, with all of the love and giggles and tears and failures and wins, breathe it in until I’m going to explode from the sheer volume of life that exists within the minutes and seconds and days.
Today I chose to stop this morning, when Bobby was sleeping and I had some time to shower or clean up or scroll through my phone. I chose instead to climb into our big bed with my sweet daughter, who will be two in a week, who every moment moves further away from the squishy, pink baby who broke my world open, and snuggle while we watched a movie. I squeezed her tight and held her close and smelled her fading baby smell and tried to exist in that moment and that moment alone.
Because that moment, with my daughter in my arms, with my son dozing in the swing beside us, with my entire heart full to the brim, was worth lingering in. That moment, and so many thousands of tiny ones like it, are worth all of it.