He wandered up to us in the library with playful brown eyes, tousled dirty blonde hair, and a crooked little smile. He sniffled with the kind of light cold or virus that is usually brought with the onset of fall and his fingers were touched with the evidence of hours of messy play. He watched my four-year-old daughter play with the communal toys with great interest, pointing and smiling, but never venturing in close enough to play with her. His clothing wore the marks of a long day of two-year-old discovery and his hair, longish and curly, had long lost any taming or styling that had been done to it that morning. We smiled at him and said hello, and my daughter was tickled pink that he would show an interest in her. He returned our remarks with grins and open stares, but never came close enough to actually play with the little girl and the toys which were claiming his attention. Then I saw her come over. She was a beautiful, young mom with dark hair and a girlish figure. Her eyes were tired and dull and her movements gave away her exhaustion. As she neared the little boy, a smile burst upon his face and he threw his mini-man body into her legs in a joyful, clingy embrace. The look in his eyes told me she was his world.
“He's so attached to me!” she said, rolling her eyes and returning the hug absentmindedly. “He just wants Mommy, Mommy, Mommy all the time! He won't go to anyone else,” she said, shaking her head. Her words made it sound like she was sick of him, like she didn't welcome his constant attention, but I knew better. What she was really saying was “I love this child with all of my heart, but I'm overwhelmed. Sometimes, this task is just too much for me. I just need a break!” But she didn't know how to say that to a perfect stranger and somehow it's much more socially acceptable to complain than to bear your heart and say that being a mother is sometimes such and awesome task that you don't know how you have the strength to drag yourself from one day to another. “I wish he'd just leave me alone sometimes,” she continued with a tired smile and the sniffle he'd shared with her. But she didn't mean it. She didn't mean it the way it came out. What she wanted to say was, “I miss the days when I had time to rest, time to think, time to be refreshed.” She wasn't actually sick of her son. I could tell. I could tell by the way he loved her, by the way he absolutely and completely trusted her and by the way she gave herself to him through her extreme exhaustion.
I smiled and nodded, not really knowing what to say to her, commenting instead on how precious he was or how cute it was that he was interested in my daughter. Later, I saw her with a baby on her lap no older than six months and I understood her frustration a bit more. The poor girl hasn't really left the baby stage since her first child was born and it will be a year or more until both of her children start to become a bit more independent. She's just exhausted!
There are nearly four years between my children. That's not how I wanted it. I wanted them to be 2-3 years apart. But it didn't happen. I watched my daughter's first milestones come and go and I didn't know if I'd ever get to experience them again with another child and as I realized that they were forever a memory, I yearned to revisit sleepless nights and days where she wouldn't let me put her down. It was heartbreaking. One by one she left the things behind that had kept her attached to me and needing me in a way she never would again: the crib, the high chair, the changing table, the baby carrier, my breast… and each time I put those things away I didn't know if I'd be blessed to use them again. She grew up so quickly, converting to a little girl with wildly imaginative conversations and pigtails from the fussy infant who'd made me want to pull my hair out. I remember. I remember pacing the hallway utterly exhausted with a child who refused to be comforted. I remember times that I left her in her crib screaming for a couple of minutes so I could go in a different room and gain my composure by screaming and crying myself. I remember the sleepless nights and the grumpy days that followed them. I remember when she suddenly became mobile and my pacing was exchanged for constant vigilance because she got into everything and everything posed a potential danger to her. I remember how I couldn't wait for it to end. I knew I'd miss it in a sense, but it was so difficult that I didn't care. I wanted to get through it to the easier parts. But when it did end, with it went the baby gurgles and giggles, the gentle weight of a sleeping infant in my arms, the joy of watching things like rolling over and anticipating first steps. I think what I learned most as my daughter grew and we couldn't seem to conceive a sibling for her, was to cherish each and every stage as it came--not wishing for the last stage or anticipating the next. I learned to choose contentment in every moment. Every one.
At four years old, she's delightfully growing into the personality of the adult she will be one day. She's amazingly creative, and her brilliance leaves me dumbfounded at times. She dances and sings and plays with her dolls and I have to remember as I go about my day not to miss it. Not to miss the sweet vibrato of her tiny voice as she makes up a song. Not to miss the details of her stories. Not to miss an opportunity to dance with her even if the dishes haven't been done.
With my second, I'm choosing to be content in a way I never knew how with my first. When he screams and arches his back because of the reflux and I feel tempted to wish he were past this stage, I shake my head, remembering that he will be past it much sooner than I'd like and I'll miss it. I held Bunny a lot, but I was also eager to put her down when I could. With Bear, I find myself holding him longer. I find myself allowing him to continue his nap in my arms even though the time has long passed that he would be fine if I put him down. I find myself not pushing him to do the next big thing (currently rolling over) like I did with his sister. He'll roll over when he's ready. He'll sit up when he's ready. He'll start enjoying tummy time when he's ready. It will happen and I don't need to push it. All too soon, his first birthday will roll around and I'll have bittersweet feelings as I realize how far he's come and I don't want to hasten that day in my heart.
Back when Bunny was a baby, I heard a beautiful country song that most of you probably know. I tried my best to take heed back then, and I'm trying even harder now. Trace Adkins sings:
“You're gonna miss this.
You're gonna want this back.
You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast.
These are some good times, so take a good look around.
You may not know it now, but you're gonna miss this.”
If I knew her better--well, if I knew her at all--I'd love to be able to tell this to the frazzled young mom I met in the library. I'd love to be able to say, “Don't wish it away. Embrace the craziness. Embrace the sleepless nights. Embrace the moments you can't have to yourself because tiny toddler arms are wrapping themselves around your knees, because you're gonna miss this one day.”
Mary S Date 10/22/2013
I think every mother feels this way some days. I know I do! And I LOVE that song! I didn't really understand it until I had my son!
Allison E Date 10/22/2013
I know the feeling, there were time I felt that way a little with my oldest, but as the time past I missed it, now that my youngest is here even on days I'm feeling overwhelmed I try not to get frustrated because I know its only going to last this short time and before I know it she won't want to be so close to me. This time goes so fast and before you know you'd do anything to hold that baby again, anything for that little tiny person wanting to be held and carried.
erin Date 10/24/2013
We're only at week 7, and it's already going so fast!
Rachel N Date 10/26/2013
I am in the thick of the exhausted mommy stage. I have 3 kids, ages 3, 2, and 10 months old. I do find with my third that I am cherishing the babyness a bit longer. She is my last. I am also choosing to look forward to the times that are to come instead of being sad about the times that have passed. There is so much to come! To be able to really play with my kids, teach them sports, go on coffee dates and actually be able to have real conversations with them. The baby stage can be SO hard. I do believe there is a reason that they are so adorable because that makes up for those really hard times.