What kind of mother allows her toddler to dig food out of the trash? I’ll tell you what kind—the tired kind. The kind that’s already on kid number three. The kind that will delay proper parenting for the sake of a good story to tell her husband later.
This morning I watched my one-year-old put her yogurt squeezer into the trashcan all by herself. I then watched her walk into the other room to catch a few seconds of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, deliberately walk back to the trash to retrieve her yogurt, take a few swigs, open the lid to deposit it once again, and then return to her regularly scheduled programming. She then repeated this process three times.
Why didn’t I stop her from using our refuse container as her own personal pantry? Because the first baby you survive, the second baby you parent, and the third baby—well, you just sit back and enjoy that one.
It took me a while to realize what most grandmothers already know to be true (and try to tell new mothers who aren’t yet ready to listen): our children grow quickly and these moments, the silly and the mundane, are what make up a mother’s internal hard drive.
The crayon drawn murals on freshly painted walls, the sibling haircuts that require emergency trips to the salon, the well-timed tantrums in the middle of the mall—these are the private video clips that flicker through a mother’s mind years later, causing a chuckle or a tear, most likely both. The exasperated sighs of tired mothers today will be replaced by the nostalgic sighs of well-rested mothers years from now, those who would gladly rewind time to clean up spilled yogurt and wipe off sticky hands.
This realization was hard won, a product of years spent parenting in the trenches. When I first started this job, I read all the books and I knew all the best methods. I strategized meal plans and scheduled nap times. I stressed over the perfect bottle (BPA free with eight billion removable parts to clean), purchased the specially formulated (and ridiculously overpriced) baby detergent, and wasted way too many hours pureeing homemade baby food. I was over prepared, over planned, and over thinking.
But, the trouble with parenting is that is an experiential profession—you must learn as you go. And, as is the case with most things in life, you can’t really get a good look at something until you are removed from it by time. When the paintbrush is in your hand and your nose is pressed to the canvas, you can’t truly see the glory of the masterpiece. But, with experience comes perspective. And, when you know better, you take a break from creating the art every once in a while to step back and appreciate its beauty. You put down the paintbrush, take a seat on the bench, and admire the view from the gallery.
This realization comes in little spurts. The daily grind of parenting can take its toll. There are days when I barely stumble over the finish line. Days that I don’t enjoy a single moment. Days that I send my kids to bed with a rushed hug and a quick “I love you,” only to race downstairs to prepare for the next day. But when the chores are finished and I finally collapse into bed, I am saddened by the wasted chances to savor the moments. In the stillness of the night, I regret these missed opportunities to watch my children grow up and sometimes I even sneak back upstairs to watch their little faces as they sleep, trying my best to memorize every little feature of a masterpiece that changes a little every day.
I had one of those gut-check moments today. I was sweeping the kitchen floor after a birthday party celebrating my now seven-year-old boy and five-year-old girl and the baby was following me around the kitchen and crying for me to pick her up. The floor was covered in crushed up chips and sticky cake crumbles and I was determined to finish the cleaning job, even if that meant ignoring her pleas for attention for another three minutes. As the octave level of her wails progressed, I let out a frustrated sigh, and put the broom down so that I could pick her up. My son and his friend were at the kitchen table and the friend, overhearing my exasperation, sweetly asked, “Do you enjoy being a Mother?” And with that single question, I realized the ridiculousness of my mission and the futility of my frustration. I hugged the sweet baby in my arms, happy to be resting her head on my shoulder, and left the cleaning for later. I held her on the couch while I chatted with my daughter about her new art kit. I watched my son and his friend attempt a science experiment. I took the time to just enjoy them for the amazing children they are—and I took a few mental snapshots for later.
So, to answer her question, I love being a mother. I love it even when it’s hard. I love it even when my kids can’t seem to go two minutes without fighting and have to be sent to their rooms. I love it even when my house is a mess and the dishes are piled high in the sink and I can’t see the bottom of the laundry basket. I love it in spite of all of the responsibilities and uncertainties. I love it even when I have to remind myself to love it.
I didn’t rush through the bedtime hugs tonight. I listened intently as both of the big kids recounted their favorite parts of the day. I rocked the baby to sleep and kept rocking her long after she drifted off into dreamland. I left the dishes in the sink and the broom against the kitchen wall. I enjoyed the moments that I’ll never get back.
One day I’ll tell the baby about the time that she kept her lunch stored safely in the trashcan. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying the memories in the making and I’ll wipe off sticky hands and faces for as long as I can.
Author: Stacey Carlin
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Author’s own