When I see the clock reach 7 p.m. on my living room wall, a burst of energy shoots through me because I know the day as a mama is drawing to a close.
My squirmy almost-1-year-old starts her evening bottle with two hands around its middle but quickly chooses to reach up and play with her hair instead. Her chubby brown fingers crawl slowly through her curls, straightening them before letting the curls spring up again.
She sucks her milk while I tilt my head back and feel the blood drain from my throbbing headache. The hours spent mothering have built up a tiredness that is mostly mental, and I can feel the weight of the day drip down to my shoulders and onto the floor.
I am a mama signing off a 12-hour shift.
We have wrestled. She has eaten baby food, and she has spit some of it out onto the floor. I have scrubbed the floor with a tiny baby towel, wondering how long the oatmeal will live in the cracks. She has been on my right hip, my left hip, my middle while we danced around the kitchen, the stove crackling with dinner. I have kissed her cheeks, smelled her coconut oiled hair, and patted her diapered bottom with a love tap while she crawled around the floor.
She has called me dada, and then we practiced saying mama. She has squealed and jumped on me too many times to count. She has tried to get my glasses off my face, and I have swatted her little hand. She has given me that look that says, “I’m listening, but I still might do what I want.”
The bottle is disappearing milk, and I hear the suction lessen, and her eyes slow to a lazy blink. She is done playing with her hair now, and her arms rest sweetly at her side. Her legs have stopped kicking too.
With an ounce left, I slide the bottle from her wet lips and gently wipe her mouth with the burp rag.
I stare at her sweetness, her roundness, her beauty.
I rub my thumb around her forehead and feel the heat from her sleep. She is in dreamworld, her eyes rolling around under glistening eyelids.
A groan escapes my throat as I lean forward, cradling her heavy weight in my arms. I drop off the empty-ish bottle on the counter with the dirty burp rag. Later I will add the bottle to sink, wash the others, and then refill them again with formula to store in the fridge for tomorrow. Sometimes it feels like the clock keeps ticking, but the work never ends. My husband notices the bottle and slips behind me to start the hot water in the sink. Bless him.
When I round the corner to walk to her bedroom, I see the faintest light at the end of the hallway. It shines on a large mirror, and I see my reflection. My arms are saggy with the potato sack of baby. My hair disheveled from loosening my ponytail earlier. It’s hard to make out the look on my face from far away, but it’s a cross between exhaustion and peaceful happiness. My daughter is thick and strong in my arms. But she is finally asleep, and the day is almost behind us.
Regardless of the challenges of the day, I know deep in my gut that I am a good mama. God is leading me and guiding me, and I am never alone in the trenches of raising kids.
The mirror helps remind me of that.
It shows me who I am and what I am doing and how I am sacrificing. It doesn’t highlight my faults but focuses on the love radiating between my daughter and me.
Most nights, I believe that mirror more than I believe the lies in my head. The lies that say I am not patient enough, too ambitious or greedy, or that frustration and anger flashes win too often. It’s easy to forget that to her, I am exactly what God has provided for her to be safe and secure in the world.
Two images burn in me as I shuffle off to shower the day from my body. First, my beautiful sleeping angel in the darkness of her crib. Second, the strength of motherhood reflecting back at me in the mirror.
I cherish them both.