You know that moment when you were rocking your infant in the wee hours of the morning and in between big, rib expanding yawns, would gaze down and appreciate the fact that in that moment you were right where you are supposed to be?
Yeah me neither.
And if you did, kudos. My first stork delivery yielded two preemies and with them came not only twice the love, but twice the hormones, twice the recovery and twice the sleep deprivation. I remember nothing of that first year other than one evening where I was standing in the aisle of Target, staring blankly at the shelf and wondering what I came for and if it really mattered. Not exactly the stuff baby books are made of.
I was finally coming out of the postpartum fog after throwing their 1st birthday party when I found out I was pregnant again. Not twins this time, so my expectations for an easy baby were pretty high and quickly crushed when I gave birth to a colicky, spirited, wild child of a newborn who created such a storm coming into this world that she nearly took my life in the process.
Blood transfusions were thrown into the mix of nursing and changing diapers and recovery was hard – physically and mentally.
Against my doctor’s wishes, I brought a fourth child into the equation 22 months later to give me fodder for future books which, as a lowly underpaid author, I knew I would need someday. Well, maybe that wasn’t the real reason, but it shut people up pretty quickly when they would exclaim, “Wow, 4 under 4?!?!” and “Do you know what causes that?!?!”
People are soooo funny. Slow clap.
So, as you can imagine, I was not the picture perfect mother on the front of Parenting Magazine with perfectly styled hair and face beaming at the angelic infant wrapped snuggly around her chest.
I looked more like one of those washed up celebrities you see in the tabloids that induce a double take at the Publix checkout. “Whoa, what happened to her? Who let her out in public that way? Is she on drugs?”. It wasn’t pretty, folks.
I wasn’t happy. There was no joy. I did not feel fulfilled in my vocation as a mother and each day when I opened my eyes I questioned everything.
But then, just like you slowly find the morning as you’re emerging from a deep slumber, I began finding my way as the babies morphed into toddlers and the toddlers grew into children. With each onesie I added to the give away pile and each bottle I washed for the last time, I began shedding the pain and sorrow that had accumulated inside of me over the past dark and lonely years.
Unlike the parents crying when their first children took off for Pre-K, I smiled. When they stepped on that big yellow bus for the first time for Kindergarten, I was delighted. And when the youngest followed suit, I walked straight home from that bus stop and made myself a mimosa. It wasn’t their absence I celebrated, but the emergence of a new chapter in which I finally felt excited for.
For me, elementary school meant new beginnings and worlds of possibilities in the lives of my children and our relationships. Walking into the building on that first day of school figuratively shut the door on the painful postpartum past and gave the kids and I an opportunity to find each other in new ways.
Instead of driving off and finding my way back to a full-time career, I did the exact opposite of what I had always planned and instead threw myself head first into the here and now of life with my littles. My days became a whirlwind calendar of centers and school lunches, science labs and class parties, room mom and girl scout leader. My paying job was always there, waiting for me once the babes were tucked in for the night, but unlike the nights where I would be up late nursing and feeling distressed about how this phase would never end, I felt joy in this newfound life/kids/work routine.
For once since having children, I found the delicate balance between keeping a part of myself while giving the rest of me to those who needed her so much.
And now here we are. This is the sweet spot for me. For some it’s in the glider upstairs in the nursery at 3am with a 6 month old. For others it’s the maybe not so terrible twos. For me, it’s this magical age where my children are old enough to carry on conversations, laugh and joke and roll their eyes at my sarcasm, and just generally have fun doing life with, yet still young enough to have that magical childhood innocence wrapped up in every word and every action.
When their faces light up because I walked into their classroom and when they unload the bus and run to me with a giant hug, when they talk so much at dinner that I have to remind them to chew with their mouths closed or when they roll around on the carpet holding their tummies tight, snorting in laughter over something their siblings said, THIS brings me joy.
When friends and family and the random people in the Publix parking lot (seriously what is it about Publix that makes even strangers think they are your best friends?) would stop and warn me to enjoy every moment, because it goes by so quickly – even while I had a crying baby on one hip and a brunette toddler gnawing on my wrist so I’d let go of her hand, I would smile while quietly growling through my teeth.
I’d nod, an empty promise that I would treasure these tantrums and teeth marks forever. And just as I suspected, now that those days are gone, I don’t miss them.
But THESE days. The ones that have finally arrived. The ones that I told friends I couldn’t wait for, the ones that I pleaded with God to bring sooner than later, THESE days are good. They are happy and messy and crazy and imperfect, they contain their share of triumphs and sorrows, highs and lows, but they are doable in the best way because they are done together.
The days may be busy and full and hectic, but I’ll take them over endless dark and lonely nights. Each carpool drop off, every activity stacked on top of another, each class conference and run up to school to drop off the item that my second grader HAD to have, so much so that she had the front office call and her teacher email, only for me to realize she just wanted me to stay for lunch…
It’s a bittersweet place, this perfect childhood age, where we are watching, cheering along and excited for all that is to come, but standing solid in a spot we are afraid to let go of for fear it will be gone too soon.
These are the moments that are fleeting. This is the time that is short. The days aren’t even long any more and the years are evaporating like the rainbow that fades away while we’re still trying to snap that perfect picture.
The years have become these special sanctuaries in which I am using to store up the memories of each grade, every teacher and project and friend and hobby. I’m taking still shots as quickly as I can and storing them in my long-term memory box before there is no-one left here to sift through and reminisce over them with.
There are so many extraordinary moments now, but even the every day ordinary ones bring about the greatest joy and the faithful reassurance that I am right where I am supposed to be with these little souls.
I don’t know about you, but some of my greatest childhood memories came from the most plain ho hum days. The ones that adults from my past would deem as nothing special, but for children sometimes those unsuspecting days are the ones that remain in their conciousness forever.
The first or last day of school. A hot and sweaty field day. A popcorn party in the lunchroom. A quick bike ride with a neighbor before dinner. A family walk to the store for a few groceries and a free cookie. It’s an ordinary and wonderful collection of moments that make life extraordinary, even on the most plain, mundane every days.
This is 6. And 8. And 10. And it’s exactly where I want to be.