I struggle on a daily basis with wondering if I'm enjoying my children's lives enough. Just an innocent scroll through Instagram-land and I can be reduced to ugly cries because, Oh my gosh, they were so little.
I'm guilty of simultaneously trying to soak up every minute and wishing a lot of the moments away.
But recently, during what felt like a particularly hard, hard time in my parenting journey, a few simple words changed my perspective.
We were knee-deep in the middle of an endless winter. And for those of you not familiar with the reality of living in a state where it feels like winter never ends, let me assure you that it messes with your mind in a very real way. Months upon months without sunshine, temperatures so cold school gets called off because kids' fingers are freezing off and drowning under mountains of mittens and winter jackets are like little wounds to the soul.
In the middle of that bleak and deplorable frozen winter landscape, we were dealing with a house full of sick kids. The baby was on month four of waking up every hour on the hour and it seemed to be getting worse. Teeth? Spoiled rotten? A combination of the two and sharing a room with her ever-waking brother? Who knows, but I'm not even exaggerating when I say that I hadn't slept more than an hour-and-a-half continuously in more than four months and it was starting to get to me.
As kid after kid fell down, vomiting and feverish and week two approached while I watched my 2-year-old waste away in the saddest way possible, I felt like I was unraveling. When my husband got sick and used his last vacation day so he could sleep it off, I resented him bitterly because I knew — I just knew — that my time was coming and there would be no calling in sick for me.
Sure enough, the next day, it hit me and despite my frantic texts and calls to my husband to come home to help me, he "missed" them and waltzed in the door extra late (of course) that night after staying to help with a sporting event at his school. "Oh," he said, pausing when he saw me draped over the toilet with a baby in one arm, "Are you sick?"
These are the times as a mother when I genuinely wonder if I'm cut out for this gig. When it feels like no one will ever sleep and when I wonder if I will look back at their childhood and remember the sheer exhaustion, loneliness and desperation you feel when you are a stay-at-home mom who is sick and you realize that there is not a single soul you can call in the world to help you. It's an awful feeling.
But that night, as I forced myself to stay awake to nurse the baby for the 38,997th time and propped my eyeballs open by reading on my phone, I came across one response from a mother who talked about enduring the season of sickness with her also very young children.
"Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself for having sick kids or going through the 'busy' season of life," she said. "I just have to tell myself, 'Yes, things are not ideal, but I could be sitting in the waiting room at St. Jude's, you know?"
Those words hit me and hit me hard. Granted, I know that everyone has a different reality and I'm not one to constantly dwell on how hard life can be, because let's face it, that would take up all of my mental and emotional energy. But for some reason, her gentle reminder has stuck with me.
Everyone eventually got better in my house, my son is still eating to gain back all the weight he lost and while my daughter is still not sleeping more than an hour or two straight at night, I'm in a much better place because of those words. When things are particularly challenging or when I'm feeling stressed over anything that's really silly by comparison, I constantly remind myself that I could be sitting at St. Jude's.
The busy moments, the stressful times of having young kids, the challenges that it takes raising flawed humans with an imperfect mother — they are really nothing compared to the struggles that some parents face. And if I can learn to enjoy the moments we have, I'm pretty certain I'll never look at the "hard" parts about parenting the same way again.
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