Pressing “Play” Instead of “Fast Forward”

Sleeping through the night, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid foods, crawling, talking, walking, potty-training, riding a bike, tying shoes, starting school… we move through our children’s childhood with eyes forward. Some parents with more vigor and ambitious competitiveness┬áthan others. We look ahead to the next stage, achievement, or development. Being forward-thinking is positive except when it causes us to lose sight of the present.

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Yesterday, I sat in my 1.5-year-old’s darkened bedroom rocking and nursing him before his nap, just as I have every day for the last 19 months. In the dark quiet I began lamenting my lack of freedom, my breastmilk tether. To be able to go out to lunch, volunteer at my older children’s schools, exercise, or go to appointments without navigating naptime, which doesn’t exist without a pre-snooze nursing session, seemed lovely. To be able to go out with my husband or friends and not worry about getting home to nurse my littlest before bed seemed refreshing. To not have to remain home after my littlest’s bedtime in case he awakes, as only nursing can return him to slumber, seemed freeing. The longing for freedom was overwhelming. I craved the next stage.

I began contemplating when to wean to a bottle or sippy cup, at least for naptime. It was new territory. I’d worked part-time from 4 months postpartum with my first child until my first trimester with my third child, so my eldest two children learned early on how to find sleep without the breast. My littlest, though, never needed to welcome rest in any other way but in my arms. I chided myself for not introducing a nursing-free naptime sooner. What had I been thinking?

Then, my toddler placed a sweaty, sleepy hand on my cheek. I looked down at his blissful nursing state and realized that soon this season would be over. He will not nurse forever. He will not always need or want me to cuddle him in his dim bedroom each day and night before sleep. He will not always look to me for nourishment and comfort. “You’ll have your whole life to be free,” I thought to myself. “Savor the present.”

Like the tween sneaking into an R-rated movie or the teenager preening to look older, I was wishing away my present. I was being impatient with a fleeting precious stage in the hopes of reaching the next phase sooner. But getting there sooner doesn’t mean a thing since arrival is an eventuality. If anything it cheapens the journey and is fodder for regret.

And so, as I lie here now on the playroom sofa at far-too-early-in-the-morning after 2 hours of sleep and reading many baby storybooks by the light of “Max and Ruby” due to toddler insomnia, I feel his finally-asleep weight on me and I smile. Sure, I’m tired. Sure, I’ll have to dig deep tomorrow to delve into the Monday routine with 3 kids 5 and under, but it’s worth it.

These hardships, these swift sweet moments, these gems amidst the craggy rocks are what parenthood is all about. If we keep our eyes forward we miss the beautiful details of the present and there’s no getting them back.

We will get to that next stage eventually. No need to rush it. Just enjoy the ride.

Mom Regret

Lately I’ve been stewing. I keep returning to the same pointless, irrational line of thinking: “I wasted 3 years of my life struggling, stressing, and straining to work part-time when all I really wanted was to be a stay-at-home mom.”

I know some people, especially those thoroughly invested in the corporate world, hear my stay-at-home mom career goal and think, “Oh, she’s lazy. She just wants to hang out at home all day.” Let me attempt to stifle my laughter. I’m sorry… I can’t.

Being a stay-at-home parent isn’t glamorous, easy, lucrative, or even widely valued. People assume that there’s endless spare time and immeasurable ass-sitting. They think about their days off and assume that must be the stay-at-home parent’s life. Maybe that’s the case for some mythical stay-at-home parents but I know no such existence.

This week, when the neighbor girl I drive home from school each day asked me how my day went, I said, “It was pretty good. Your standard day of a stay-at-home mom; both shoulders were smeared with someone else’s snot by 9:30am.” And that’s my life. Pick-ups and drop-offs, meal planning and playdate arranging, errand running and snack making, school calendar tending and social calendar pruning. I wipe butts and feed faces. I tame emotional swirls and referee skirmishes. I kiss boo-boos and read books. I balance activity time with learning time, with quality time with quiet time. I’m a chauffeur, hairstylist, counselor, nutritionist, human facial tissue, and 24-hour wet nurse but don’t get paid a dime.

But do you know what? I love it.

Even on my worst days — the ones when my throat is scratchy from yelling, my clothes are a petri dish of bodily fluids, my dark circles have dark circles, my mom guilt is raging — I still love it. “When you do what you love, you never work a day in your life,” they say. I work… I work my ass off, but I cherish the opportunity and would never trade it.

Instead, I look back at the years I worked part-time, out of both financial necessity and fear of change, and I lament the stress, the loss of time, the things — imagined and real — that I missed. Still, not only can I not undo the past, I shouldn’t. My life and myself are the way they are now because of all I learned, did, and experienced then.

I grew from those struggles. I met some wonderful people. I developed a greater appreciation for the ability to be a stay-at-home mom instead of standing with a foot in both the stay-at-home and corporate world, not truly belonging to either.

My children got quality time with their grandparents and great-aunt because I worked part-time and relied on them to care for my children. My husband, who also provided childcare while I worked, became adept at caring for our children on his own and developed a profound awareness of the demands of being a stay-at-home parent.

I wouldn’t trade those things. I wouldn’t change them. So why am I lamenting something I wouldn’t undo?

Because I’m a mom. And that’s what we do. Even when we give all that we can, we strive to give more. So much so that we delve into our past — one thing we can never change — to examine how we could have given more… how we failed. What a waste of energy and mental function!

I need to take a cue from Elsa and “Let it go!”