Dear Little Friend and Little One,
I imagine your great-great-grandmother Ruth slumped on the farmhouse steps, eyes unfocused on the Illinois dirt of the yard before her, a bowl of half-shelled peas on her lap. I imagine your great-grandmother Beth and great-grandaunt Dorothy lurking in porch corners, heat-surly and bored. I imagine Ruth raising her head to appeal again to the horizon, willing it to produce the silhouette of her husband commuting homeward from his day in the fields.
I imagine Ruth and wonder if she felt the weariness in a kink of her neck, the day’s grimy emotions collecting in sweaty armpits, the snap bottled in her throat just waiting for release on her tongue.
I wish I knew if I were imagining correctly. I wish I could crack open a musty diary and find some solidarity with this woman who gave me an eighth of my genes and who is 1/16 of who you are.
But since I don’t have Ruth’s testimony on the matter, you’ll just have to take my word for it: someday, when your future mother selves wonder and imagine, let me assure you that yes, there will be days like this.
Days when you wake up with a headache bear-hugging the base of your brain. Days when you dread the sound of your firstborn’s footsteps trailing from the bedroom. Days when you almost fall asleep on the couch when you’re supposed to be changing the channel to find a requested cartoon.
There will be days when you spill an entire carton of cherry tomatoes in the check out line and the woman who helps you pick up the squashed mess offers pity with her eyes and hands but also quickly exits for a different line. Days when you stand in a bathroom stall to nurse a baby while helplessly watching your preschooler lick a day’s worth of germs from her hands and arms in an effort to be shiny like Princess Cinderella. Days when you put on a hat because, even though you woke up at 6:30 am, nursing a baby took up the only time you had to take a shower. Days when you avoid making eye contact with a church acquaintance across the store.
There will be days like this.
Days when you imagine what life was like before kids. When dates didn’t involve summoning NATO forces in a command center to arrange babysitting. When car rides were serenaded by high brow political commentary on NPR and not discussions about Lulu the bear. When your clothes fit.
There will be days when your husband can never do enough to refill your emotional gas tank. There will be days when you just need to talk to your own mom. There will be days when you know that the bare naked ugly truth is that you’ve fallen short of your best. There will be days when you fear you’ve broken your children, and while they might be mended with some sorries, kisses, and glue, you’ll be able to see the hairline cracks of your damage for the rest of their lives.
There will be days like this.
Days that leave your preschooler asking, “Why are you talking in that voice, Mommy?” because short of a scream, the only verbal communication you can offer is a pinched whisper.
Days when your baby needs to nurse 11 times and cries in between each nursing. Days when your preschooler tucks herself in a ball on the floor with a lower lip hanging down to her heels. Days when the fetal position seems like your best bet for surviving another minute.
Days when you finish cleaning up the kitchen at 9:38 pm and stand exhausted with washcloth in hand, wondering what it would be like to put both kids in daycare and escape to work.
On days like this, it’s hard to find the joy. It’s hard to win the mental battle over your heart. Your heart wants to weep as your head admonishes, “Come now, it’s not that bad. It’ll get better.” Your heart wants to pummel your brain into a bone-encased pile of mush for such thoughts. Some days, it really is that bad.
I’m just writing to let you know, when you have a day like this, I’ve had them too.
Here’s what I wish great-great-grandmother Ruth could tell me: I survived. I plowed my way through days like this with an ugly-faced will because even in the midst of a day like this, you both are worth it. Worth every squashed tomato, pitied glance, strangled whisper, lingering headache, and toddler pout.
Days like this may not be pretty. I may fall far short of an “A” for my mothering. But days like this happen, and at the end of the day comes forgiveness (of self and children), sleep, and a fresh resolve to get up and battle it out bare-knuckled again tomorrow.
And on days like this, it’s best to remember, I made it through, my mom made it through, and her mom before her, and her mom before her. That’s all I wanted to let you know.
(a tired, exhausted, deflated, but love you till she drops and then some) Mama
Beth Hendrickson is a work-from-home marketer who previously tamed the chalkboard jungles of a high school English classroom and now tames runaway cherry tomatoes and toddlers. She archives her family adventures at Paper Doll Tales.
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