Today was shaping up to be one of those days. It started just after breakfast, but I felt it as soon as I woke up. It was going to be one of those days when you just know you won’t get through the day without at least one emotional breakdown.
I had wondered if it would be. Last night was his first night with a “broken” pacifier, his first night of trial with the tip cut off so that it no longer worked. I expected a fight, yet all we got was a few minutes of his attempts to make the binky work, then a nonchalant tossing it aside every time he sucked for a moment and it didn’t serve its purpose. He went to sleep with barely a peep, and only woke up once for a brief minute in the night.
But then the morning came. He was awake 45 minutes before his normal wake up time. I was awake an hour before mine, tense and waiting as if my body knew preternaturally that today would be that day. The first day after two weekdays of having daddy home sick, after a long weekend of heat and my own sickness and moving, after having to take care of the toddler nearly all by myself for 48 hours while ensuring that my husband didn’t dehydrate himself for fear of throwing up again. While 34 weeks pregnant, in the heat, attempting to break the toddler of his pacifier.
I got him out of bed 30 minutes earlier than usual, and breakfast went off without a hitch. Too easily, perhaps; I got to drink a cup of coffee sitting down for once, before it went cold. I got to eat an entire bowl of cereal without having to share half of it. Asa ate his Cheerios and banana with gusto, not once attempting to tip his bowl over or toss food to the floor.
He got down to play with toys, I sat down to start up my usual morning routine — usually done prior to his being awake — of reading a few blogs and checking social media, planning the day out, and especially thinking about the weekend plans.
And that’s when it started.
I was sitting, he wanted up. And down, and up again. And up more. And to hit the keys, or to play with my phone, or to tap the computer with the plastic spoon he’d saved from breakfast. And down again. And up again. All intermittently punctuated by whines and yawns.
There was so much else that I needed to do today — organize our weekend garage sale pile, clean the toilet, unpack and clean the rest of our bedroom, fold the laundry… the list went on — that I clung to my one sacred bit of morning routine as if it were the thread that would hold this day together. Too insistently. After another round of ups and downs, I finally told him that no, he needed to stay down for a few minutes. Cue crying and wandering around the house like a lost child, cranky only an hour and a half after waking up.
Why are you not content to play with your toys as usual? I thought desperately. I just need five minutes. Five minutes to wake up, to gear up for the day, to brace myself for whatever was coming. But, to no avail. After a minute of attempting and failing to stick to my morning routine, I decided to get away from the computer and see if that helped.
It didn’t. I wondered if, as is often true, he just needed a little time in his crib with his blankets to snuggle, so I put him down for a short quiet time, and decided to take a few late-term maternity shots of myself to remember these last few weeks by.
But before I was even three shots in, he decided he’d had enough of his quiet time and desperately needed up. Since I had everything set up, I thought maybe a few shots with him would still work. I want to capture his last moments as an only child, too, to freeze these precious weeks in time when I can give my all to him.
Everything seemed to look up as we stood and sat on the floor and played and he became fascinated with the beeping of the timer on the camera. And then when I was done, I put away the tripod and kept the camera out, hoping to get a few pictures of just him. This precious little boy who is growing up and becoming more than just that cute, chubby baby we’ve known for the past 18 months. I will miss having just him, even as I am looking forward to having two babies in the house.
But then the culmination of the morning came to pass. He started stepping on my leg, trying to get higher up the windowsill, to look out and see what was going on, and terrible thoughts flashed through my head. Him slipping from my leg and smashing his lips or chin or nose on the windowsill, bleeding everywhere, knocking out his teeth, bruising his face. Since I’ve been pregnant, these daytime nightmares come quickly and vividly and are hard to shake off.
So I told him no, and I moved my leg away from the window. But as is the case with many things for him, he thought it was a game, and began to deliberately step on my leg despite my repeatedly saying no and removing his foot, holding his leg down so that he could not continue the action. Still, he grinned, and tried again.
And in a quick second I spanked his (pants-less) leg, my mind still caught in what could happen, and said possibly too loudly and shortly “Stop. Mama said no!”
The shock that passed over his face followed by the inevitable cries of hurt feelings and reaction to the sting of a spanking undid me. It was not a hard spank, nor an angry one, and I knew that allowing him to make me laugh even as he disobeyed me would have been wrong. But there is nothing harder than knowing that you are the source of your child’s tears, no matter how right your actions or discipline are. Nothing harder than watching them cry because of what you needed to do as a parent.
He cried, and turned away from me, and that’s when I sobbed. Loudly, brokenly, so hard that his tears were interrupted and he stared at me with the long, raw, honest gaze of a child too young to understand an adult’s need to cover up emotions. He sat in my lap and I hugged him, unable to stop crying, and for a minute we both shed tears. But his confusion won over, and he again pierced through me with that clear, worried gaze, and he did not look away.
So I told him how I was feeling. I told him that today would be hard, and that I was sorry, and that I was so tired. I told him that I loved him, and that I needed him to be good today. I gave him a kiss, and as I started to calm down he grabbed my hands and brought them up to my face, squishing my cheeks as if that might make me feel better.
And we laughed. Me with tears and snot and, I realized a few seconds later, blood running down my face — thanks to pregnancy for the bloody nose — him with the relief of a naive child who feels his duty is done.
I gave up my hopes of today being organized or productive. We unrepentantly ate handfuls of blueberries, watched cartoons, snacked on cinnamon bagels, and played in the one living room chair we own. I let him run around the house and make a mess of his toys while I folded laundry, and didn’t care if the dishes sat neglected in the sink and the toilet ran as dirty as ever.
Because today he needs me. He needs to sit in my lap, to cuddle, to be held and told that he is loved. He needs to play with me, to make me laugh, to have me make him laugh. He needs to soak in all of the attention I can give him and more than that, he wants me. He wants his mama to play, to laugh, to love, to cuddle. More than I need to clean or organize or cook. More than I need my own time to waste away on mindless clicking.
More than anything, today he just needs me.
And it’s a hard thing to admit that a small part of me wishes he didn’t, so that I could do what my mind’s agenda has set up for me today, but a bigger part of me has been realizing that I will regret passing up these opportunities. When he wants to play and he wants to cuddle. Someday he’ll be too big for that.
So despite the workload I know is coming over this weekend that might be made a little harder if I don’t start preparing today, I am giving up today’s plans in favor of making memories with my baby. I am taking to heart what young mothers often balk at hearing from older women whose children are grown and gone. “Enjoy every moment. Enjoy your babies.” I understand what they mean now, as the weeks quickly pass and the date of our second child’s birth speeds toward us with inevitability.
Make the time to enjoy them. It’s not a condemning thing, that us young mothers must enjoy our little ones as they scream and cry, as the rough days pass through us and leave us limp and emotionally drained. It’s a freeing thing. Let go of the other plans. Let go of yourself. Let go of the to-do list you tacked to the fridge that is full of things that will remain throughout your life unchanged. There will always be laundry to fold, dishes to wash, toilets to clean, things to organize. But our babies will not always be babies. And someday we will look back for memories of these young years.
I would rather have memories of a happy, laughing child than a perfect kitchen and neatly organized house. Today I am letting go of everything I thought I needed to do, and I am doing what matters most: making sure he knows he is loved. With excess and abandon and a fierceness unlike any other love he will know. Because even if the rest of today is a complete disaster, at least he will know one thing: his mama loves him.
And if he knows that, then today will have been a success.