Her face grips me, and she’s not 6 years old, but 2.
She’s only a toddler baby, and her expression is exactly the same as in this one right now — this older moment — but both are taking place in the bubble bathtub.
Motherhood really is hard as hell. The mother guilt is real. The “taking care of our relationship with my husband” difficulty is real. The jokes about needing wine and coffee are only half-jokes.
And I’m glad I didn’t know how hard it would be to have kids — I might not have had them.
I’m glad I didn’t know that kids don’t get on sleep “schedules” as easily as some articles and other parents want us to believe. I’m glad I didn’t know my patience would be tried, at times, beyond anything I expected. I’m glad I didn’t know my previously accepted levels of self-awareness and all that I’ve learned about self-love would be challenged by this extraordinarily real mother guilt.
And then it all washes away with the soapy water she’s dumping down her back via a cup from her tea set; how my abdomen looks, or how much (or how little) I get to workout, or how rarely I go to the bathroom alone, or how I wish I could have more of those cute date nights with my husband — it all leaves me. It vanishes with this vision of her gentle face close to mine as I watch her play with her bath toys.
I get this sudden urge to want to go back in time and cradle my daughter’s infant body, without worrying about things that hadn’t happened yet, or would never happen. But I can’t. So I reach out and touch her 6-year-old one gratefully.
I want to go back and remind my new-mother self to sleep and rest and not waste so much energy wondering what tomorrow will bring. But I can’t. So I care for myself as best as I can now.
I want to go back and kiss my husband more than I’m sure I did. I want to tell myself, in these early stages of learning how to be both a wife and a mom, that his love is still a priority and not to dismiss our relationship because our baby needs me. But I can’t. So I kiss him and hold him, and try to balance loving so many special people at once.
I want to go back and tell first-time mother me that I don’t need to “get anything back.” But I can’t, so I smile at the way my belly button looks a little different after having two kids. I let myself accept I’m beautiful and blessed by my body’s evolution.
I want to go back and tell second-time mom me it’s impossible to give this new baby the exact amount of attention I did my first, but that this doesn’t mean I love her any less. But I can’t, so I hold my second born, and I show her love in every way I’m able.
I want to go back and stop what I’m doing when my daughters wanted to play. I want to go back and let the dishes sit in soapy water and stop working more often than I know I did and just play dolls. But I can’t. So I try to when they ask me to now.
I want to go back and tell myself I did everything right the first time. I always did the best I could, even if I would do things differently through the gloss of time and perspective. But I can’t, so I hold space for myself in all that I do well, and in all that I might fruitlessly wish I could do better.
I want to tell all of the mothers out there they’re loved and that at least a few of the most important people in the world to them are witnesses to everything they do with love and care. I want to tell these other women to stop and simply admire and appreciate this one-of-a-kind world they have created inside of their homes.
I can’t go back in time and make sure I took in each and every child’s smile, hug, or milestone, but the beauty of life, and of love and relationships, is that there is always more to look forward to — there is always more to enjoy today.
I watch my 6-year-old eagerly start kindergarten. I see my toddler shift slowly into being a little girl. I observe both how much awaits us, as well as how much we already have, right here.
My coffee might usually sit cold because there’s a school bus to catch or a diaper to change, and my house might always be messy, but these joys surrounding us are abundant. Having kids is hard. I really am glad I didn’t know how hard it would be, and I’m even more glad I can’t go back and do things over, because how things have been done has led us to where we are.
Where we are is as sacred as holding a newborn, and every other landmark that has graced my life. This day with my lukewarm coffee, my little girls fighting, my husband and I trying to kiss as my toddler steps in between our legs — these are all ordinary things I’ll one day look back on with as much fondness as I do those years that have already flooded by.
And motherhood is hard — it’s hard as hell. But this period of my life has shaped me more than any other. I’ve learned more about what love is and what sacrifices are, and I’ve been the recipient of more love and wonderment than I ever could have imagined before having children.
I can’t go back in time. I can’t relive my life or have do-overs. I don’t want to — because I can look in the eyes of this 6-year-old who calls me “Mom” and loves me, I can love her and her little sister with every drop of my soul, and I can feel how this gratitude fills my chest.