When E was born, she was difficult. No more difficult than the other unlucky babies with the run-of-the-mill yet debilitating issues like colic, reflux, or allergies, but still challenging. The type of challenging that brought forth a slew of late night google searches on topics we’d believed we had exhausted with our reflux-y colicky first born. But in spite of those issues, I always felt the warm fuzzies in the morning. I still felt the wisp of perspective nestled in my brain as I started each day on little to no sleep. Perspective that ran past me and bounded into the room in the shape of a talkative, ever changing, no longer a baby – little boy. Her older brother who now resembled a giant made her seem ever smaller, making me keenly aware that soon long limbs would sprout from her soft round midsection, and those completely curved feet would soon flatten and arch and be wearing shoes too big to be bronzed.
Children have a way of making you blissfully aware of your existence through witnessing theirs, turning negative thoughts into aspirationally positive ones, attempting to fix lifelong habits as you realize they’re watching you as well. And in those beautiful moments of quiet observation you’re sometimes the person you hope you to be for them. But in the more frequent moments you’re not, the darkness is blacker because you’re now failing several people instead of just yourself, left angry and resentful at these little beings that need so much, take so much, and who could be forever impacted by your inability to continually give them your best.
It comes out little by little, as I grit my teeth with happiness and receive the comments of others reminding me of my beautiful children and life (they are and it is). I’m finally spotting the signs of raggedness I’ve been trying so hard to hide. It’s there, in my bitten down nails and flaked cuticles, dry from the constant dish washing and laundry folding, bath giving and hand washing. Chewed to the quick while worrying about their lack of vegetable eating or too much screen watching. It’s there in the black semicircles under my eyes, that scream to be covered by a smear of concealer no matter what state of disarray or undress I choose to leave the house in the morning. It’s there in the way I lose my cool after a seemingly innocent refusal to brush teeth or drink milk. The way I feel nothing some days when I see the stream of tears down a chubby face or hear a soft whimper.
I love them so much but they make me hate myself sometimes. And every article written about the trials and tribulations of parenthood inevitably requires a very clear disclaimer: I love them, but. I’m so lucky, but. They are so unbelievably wonderful and magical and pure but. I miss myself sometimes, period. And that feels expressly forbidden. After a lot of beating myself up and wondering why I seemed to be struggling so much at this mothering thing, I came to realize that the two are not mutually exclusive: the unconditional love and the inexplicable yearning. It’s not so often expressed, that many of us function with both as our North Star. That some days we are parents and that’s enough. More than enough, some days it is just me and them and I’m complete. And other days it feels empty, and hard, and endless. Like I will never be good enough and they deserve better than what I’m able to give. But somehow, in the cross section of those two very opposite existences, you find a sliver of normalcy. Maybe one side of you cannot exist without the other. Maybe if you were completely satisfied with one, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate both. Maybe chasing balance shouldn’t be the goal; floating across and around and above and below it is just fine. Maybe you’re allowed to love your family and love yourself too. Maybe happiness is just letting go.