When I wrote this letter to myself three years ago, I had two objectives every day.
- Keep my 1 year old and 3 year old alive and well.
- Keep a small piece of myself alive in the shuffle.
I graduated from college when I was 36 weeks pregnant with my second child, and didn’t go back to work after he was born. After working various jobs for 13 years, and then finishing my degree in the chaos of having my first two kids, the dormancy of staying home bewildered me. I felt like I’d jumped through a series of flaming hoops and finished a complex obstacle course of my own design, only to land on the other side of the wall to absolute silence. No applause. No obvious successes. No promises of greatness. Just motherhood, a new obstacle course; one I didn’t design, fully understand, or value.
But I learned. Mothering takes me to the end of myself every single day. But when I manage to surrender to the joy of the process rather than simply bemoaning the pain of the growth, I edge closer to the art of keeping the kids alive and keeping myself intact, too.
I wrote this letter 3 years ago to remember the exhaustion of nights with babies, but also to protect the memory of our deeply interlocked existence in those days, a connection I know will never exist again. It’s already gone. Of course there are new connecting points now, new conversations and jokes, a new relationship with them as a 4 and 5 year old. That relationship allows the shadow of our old life together to fade into our minds like the sweet lullabies we used to sing but, sadly, can no longer recall. Sometimes I ache for those days, and sometimes I barely think about them. But they existed. And they were important. And I’m so glad I wrote this letter to capture a moment in time that shaped me, and them, through that simple but exhausting obstacle course of early parenthood.
Someday you will miss that robe at the end of your bed.
Someday you will miss that pink robe draped over your bed covers. The one worn thin by round baby cheeks pressed against you in sleep. The one with the left shoulder constantly caked with spit up or animal cracker or drool, that left shoulder where so many nights and early mornings you invited a sleepy head to rest. You wear that robe like a cape some nights, tossing it on as you rush to save a crying baby. You are not even completely awake, but you know the tone of their cries, you know the sound of their breaths, you know something is wrong even through the walls of your house. You are not a hero, but to them? In those long and dark midnight hours of pushing through new teeth, painful winter coughs, or that restless newborn confusion: you are everything they ever wanted. You are mommy. In her pink robe. Warm and quiet and soft, swaying in the ancient dance of motherhood that has rocked civilizations to sleep since Eve held her boys to her breast. You are home, you and that robe.
Someday, I promise, you will miss feeling tiny hands climb over you and into your bed. You will be more rested, I think, when these days pass, but your bed might feel bigger than necessary without those warm, wiggling bodies twisting between their tired parents. You will miss her curls, his chubby feet, their dreaming fingers fluttering in deep slumber.
I know you’re tired. I know you are so, so tired. It’s ok. These are hard nights. It’s hard to be woken up, it’s hard to always be a parent, even in the middle of the night, even when you are exhausted. It’s hard to be kind in the morning after you slept on the couch with a sick baby, or when two-year old molars were coming in all night, or when no one has slept well for a week. It’s hard to wake up and make breakfast and say “Good morning, babies,” and be patient when people are fussing on a really good day, much less on a really tired day. But you’re doing good. Good job for apologizing when you snapped at them for whining. Good job for knowing you needed to take the kids to see their cousins this morning when you couldn’t handle saying “NO” one more time by 9 am. That’s good. You’re not a hero, remember. You wear a pink cape that rests on the edge of your bed and you pray all day long for more of whatever it is that makes God love you and your fussing so much, and that’s great. That’s it, that’s all you need. Because He knows. He sees you. He will bear with you, and teach you to bear with them, and He will show them love through you, at all hours of the day. That’s good.
And remember, ok, remember this when the days seem impossible, or you are almost afraid of how happy you are to be their mom, or you just can’t remember how to be a mom at all: remember that life is meant to be interrupted. Your broken sleep is merely a reflection of this breaking inside you, as your old way of life is interrupted and a new, thick thread weaves it way through your story. You won’t be the same anymore. You aren’t meant to be, after these babies come. This thread is pulling, tugging, changing your tapestry in ways you cannot imagine. It’s gonna hurt sometimes. It’ll feel too tight. It’ll feel wrong, this piercing, tugging thread of motherhood. But it’s just right. These minutes filled with the needs of others, filled with the clatter of disruption and disorder; they are the thread that is hemming in your story and creating the rest of you.
Because these precious, beloved children of yours? They won’t be here forever. In fact, they’ll leave soon. Someday they will sneak past your bedroom door instead of through it. Someday you will throw on that robe to answer midnight phone calls instead of cries, to whisper advice instead of lullabies. You will still be you, changed by their very heartbeats, and they will still be them, hearts beating outside of your grasp and in a world all their own. Don’t lose yourself in these tired nights. Don’t forget the astonishing joy of being their everything, nor the price you pay to raise someone well, nor the woman beneath the robe who exists beyond the nursery door, in a world all her own. Remember that the thread of motherhood is a part of your story; but not the very end. Remember that these babies and their needs are a gift, and will not last forever. Remember that the love in their eyes is saved for no one else.
Someday you will miss that pink robe on the edge of your bed. You won’t miss being woken up all night, or feeling hung over with exhaustion, or planning your sex life around a nap schedule. You won’t miss being thrown up on or changing wet pants or the onslaught of questions and requests that begins every morning at sunrise. But you will miss this simple kind of tired. The one that means you are doing your job well. The one that goes away with sleep. There will be new kinds of tired, you know? As these babies grow up, and hurt themselves or others, you will not be able to sleep away the pain you share with them. And when those days come; when you feel lost and hurt and wonder how on earth you can ever help them find their way again; remember that a long time ago, you held them tight and loved them well. You kept a robe waiting at the end of your bed so you could hurry to meet their needs, and that kind of love will dig into them. It will grow with them. It will teach them to love others and to love themselves.
These midnight hours matter. These tired days matter.
You and your babies are going to be ok.
and all the mornings after.
*originally published January 2015