The grocery store clerk keeps looking at me, in between swiping baby wipes and diapers and the indulgent candy bar. With each beep I can feel her eyes on my stained yoga pants, then faded sweatshirt, then makeup-free face; the bags under my eyes as telling as my labored posture. My son is on my hip, leaning on my shoulder as he does when he’s around strangers, burying his face into my neck when asked to wave or say hi or smile. “He’s adorable,” she says. I smile and say thank you, digging through my wallet to complete my transaction and make my way to the car.
As I swipe my card and sign the digital pad, the woman looks up at me one last time, sympathetic and kind and clearly a mother herself. She tells me,
You just have to survive the first few years. Pretty soon he’ll sleep through the night, and it’ll get easier.
I smile again and say thank you, again, and walk away, holding my groceries in one arm and my now-smiling, waving son in another.
As I strap his flailing body into his carseat and prepare to make my way home, I start to think about the kind clerk’s words. I appreciated her intention, especially when I know all too well that motherhood can feel lonely and isolating. It’s always wonderful to hear that someone understands, and has at least felt as exhausted or drained or damn-near defective as I often do.
On more days or nights than I care to admit, as I slowly floated through a blur of diaper changes and sleep schedules, it does feel like all I’m doing is existing. I’m Kimmy Schmidt, breaking down her life into 10-second intervals in order to survive. I’ve swayed my son back in forth in the middle of my bedroom, staring at the clock, telling myself just five more minutes. I’ve closed my eyes and counted to 10 and wished the most trying moments away.
But I don’t want to do that.
I don’t want to wish even the worst of parenting away. I don’t want to close my eyes through the bone-deep exhaustion, telling myself “this too shall pass” until it eventually does. I don’t want to try and shield myself from the dreadful parts of motherhood, because, even in my sleep-deprived delusions, I know they’re worth experiencing.
I don’t want to simply endure — I want to enjoy.
When I look back at my time in college, it isn’t turning in papers or beating deadlines or mindless, easy assignments that I remember. I remember staying up all night with my roommates, drinking energy drinks at an alarming rate, and complaining about final papers we shamelessly procrastinated on. I miss the moments when it all seemed so horrible, when we wondered why we even decided to go to school, when we pondered if a degree was even worth it and couldn’t wait to snag that piece of paper at the end of that stage, and leave.
I yearn for the nights when we were frazzled and worried and trying our best not to fail.
So I know when my son leaves my care and forces me to look back on his life and the instances that helped shape it, the blissful moments won’t be the only moments I yearn for. I’ll miss the nights when the only person he wanted was me, and it was my arms and my touch and my specific sway that could soothe him back to sleep.
I’ll miss the mornings when his tiny feet kicked me in the back or his ineffectual hands slapped me in the face, and his overzealous heaves became my annoying alarm clock. I’ll miss kissing his eyelids and the tears that line them after he took a miscalculated step or endured a floundering fall. I’ll miss knowing that I was capable to taking his every pain away.
I’ll miss him pulling on my leg or following me around our apartment or attempting to climb on my shoulders, even in the middle of conference calls or writing deadlines or email exchanges. I’ll miss knowing I could provide him with everything he needed, even if it meant giving up the things I desperately wanted.
I’ll miss the 10-second intervals I wished away, hoping they’d pass so I could make it through another growth spurt or sleep regression or teething pain.
Motherhood isn’t just about the picture-perfect moments that made me so thankful that procreation is a bi-product of sex. Motherhood is about the moments that made both my partner and I wish we were more consistent with our birth control. It’s about the sleepless nights when pieces of our sanity seemed to be slipping through our blood-shot eyes and all we wanted to do was scream, if we only had the energy.
The ugly has been so integral to my journey through parenthood. I couldn't picture my story, or even my son, without it.
So instead of clenching my jaw and staring at clocks and telling myself just five more minutes, I’m attempting to make a conscious effort to embrace the sucky parts. To sink into the consuming fatigue of motherhood and allow myself to feel every sanity-sucking second. I want to catalog every moment that leaves me feeling exhausted or drained or damn near defective, because before I know it, they’ll be gone. Will there be moments I regret it? Absolutely. Does that mean I'll find the sparkle and the glitter in every single instance? Not always. But I'll try. I'll look at that sweet face and know tomorrow he'll be a day older, a day different, and so I'll savor the awful, knowing full well I'll miss it when its gone.
Before I know it, I’ll be like that kind grocery store clerk, giving advice to another mother with stained yoga pants, a faded sweatshirt, and a makeup-free face. I might even tell her that all she has to do is survive. Because it's true, that is all any of us have to do, and it's helpful to hear that in the moment. But I know I'll be thinking to myself how quickly I would go back to the hard parts, how even when they went so slowly, they went too fast.
Images Courtesy of Danielle Campoamor (4)