Tonight, I sat on the hallway carpet outside his room, phone in hand, pajamas on, hair clipped in a mess on top of my head as I waited for my rambunctious 2-year-old boy to stop giggling, say, “Mommy, watch this,” and finally fall asleep. I technically “should” have “trained” him well enough to fall asleep on his own by now, but let’s be honest, “should haves” are the story of my life these days.
After an hour, when he finally succumbed to sleep, I made my way into the bathroom to brush my teeth, and as I stood, my eyes wandered over my haggard reflection. The woman looking back at me was just that—a woman—although I still feel like just a small child, navigating a broken, messy world and trying like hell to figure it out as I go. I glanced down at the sink drain, and my eyes lingered on a touch of mildew accumulating where the water hits.
“I can’t keep anything under control these days.”
I wasn’t always like this. Before, my life and my parenting were guided by rules and checklists, ensuring that I did everything by the book, and I never, ever slacked. That’s what it meant to be a good person. That’s what it meant to be a good mom. That’s what I had to do. And then came the nine months that changed all our lives and thrust me into a slew of “should haves” and “good enoughs.”
My life changed in the nine months before—twice, actually—with the pregnancies and births of my two sons. There’s a bending, a breaking, and a bud of new life and hope that happens. And then sometimes, nine months can carry a different weight. For example, not even a year ago, I held my youngest son as he died, and nine months later, I sat in a courtroom legalizing the end of my marriage—a necessary yet difficult end.
Over the past year, I’ve become very well-acquainted with the monster that is pain. Some mornings, exhaustion hits me like a fog at the moment I wake up. I spend my days moving through the heaviness, and yet it suddenly disappears and is replaced with restless thinking, reliving and planning into the late, late hours. If I could stay in an unshowered, yoga-pants-garbed, Netflix-watching state all day, every day, I would gladly never leave my bed. If I could have every meal made and delivered straight to me, I would. If I could hire cleaners to pick up all of my haphazard messes, it would be like a dream come true.
Fortunately, I don’t have the option to slack. I don’t have the option to give up on my life or to call in sick to work every day or to let my mind wander into oblivion.
I have a sandy-haired, blue-eyed boy who climbs into my bed every morning, whispers, “Mommy snuggle,” and five minutes later, grabs my hand as he slinks down the side of my bed and tells me it’s time for his breakfast. I plant my feet on the floor, one after the other, and he looks me in the eyes and says, “Mommy, carry me like a baby.” With tired eyes, I slowly stand, secure his 35-pound frame in my arms, and remind him that there will soon come a day when I can no longer lift him with ease. Really, I’m reminding myself of this, as I heave him into my arms, breathing in the scent of his hair, and he gently rests his head on my shoulder.
No matter how little I slept the night before, no matter what the day before me holds, it doesn’t matter. No matter what pain I may feel, no matter how thick the fog may be, my love for him is stronger. Because of him, I have a reason to keep going, even when finding a nice hole to hide in sounds a lot more attractive than facing the responsibilities in my life. I can’t, and I won’t. Sure, I am exhausted. Sure, I would love to stay in bed for at least five more hours, but when the morning comes, I’m all he has, and he’s all I have to make my feet hit the floor.
The past year has given me an intense awareness of the fragility of life. Life can be terribly hard, but it can also be beautiful and hopeful and so, so sweet. The hard moments when it feels like the wind is knocked out of me and the crazy moments when I just want to rip out my hair, all pale in comparison to the sweet moments, like when I am curled up next to him in his toddler bed, singing a lullaby, and he leans over, wraps his pudgy little arms around my neck and kisses my cheek, whispering, “Mommy, I love you.”
With all my “should haves” and “good enoughs” and all the things I let slide in the name of the hardest year of my life, in all of those moments, I realize that at the end of the day, it’s the love that matters, that this hard season will eventually end. And though the scars will always be there, we will make it to the next breath and the next. Because of love, we will make it. Love is enough.