People want to know what it’s like. Having 3 kids ages 4 and under.
I think you can pretty much guess what it’s like.
It’s like a whirlwind. Or maybe more like a tornado.
Or, if I’m honest (and uncensored), it’s like a s#%t storm. Literally. Babies poop every time they eat and they eat all the time. Mia needs help wiping. Summer just potty trained herself so you can imagine how that’s going. I’m responsible for cleaning out the kitty litter and now my aging dog has started to have accidents in the house. Paul is the only one self-sufficient in this area, which is good because I have to draw the line somewhere.
My days are crazy. Filled with so many confusing scenes that sometimes I find myself looking around just to see if I’m the only witness to the insanity.
Yesterday Summer told me the baby was sleeping. Then she bit her. And said, “Look! Now she’s awake Mama!” As if I would be happy about that. Seriously?
And the day before that, I went to preschool orientation and had a long conversation with the Pastor of the church. When I got back into the car, I noticed I had forgotten to put my nursing pads in and sure enough, I had two noticeably large wet spots on my shirt. Awesome.
But you know what the hardest part is? It’s the advice. The well-meaning but often contradicting advice given by other mothers, grandmothers, strangers and most certainly, your own mother.
Let the baby cry it out or she will never learn to sleep through the night. If you let her cry it out, she will feel abandoned and never form healthy attachments.
Don’t let the baby sleep too long during the day or she won’t sleep at night. Be sure to wake the baby every 4 hours to nurse. Never wake a sleeping baby.
Sometimes it’s not even a contradiction, it’s just a guilt trip. Breastfeeding is best but if you have to supplement with formula, just know you’re a bad mom.
This is my 3rd child so I’m not as sensitive to these contradictions. But there is one piece of advice that gets me every time. I try to escape it, but it just keeps finding me. It finds me at work. It finds me at the gas station. And most recently, it found me at Walgreeens.
I was in the check-out line and Piper was crying because I hadn’t timed her feeding right. Mia was pulling on my arm begging for a candy bar and Summer was bypassing me altogether, taking handfuls of candy off the shelf. A little old lady in line behind us was watching the debacle. She smiles and tells me how her children are all grown and living far away and tears of nostalgia fill her eyes. As I finish paying, she pats my arm and I knew what was coming. I braced myself and sure enough, she shakes her crooked finger at me and says,
Enjoy Every Moment.
There it was. And it just hung out there. I looked at my kids who were now fighting over the candy that I already said neither of them can have, and thought, even this moment?! If there is anything that gives me mommy guilt, it’s that. I have not enjoyed every moment. There are sometimes so many moments in a row I am not enjoying that a week will go by and I wonder if I was meant to have kids at all.
As I walked to my car, I think, I get it. You’re sweet. You’re old. You have a perspective I don’t have. But there’s just no way.
When? I want to ask her, when am I supposed to enjoy these moments? We have T-ball, awana, work, sports club, preschool, and in between all of this, I have to find the time to sit down for 25 minutes and nurse the baby. Every 3 hours. Around the clock. And while you might think nursing is a good, forced time to enjoy my little one, I end up paying for it. Sometimes it’s with markers all over Summer. Sometimes it’s with markers all over the wall. Often it’s both.
We got back into the car and by that time, all 3 are crying and I’m contemplating joining them. As I sat with the keys still in my hand, the backseat chorus of wails continues at alarming levels. I watched the little old lady get into her car and I imagined her in 1950, with all her kids piled in the back, no car seats, no seatbelts. But the wailing was the same. The wailing is timeless. And as I watched her now, I enviously thought of how she was putting on her own music, not children’s choruses of pre-pubescent voices so high pitched that it hurts even my dog. Or maybe she drives in silence because you know, she can.
Why would she want to go back to this season, I thought? Why the look of nostalgia? The tear? As she drove away, her eye caught mine and she winked. And I realized, she’s not sad. She might miss the chaos as she fondly thinks back upon it but what she is really feeling is gratitude. She’s thankful that she had the season in the first place. It’s not that she wants to re-live it. I’m quite certain that she doesn’t. But I believe she wouldn’t trade it in for anything. It’s what made her heart full. It’s what keeps her heart full.
We can’t enjoy every moment. That’s just life. And maybe it’s only when you are old and reflective and not covered in spit-up and your boobs don’t hurt from nursing and you haven’t wiped a tush in 40 years that you can look back and see the moments that you did enjoy. And it’s those moments that make up the season of young motherhood.
So that’s my reframe. Not to try to enjoy every moment because, OMG have you met my kids? But instead, to be thankFULL. And when I’m at my wits end from not enough sleep and the thought of cleaning up more poop is just too much to bear, I will be thankFULL. Not so much for the poop, but for the fullness of the season.
Because that’s what it’s like. Having 3 kids, 4 and under. It’s full. Some days it’s full of crying and whining and time- outs. Other days it’s full of laughter and playing and maybe even some teaching. All days are full of poop. Most days end full of wine.
It’s not to say that my life was empty before I had kids. It wasn’t. It was also full of amazing things. Things that I desperately miss like spontaneous road trips across the country with my best friends. Dates that don’t end at 10pm by paying a fortune for a babysitter. Sleep. Just plain sleep. Ahh sleep.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with my kids. In fact, I dropped them off at school today and I already miss them! Ok, that’s actually not true. I don’t miss them yet. It’s only been an hour you guys, come on.
But the moments I do enjoy?
*When Piper is looking around the room and her eyes lock in on mine and her smile spreads the width of her face.
*When Mia climbs to the top of her backyard playhouse and screams LET IT GO, LET IT GO at the top of her lungs. My neighbors tell me that they love being serenaded by her. I know they are just being polite.
*When I find Summer sleeping in my bed 2 hours after tucking her into her own.
*When both of them scream DADDY! at the sight of Paul’s car as he pulls into the driveway after work.
These are the things that make my heart so full I feel like it will burst right open. And for the other times, I will choose to be thankFULL. Because while I don’t enjoy every moment, I am aware. Painfully aware that the time is fleeting. That this season is just that, a season. And so, when I saw Summer’s purple handprint on our freshly painted wall, I didn’t get mad. I took a picture. Because I know a time will come when I will miss those tiny fingers and tears of nostalgia will form remembering how many times I had to wash those prints off the cabinets, her body, the wall.
People say enjoy it. People say time passes quickly. I believe them. And so I’ll choose, in these moments, to be thankFULL.
As I write this, Mia is sitting on the potty screaming “Done!”
I guess that’s my cue.