I sit on the living room floor, fumbling through a basket of miscellaneous toys, searching for my four year old’s requested Barbie with the braided hair and purple skirt. I am being intentionally aware as I play with her, enjoying and noticing her joy. My baby pulls my hair as she reaches over my shoulder for the Nerf-bullet that I have hid on the window sill, preventing her from adding it to her breakfast menu. My boys, eight and six, are fighting over the TV remote on the coach, one kicking the other with his bare foot, inevitably missing and knocking a full bowl of Goldfish to the ground. My awareness dissipates, and I feel defeated.
This is not a chaotic moment in my house — this is the norm. With four extroverted, physical, wild young kids, life feels like an unrefereed dodgeball game. My head is constantly on a swivel, my mind always working to avoid the next inevitable meltdown, and my hands are always full. I try to stay in the moment, as social media so often urges me to do. The articles, memes, and reels set to music urging us to maximize our mental and emotional presence during these fast and fading years. But the reality of that can feel near impossible, and the pressure it produces feels paramount. So when I hear someone telling me to ‘be present’ I say, F*ck You.
I understand the sentiment behind the suggestion. I do! I understand that it sounds like helpful advice, especially in hindsight. But the reality is, I already deeply f*cking know how important it to soak in this fleeting time — and that’s part of what makes it so hard.
I think about my kids growing up everyday, and it crushes my soul. I envision a future where no one is left on the floor pulling my hair and I lose my breath with grief. But the pressure to create these blissful moments of awareness only adds to my panic. Because trying to be present in this chaos is like trying to hold stillness on the back of a bull.
I still try though. Last week, I reorganized the basement playroom to create a perfectly (kinda) Montessori play setup for the girls. Which included some more detailed contributions to entertain the older boys. I was excited to unveil this wonderful playscape to the kids after school, confident that we could bask in an afternoon of family play. I envisioned sitting on the carpet, phone down, able to dive into the magical world of wonder and play with my four little cherubs.
Well, within moments there was a bloody foot, a broken stair tread, two crying kids, and a ponytail full of peanut butter (don’t ask). Wood blocks were thrown, crackers embedded into the carpet, and I’m pretty certain the baby ate a miniature high-heeled shoe.
And honestly, even when I eliminate the full-family chaos — when it’s just me and one or two of the kids carving out time together — being present is still hard. Most of the stay-at-home moms I know have side hustles and responsibilities outside of the house. Many of us, despite lacking a corporate title, are grinding.
And because of all of this, mothering young kids is blissful bedlam. It is curiously looking for backyard bugs and WWE cage matches. It is quietly reading fairytale stories and head-banging grocery store tantrums. It is being peppered with questions, smothered with hugs, and covered in messiness. So presence, in the yogi-sense that society encourages for us moms, is truly near impossible.
So instead of encouraging moms to meet impossible standards, let’s have some compassion. Urge moms to celebrate the tiny, achievable moments. The calm right before the inevitable storm where you catch your son’s toothless smile and feel it in your bones. And then, when he realizes that there is crust on his sandwich moments later and it turns into DEFCON 1, she maybe won’t feel so defeated.
Praise moms for all they are juggling, and tell them how incredible it is that they are able to make time for it all, even when it’s messy. Help them to understand that it is okay to check your email during a game of Trouble, or let your mind wander to an unrelated task during bathtime. Because when your brain and heart are so full, the to-do list is never-ending. There simply is not enough time in the day to give everything the attention it needs.
And give moms a break for engaging in dumb, reality-escaping, mind-numbing shit like scrolling through their phone at the park or watching a reality show during lunch. Because we adore our current reality more than anything, but we also need a break.
Because we are all just doing our best. We are obsessed with these tiny humans and everything they do. And we want, more than anything, to soak in every single second as if it were our last – to be present enough to sear every little movement, every sound, and every smell into our memories before it’s too late. But we can’t, and we won’t. Because life is noisy, and messy. And that’s okay.
Samm Burnham Davidson is an ex-lawyer mom of four who swears a lot. She lives in Beverly, Massachusetts.