The chair rocked back and forth, my baby’s sniffles the only sound in the quiet room. In the dark, I looked down, and she lifted her head off my chest and smiled at me. I started sobbing.
At 15 months old, Nora’s not a baby anymore. But she’s still a baby to me. And in the room next door, my middle child, Allie, was sound asleep, dreaming of her very first day of school the following morning. It felt like somebody punched me in the gut with how fast time had gone.
All I could think of were the times I’ve told Allie no to playing Barbies or sitting on the couch and watching Paw Patrol with her. The days I’ve been frustrated and yelled when she disobeyed or asked me for one too many snacks. What will she remember of her childhood?
Shouldn’t I have more to show for these years we spent at home? A weekly tradition I’ve established, or pictures on the fridge from arts and crafts time I happily did each week?
As I continued to rock, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have been a better mom if I had worked outside the home.
I imagined having more patience, losing my temper less, and making more time for fun. I might have been more intentional with my time if the line between work and play had been clearer. I pictured myself getting down on the floor to play with the kids after work, having missed them all day.
Instead, I spent all these years not knowing when my next break from them would be. I juggled diaper changes and potty training alongside checking my email and texting friends and cleaning the floors. So many times, I’ve envied my husband because he was better at playing with them.
My husband is the one the kids run to at the end of the day, shouting their excitement upon his return. And he, in turn, experienced the feeling of missing them. With three kids, someone always needs a hug, is hanging from my leg, or is feeding from my body—I rarely feel an ache for them. And it isn’t often they miss me.
My time with them isn’t over, of course. But now, my mind raced with everything I could have done better.
Choking back the sobs to not wake Nora on my chest, I thought about how I still had time to get it right with her.
The next day, I walk Allie to the bus for the first time in the crisp morning air. My son bounds ahead, already a pro at riding the bus and going to school.
“Let me take your picture before you go,” I ask. My heart squeezes, and my nose burns.
A grin fills Allie’s face, her cheeks beam. Her backpack hangs well below her knees. Then she’s gone; the rainbow backpack is the last thing I see.
I walk away from the bus, my eyes well with tears. Then finally, they break, and the tears stream down my face.
A few hours later, I walk up to the school to pick Allie up, and she runs straight into my arms, “Mom! You came!”
I squeeze her, backpack and all.
“Of course I did! How was your day?” I ask, stroking her hair. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, Mama.”
My kids have seen me at my best and my worst.
Over the years, there were moments when I was so tired, lonely, and overwhelmed that I wished I wasn’t a stay-at-home mom. But the good outweighed the bad. And I know I’ll never be able to list all of the ways I loved, what I taught them, and the fun we did have—and I know there’s still so much more ahead of us.
“Let’s go home,” I say, grabbing her hand.
I pray they remember the good moments more than the hard ones.
I hope that for me, too.