“When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder.
Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from a chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table.
I spent my life learning to feel less.
Every day I felt less.
Is that growing old? Or is it something worse?
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer
It’s 3 a.m. I hear her stirring. I’m half awake, anyhow. She lets out a few grunts and I peel myself up and reach for her. It’s dark and quiet; a welcome reprieve from the hustle daybreak brings. It’s just her and me in these soft, quiet hours. I’ve come to love them.
It’s difficult to answer, the question of how is it now?
It’s everything, all at once. Some minutes crawl by with agony; many hours I am strung out entirely by the complete physical assault of three young children in my care. Every one of my senses is engaged, every second of every day; the feeling of fullness can oftentimes make me want to explode. My life is contained, often, within the small distance between my bedroom and the lounge room, pacing the minutes away with an entirely dependant, fussy baby in my arms, guilty that my other two children are neglected. I’m graspy and desperate that there is just simply not enough of me to go around. But I try. God, do I try. While I pace – while I look away for a second – my oldest daughter has learned how to ride a bike without training wheels. She has learned how to put her hair into a ponytail on her own. This makes me feel crazy.
Some moments are transcendent. I stare at my baby, drunk, almost euthanised by the love I feel. She is divine, in every sense of the word. Though her dependence on me is entirely suffocating, leaving me gasping for air at the end of the day, desperate for a chance to make it stop, it is life-giving. It draws out of me – from the deepest, most primal part of my insides – a fiery, dark, fierce protection that could kill if it had to. This kind of love is giddying. It’s other-wordly. It simultaneously drains the life out of me and fills me up so entirely. I file this away under the million other paradoxes motherhood entails.
All of the time I find myself without any rhythm, fumbling my way through a day now sporadicly divided into short burst of existence between feeding and rocking, dissolving fights and picking up stray pens, playing uno and doing school runs, running baths, running like crazy to throw a load of washing in the machine, to find a snack for someone who I swear I just made one for. I feel as though I live in a mad house. It’s mad. It’s more than ridiculous, really. I do things one handedly, in three minute blocks, just bracing myself for the next thing. Sometimes, all I get a chance to eat is a multi-vitamin.
I’ve been here before.
Perhaps I’m getting older. Wiser. But what strikes me now is how much I’ve changed – or rather – how much motherhood has changed me.
These days I’m in are hard, that’s certain. The hardest. So excruciatingly hard. If I didn’t know better, I’d have wished them away. I have wished them away for the promise of sleep and free hands and just thirty seconds of peace. And I did. With my first – and my second – I did wish it away. However, what I know now is that we wish it away only to long to go back again – to the days they were tiny, dependent on us, bundled on our chests, completely innocent, breathing their raspy little breaths that smelled of flowers. We wish it away only to ache for it back. We yearn for it back. And you know why we do that? Do you know why? Because through the haze of all the hard we can’t remember if we were present enough, if we enjoyed it enough. We can’t remember if we took the time to find the joy, or if we spent our time mostly gasping for air and holding out for some kind of relief.
What I know now is that the hard doesn’t get any less, we just get better at existing in it. We stop associating hard with bad. We understand how fleeting it is. Babies, yes, but also children. Life. It just goes so fast. And there’s hard in all of it. Every stage. Every single phase. Life is a series of challenges broken up by moments of sporadic relief. Parenthood only mirrors this, with increased intensity. And when I’m old and grey, I don’t want to look back on my life and feel as though I was so busy touting how hard it was that I missed all the joy in it — that I didn’t actually see it for the gift it was. Besides, I think back to the baby days of Ella and Billy – the days I know I bled and sweated through at the time – I look back and I think: Was it really that hard? Was it really so bad? Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I needed a different perspective. Maybe it was. Maybe it was that hard. Does it matter? Does it really even matter? Because on the other side of the fence, we see the one thing we were blinded to at the time:
Numbing ourselves from the hard only numbs ourselves from the good.
And from the vantage point of life with older children who have thoroughly outgrown the baby years:
It is worth it.
The blood, sweat and tears is worth it.
And me: I want it all.
I really just want to feel it all. All of life. The grit and the euphoria. The pain and the love. The hard and the beauty.
So today, and every day thereafter, may I sink firmly into all of it. May I be used up by life so entirely that when I reach the end, I can truly say: I took everything in front of me and I made it mine.
I made it my beautiful life.
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“It doesn’t get easier.
No, it doesn’t necessarily get easier than those first few weeks. It might actually get harder.
But it does get better.
It gets better, because you get better. Each phase of parenting feels overwhelming at first. You think “how am I going to do this?” on good days, and “why did I want kids?” on bad days. Then, little by little, you find your groove or a trick that works. You learn how she likes to be soothed, that she likes her sandwiches in triangles instead of rectangles, that she’ll open up and tell you what’s on her mind in the 15 minutes before bedtime every night.
And it gets better, because you realize you’re not alone in your struggles. Every mom who’s gone before you and every mom who’s standing next to you has felt what you feel. We are all bone tired; even the ones who look so put together. We are all terrified of getting it wrong; even the ones who make getting it right look effortless. Once you realize this, it gets better because a burden shared is a burden lightened.
There is no part of parenting that is easy. It starts at overwhelmingly difficult, and only ratchets up from there. But you learn that “hard” is not synonymous with “bad.” And you learn to embrace the paradox of a job that gets harder the better you are at it.”