A little essay I wrote a few months ago…
I am sitting in my living room at 6 in the morning, enjoying the few quiet moments before our house comes awake, and making a list.
- The way she comes charging through our bedroom door at 7 o’clock every morning, with four of her stuffed animals in tow, one toy for each member of our family to play with.
- The songs she makes up, and the sight of her pint-sized frame moving and grooving to the music.
- Her fascination with dinosaurs, and her uncanny ability to name every single one: ornithomimus, iguanadon, oviraptor.
- The way his tiny fist opens and closes while he’s nursing.
- His strong-willed frustration as he tries again and again to roll himself from belly to back, and then the self-satisfied look when he finally does.
- His thick, chubby feet with 10 tiny little beetle grub toes.
Three years ago I was making a very different type of list. Eden had just been born and I was thrust into the throes of motherhood without knowing at all what to expect. I had just turned 27, but I might as well have been 17 because it felt as if all of my friends were light years away from having children. I was nervous and unsure of myself and suffering from postpartum anxiety. I had no one to turn to—to ask if it was supposed to be this hard. If she would ever sleep. If the tiny, bated breaths and staccato cries were normal newborn respiration or a sign of something serious. I would spend the hours I was up nursing at night scrolling through message boards where other new mothers had posted, searching for some sign that this was all typical, all to be expected. The answer: yes, mostly it was.
So I made a list of all the hard things about having a newborn and recovering from childbirth that the rational part of my brain was still able to recognize wouldn’t last forever. My list went something like this:
It Will Be Easier When…
- She doesn’t hate the car
- She is no longer colicky
- She learns to take a bottle
- I stop leaking milk profusely
- She sleeps at least a 4-hour stretch at night
- She can latch on easily without a nipple shield
- I stop bleeding
- My midsection is no longer sore
And so on.
I kept the list on my phone, and I would check off the items one by one, until sure enough, the whole list was completely checked off. Poof. The process of matrescence complete. I looked in the mirror, and I saw a mother.
I’ve shared this completed checklist with a few of my friends when they were in the thick of it, navigating the choppy waters of new motherhood, as proof that they too will come out on the other side. (As it turns out, they were not light years away from having children, but just two or three years away.) This isn’t to say that motherhood is without its challenges for me today. But I now confront these challenges with the prevailing knowledge that this too shall pass. I am able to share this list because I no longer feel compelled to add to it.
So now I am making a different type of list. A list so that I don’t forget all of the tiny, tender bits of the present moment—because these too are fleeting.
For Eden my list goes something like this:
- Her blissfully uncoordinated hop as she calls to me, “Mommy, watch me skip!”
- The sound of her voice calling me mommy, since I’m sure I’ll blink one day and it will be “mom.”
- The sensation of her hand tugging at my clothes from down below to get my attention.
- The incredibly intelligent, unexpected and hilarious things that come out of her mouth on a daily basis (which of course I keep close record of, with yet another list).
For Arlo my list is this:
- The way his chubby little wrist creases give the illusion that we’ve forgotten to remove rubber bands from the ends of his arms.
- The way his face lights up when he looks at his daddy or big sister (or the cat).
- His high-pitched squeals and lips bubbling with wet, slobbery raspberries.
- His skin, soft as velvet.
- His buttermilk smell.
Motherhood is a mist. It is a series of passing ships in the night. It is the memory of rain in the summer or heat in the winter. It is a massive identity shift. It is ephemeral. It is beautiful and yes, it is also still harder than anything else I will ever do in life. It is my favorite thing.