Finally. They’re asleep.
You take a breath. You know, really take it in, and then release it slowly. You let your eyelids close for a moment, a little longer than usual, and you bask in the silence. You feel a little guilty admitting it, but you’ve kind of been waiting for this silence all day.
You look around and think to yourself, “I should be feeling something more. I should be feeling like I accomplished something today. If I’m this exhausted, this spent, then that has to mean I actually achieved something today, right?”
Did you look at yourself in the mirror today, mama? Was it first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, or while passing a polished shop front as you pushed a stroller carting around an overtired toddler for an 11am grocery run, or glancing up at the window of the train you caught to work? Did you think to yourself, “I need to work out more”, or “I need to style my hair better”, or “Ugh, I am such a mess”?
Did you lament over the unfinished laundry? The unfilled school forms? The undone crafts so diligently pinned to your Pinterest board or the unbaked grain-free, dairy-free, probiotic-enhanced, IQ-EQ-boosting muffins that provide you with some tangible evidence of the fact that you did good today, mama? Those things are supposed to tell you that you made stuff. You wrote stuff. You produced physical, actual, verifiable things.
Instead, do you feel like you pretty much spent your entire day trying to get a baby to sleep? Did that baby only sleep on you and nowhere else? Did you maybe spend it breaking up endless squabbles between dueling siblings and their coveted toys, the toys they wouldn’t even look at twice if it wasn’t for the other sibling picking it up?
When you did get an occasional break, did time feel like it went by faster than it ever had during what was meant to be your moment to recharge? Did you maybe only get a fraction of what you thought you could get done, or ultimately push those things to the side because you needed to text a friend to vent, or aimlessly scroll through your phone, or just barely manage to scarf down a sandwich you made, just how you like it, only to be asked, “Mama, can I have some?”
Did you feel like all you did was make one snack after another?
Did your to-do list win the battle today, mama? Did three new tasks sprout up, like weeds, in the place of the one you just managed to cross off? Did you start to feel overwhelmed with all of the things you have to do, not to mention the things you want to do, but doubt you’ll ever get the chance?
Did you blink back tears as you recalled how you snapped at your four-year-old again, after you swore you were going to be more mindful and respectful and never yell and never be human, ever again?
Hey, mama? I know sometimes it feels like you didn’t accomplish anything. It can feel that way when you can’t see your accomplishments right there in front of you. It’s hard when you don’t see the perfectly folded piles of clothes, or the fridge full of nutritious and virtuously well-organized batch-cooked meals, or the children sporting impeccable behavior at all times, or whatever else your mind’s eye holds as “I accomplished something today” because these are the visible, confirmed outcomes of what you do all day.
But maybe here’s what you don’t see.
When you feel like all you’ve done is answer repetitive questions all day long, even when they ask “Mamaaaaaaaaaaa??” for the quadrillionth time without knowing what they actually want to say next, what you don’t see is a child’s steadily building trust that when they call, you will answer.
When you feel like you are basically a human pacifier or mattress or “sleep prop” (tsk, tsk), what you don’t see is a baby whose heartbeat slows once she crumbles blissfully into your familiar arms. You don’t see how with every cuddle, every rhythmic pat of that diapered little bottom, every rock of that creaking chair, and every instinctive sway of your hips, you are reassuring that child that you are his, and you’ve got him. You’ve always got him.
And when you feel like you are just volleying back and forth between tasks, never really completing anything, and always, always being interrupted—you know what I mean? When it feels like you’re trying to write a complete paragraph but punctuation keeps getting thrown in at random places, and everything becomes garbled, and what you had planned becomes stripped of all logic and meaning. Those interruptions, mama? You don’t see that every time you stop what you’re doing and show them you’re willing to attend to whatever it is that they need, it’s not just punctuation. It’s the stuff of a literary masterpiece.
You’re writing the most exquisite story of their lives, of their childhoods, a story they will record in their hearts and remember right to the core of their souls: the little moments when you giggled with them over a silly book; the way your cool hand feels on their forehead when they’re sick; the way your awkwardly-drawn stick figures were the best pictures they’d ever laid eyes on; the way they always had what they needed, whether it was a meal, or a hug, or a look of encouragement when they turn to you with pride at the huge tower they just built.
It’s a story you write little by little, day by day, and you stop, and you do something else, and you get inspired, and you edit, and you go back to it and make it better.
You didn’t sit down and accomplish it all at once. But you are working, slowly, sometimes painfully, on something magnificent, every single day.
Mama, I see you closing your tired eyes. I see you vowing to get more done tomorrow. But mama? Those eyes? Those eyes take in everything, and everyone, without you even realizing it. Those eyes notice that the house is running out of toothpaste or bananas or toilet cleaner. Those eyes notice your secondborn’s crestfallen face at dinner and make a mental note to talk to him about what’s going on at school when you tuck him in at night. Those eyes are so busy noting the needs of so many, and you are unwittingly ticking things off an invisible, silent list that never stops running behind the scenes.
So tonight, sweet mama, when you close those eyes, try to look, really look, at that invisible list. Because that list? Well, some of your very greatest accomplishments in life are sitting right there, and maybe you didn’t even know it.