It’s been 3 hours since we first awoke. I’m half dressed because why bother with a shirt when milk is dripping down my grumbling postpartum tummy? A few prenatal gummy vitamins, a sip of cold coffee and a banana are all I’ve managed to feed it so far today. My eyes are leaden and my thoughts are as foggy as this cold February day. But my heart…my heart has been blooming like a time-lapse flower in an episode of Planet Earth since I became a mother. It was 1:37 pm on November 25, 2017, to be exact, when the doctor laid my beautiful 8 pound daughter on my chest after almost a full day of grueling labor and 40 weeks of her growing inside of me.
I’m half-singing, half-humming John Denver’s “Sunshine on my Shoulders,” a song my dad would serenade me with as a little girl. Now I’m standing over my own daughter, my ten-week-old sunbeam who’s nestled sweetly in her rock n play, its hypnotic thrum lulling me back to sleep. Oops. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
Suddenly, after a whopping six minutes of slumber (but who’s counting?) she jostles her head from side to side and….there it is…..the cry that simultaneously pierces my ears, my nerve and my heart. Her pitchy wails prohibit rest for either of us. My daughter is fiercely combating sleep, the sole thing I so desperately covet right now. “8 uninterrupted hours” roll off the tongue the same way “a week in Costa Rica” might have to my pre baby self.
My daughter’s strong little will is already shining its brilliant colors. “Uh oh.” I flash forward to my daughter as a teenager, back to myself as a teenager. “God, if she’s anything like me, give me strength.” I pray. I feel a little nudge from above to take it easier on myself, which includes my past self. To stop fluttering away from this moment to fearful ones that have yet to occur, and likely won’t.
In this moment, my daughter’s only surrendering posture is in the retreat of my warm embrace, snuggled against my beating heart, the source of her comfort, her nourishment, her life. I pick her back up and kiss her salty tears which merge into a river with mine. Her heart-wrenching sobs taper off into muffled whimpers, then alas, rest. What a beautifully bittersweet feeling. I’m overcome by the duality, the push and pull of my new role. Part of me wants to stay here forever, even in this messy, tired and dirty here, to relish in the fact that for now, this is where my daughter finds her greatest solace. The other part of me yearns for what’s next and swats at the “shoulds” that swarm like mosquitos on a muggy Texas evening.
“I should set her down and do a quick home exercise, then shower, put makeup on and get dressed.” Attempting to squeeze this overambitious agenda into an uncertain nap time sounds like Buddy the Elf enumerating his irrational etch-a-sketched schedule to his annoyed dad. Sans the snow angels and Tollhouse cookie dough. Damn, I could really use some cookie dough.
“I should vacuum up the mess Lincoln keeps trailing inside.” Our 3-year-old black lab is acquiescing, albeit disruptively, to his altered role in our new family order and seeking out novel forms of self entertainment like rolling around in the leaves and mud outside.
“I should start looking into part time job opportunities.” Severing the ties with my identity as a dedicated educator has proven more difficult than I imagined. Tough on my pride but also on my fire. My spirit. I feel blessed to be able to choose staying at home with my daughter right now, but if teaching a classroom full of kids was a battlefield, now I’m in the trenches.
And in the trenches, I am only visible to my comrades, other red-eyed, wet-shouldered mamas who are here with me now and those who have navigated these bumps and turns before us. They’re hoisting us up, pulling us forward, cheering us on with those reassuring “I see you” smiles. No one else can comprehend the scope of our work, give us pats on the back or attagirls. But we aren’t here for the attagirls or the accolades. We are here for our children. We’re fighting for these fleeting motherhood moments that are here and gone like shooting stars illuminating the night sky, blazing a million trails through the expanse of our hearts.