This picture brings me back a few years; 12, to be exact. Those tired eyes of mine tell a story far deeper than the three days of intense contractions I had just endured on behalf of that sweet baby girl. They tell the story of living nine months with a constant headache that was likely caused by a combination of hormones and stress. Having four kids in six years while my husband was in school (and we had no real income) was a tiny bit stressful, especially when the last was born just ten days before dental school graduation.
But it goes even deeper than that.
Back then, my life was not my own. It revolved around feedings, diaper changes, cuddles, naps, baths, storytime, kissing boo-boos, cleaning up messes, and neverending loads of laundry. It was defined by strong-willed children who frequently fell apart in a spectacular manner when things did not go their way. It was marked by little sleep, sheer exhaustion, and the constant fear that I was not cut out for the work of motherhood.
Those were tough years that taught me the meaning of the word sacrifice. Like so many other mothers, I said yes to one more story when I was so exhausted I could hardly see the words on the page. I pushed swings at the park for hours on end when I wanted nothing more than to sit on a bench with a good book. I cooked countless meals that were never touched because they were “gross.” I lovingly cuddled sleepy babies and toddlers when I longed for a few touch-free minutes. I attempted to patiently deal with the hundredth tantrum of the day when I felt like I might lose my ever-living mind.
Yes, there were moments when I lost my cool and was anything but the poster child for exemplary motherhood. There were days when I barely survived with my sanity in check. I cannot count the number of times I wondered if I could get up in the morning and do it all again because I was fairly confident that one more day of this madness might break me.
But I was crazy in love with my little ones. They were both exasperating and endearing. Their chubby cheeks, slobbery kisses, and squeals of laughter were the substance of my dreams. The frequent and tender expression, “You are my best friend, Mommy,” could melt my frustrated heart in a second.
They loved me, too, with all of their sweet and sassy hearts.
Our mutual adoration kept me pressing forward, despite seemingly insurmountable challenges. It was a constant reminder of why I was pouring my whole soul into the teaching of my precious, albeit stubborn, children.
Love is a powerful motivator.
Today, with a houseful of goofy teenagers who are starting to leave the nest, I remember those early years that were both grueling and beautiful. Somehow, mercifully, I made it through. The days were long but the weeks were short, and the years passed like seconds in the night.
Because hindsight always brings clarity, I can see a million things that I would do differently if I could somehow go back. However, I do not regret the fact that enjoying every moment with my little ones was far beyond my reach.
From where I sit now, I can see that those aggravating days of young motherhood were the times where I learned and grew the most. They shaped me into the mother and woman I am today by teaching me patience, empathy, compassion, trust, hope, and perseverance, amongst an array of other things that I would never have learned if the waters had always been calm and the children continually agreeable.
I found myself in the struggle.
Over time, motherhood has made me infinitely more than I could ever have become on my own.
Dear mamas of littles, never underestimate the value of your work. You are heroines, charged with the crucial task of shaping impressionable souls as they grow into adulthood. They will be sure and strong and capable of changing their little corner of the world because of your love and belief in them. Even though you are far from perfect, you are making a vast difference, one story and goodnight kiss at a time.
The fruits of your labors will usually not be immediately evident. Most of the time, you will not see the payoff for many years because it takes time to grow a child. You will undoubtedly wonder if you are doing enough – if you are good enough.
In those moments of inadequacy and self-doubt, remember that you are not alone. I have never met a mother who does not feel that way from time to time, regardless of the age of her children.
When you are feeling weak, lean on my experience and the perspective it has given me. I have been where you are and know a little about what is coming as your kids continue to grow. You will be OK; I promise. You are going to make it through the difficulties of life with young kids, just as countless women before you have done, and you will be a better person because of it.
Hold on, sweet mamas of littles. There is more light than you can possibly imagine at the end of the tunnel that you are in right now. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.