From A Lot To A Little

by Dina Relles
Originally Published: 
A toddler boy in a white shirt and blue denim jeans standing next to a river with his back turned
Image via Shutterstock

A confession.

The smallness of my days, my life often gnaws at me from within. Why aren’t I doing more, seeing more, being more? For more people? I often feel trapped. In these tedious, tethered days. By my seemingly endless obligation to these beloved, burdensome children of mine. They consume me—my time, attention, energy. Until there’s nearly nothing left.

How I long to be out. I walked home from the hospital four days post-partum, post-C section with my firstborn—at a pace of 10 minutes a block. But still. I got out, into the world. One week later, I pushed my pristine snap ‘n go over a mile each way to Walnut Street, the busy, bustling center of town. I dragged my worn, torn, unwilling body toward the movement, the chaotic commotion of life that I so loved.

Now getting out of the house with my three young children is increasingly trying, a chore. The benefits balanced against the substantial effort. To select weather-appropriate outfits, find six separate shoes scattered as they are around the house, pack snacks, encourage preemptive bathroom trips…Is it worth it?, I find myself asking. The answer always used to be yes.

Now, often… Let’s just stay in, just us, a small voice nags. It’s easier. Some days, I only see them. Those three faces, three delightful, demanding bodies.

I once worked in cities teeming with people. I once commuted to Times Square daily via subway. I once came home to climb a narrow stairwell to my shared 300 square foot apartment in downtown Manhattan where the windows looked directly into another’s. I could walk out into the streets any time I wished—for a cupcake, a drink, to take out sushi or take in a city night—never dark, never alone.

Now I am tethered. Feet on the ground, chasing a ball or boy, tending to these small beings on this singular swath of earth.

At times, my eyes gaze upward to an airplane flying overhead and I recall my past as a fledgling aviation litigator. Farther back still to when I would fly off to New Hampshire at a moment’s notice for lunch with my college boyfriend, the pilot.

A former life.

* * *

This summer, I worked at an overnight camp—in the front office at the far corner of the grounds. Behind the scenes by day and bunk-bound by night. Few knew who I was. My inner extrovert felt disconnected and deprived.

But one evening, I sat on the porch of our bunk, cradling my middle boy on my lap. A thick quiet covered the night, as the rest of camp was huddled together in the dusty performance hall to watch the oldest campers’ much-anticipated play. My son’s piercing blue eyes gazed into mine before he nestled his warm face into my neck. I could feel his deep, sleepy breaths against my summer skin…and I realized, it’s time.

It’s time to mean a lot to a little rather than a little to a lot.

To fill my days with these small people, hold them close, keep them safe. To cultivate our corner of this earth. To be central, indispensable to a few rather than a superficial acquaintance to many. To dig deep instead of spread myself thin.

These are the burrowing years. We hunker down, becoming masters of the minutiae and mundane. We memorize the creaks in the floorboards of our children’s bedrooms, perfect the precise angle of the nightlight, pay heed to everything from favorite foods to the freckles on their faces. We bury deep in basements, masquerade in minivans. We toil with toys and toddlers in our underground lives. Come sundown, we are housebound, escaping only in our minds once the house submits to the rise and fall of night. We are often out of sight, out of step with the rest of the wide world.

I once walked with my hands free, outstretched. Now they are full or clasped, inevitably overloaded. My eyes, once forward-looking, now dart left and right to ensure all are here, safe. My body and mind, more consumed by making sure we all get somewhere than where we’re going.

My pockets are filled with their rocks and Legos; my plate, with their discarded leftovers; my bed, their sleepless bodies. I carry them with me, always. This is who we are now. And when it’s over, we will miss this, we will. We will long to have it again.

One day we will reemerge. But in the meantime, we find significance in the smallness, beauty in these insular everydays, and commonalities that connect us to each other.

Just know. I’m here, too. Shining a light from my tunnel to yours.

Related post: Riding The Ferris Wheel of Motherhood

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