Back in 2017, I opened a Google Doc and started an online diary of sorts to write down the daily happenings of motherhood that are more of interest to me and my family than they would be to anyone else. Occasionally, I’ll share one of those entries here on the blog. For past posts from The Motherhood Diaries, click here.
Yesterday was one of those days that I feel like every parent needs to put in, but that everyone dreads—the two oldest kids were sick, the baby was fussy, and my goal to actually be able to keep up on the housework (for once) was put on hold…again (and I’d been doing so well, too!). Last Friday, I was diagnosed with strep and we treated Thias for the same thing (though he only technically got swabbed for influenza…long story). Anyway, our little household that had been safe from sickness for so long has suddenly become one walking plague, though Matt and the baby are still (thankfully) unscathed.
Yesterday the trails of bubbly mucus down Mathias’s face were constant and every second he wasn’t asleep, he was crying and clinging to me. Raven’s cough vacillated between dry and hacking wet, and while she did a decent job of coughing into her elbow (when she remembered), she…didn’t always remember. I was frequently sprayed with spittle from coughs and sneezes and flying snot breaths, and while I would have wanted to quarantine the baby in his own separate room for the day, he too was demanding attention frequently for his own discomforts.
Usually, the daily demands of life are such that I can deal with them one at a time—soothe that crying child, nurse the baby, change a diaper, remind siblings to play nicely together. Yesterday was one of those days where my brain had to default to, “Which crisis is the most pressing?” For the large majority of the day, I had two children (or sometimes all three) demanding my time and attention and help—and they did so with loud, urgent cries, and red and wrinkled faces.
It was a day of constant pulling, of the sudden realization around 6:00 p.m. that I literally couldn’t remember the last time I’d gone to the bathroom, and also that I was supposed to have taken a shower that morning but had lacked the opportunity.
I looked out the window at one point–the sky looked like a bowl of forgotten milk, and all I could see were dreary shades of off white and gray. I realized I hadn’t left the house in 3 days (and even then, that was to go to the doctor). It should have been the kind of day that made me want to throw up my hands and say, “That’s it! I’m done!” or “We’re stopping at three!”
But the tender mercies of God are a funny thing—they often come in the most unexpected of moments, like between nose-wiping and poop blowout episodes. There was a moment in the kitchen when I should have felt overcome with stress and exhaustion and frustration and sleep deprivation. I should have needed to call for backup (aka, see if Matt could come home early from work and make up time later in the week). I should have had tears running down my own face to mirror those on my children’s. But I didn’t.
Instead, my brain assessed the situation and determined that I needed to get at least one of the crying kids under control. So I grabbed the baby carrier from the car and strapped Hyrum to my chest, a feat that would have literally been impossible even just a few weeks ago but which I can now manage without pain thanks to lots and lots of visits to the chiropractor. It was a 30-second fix that instantly soothed a baby that just desperately needed some attention. I wiped noses and gave hugs and then fed the other two the homemade banana bread left from the day before, a happy snack that seemed to lift up everyone’s mood, even as a small part of my brain registered how far those chocolate crumbs were being flung to the far reaches of the most forgotten corners as Mathias shoved fistfuls into his mouth with relish.
As a modicum of calm was reached, I thought with some wonder back to how I’d cuddled a screaming Mathias in the rocking chair earlier in the day, and how his whole body seemed to release its tension when I just sang to him, over and over again. I thought of how Raven, even in her own sickness, tried to sing along both in that moment and in later moments, when she saw that her brother was struggling. I felt proud of myself for finding time to sit down with Raven and start on a puzzle together, especially when a different version of myself often feels the need to desperately snatch at any open opportunity to escape to the bathroom for a few minutes to myself, often with my fingers grabbing a handful of cookie dough on the way, rather than indulge her in her endless requests for play time.
That moment in the kitchen, when chaos made itself known in cacophonous tones all around me and then was orchestrated into something resembling a harmonious sense of quiet (for the first time in a very long day), I realized two things: first, how very far I’ve come as a mom in (almost) five years, and second, that God’s tender mercies often manifest themselves in the humblest and most imperfect of circumstances.
I remember clearly those first few months of motherhood, when Raven was just a few months old. I tried desperately to get her on a schedule, partly just because that’s what everyone told me to do and partly just for my own sanity. And while aspects of keeping a strict schedule worked great (and are things I still try to do today), I remember becoming SO FRUSTRATED when she didn’t hold up her end of the bargain when it came to following my plan for the day. She was never good at naps as a baby, and I would become almost desperate as I tried everything I could think of to just get her to sleep already. The funny thing was, when I just let her be and didn’t worry too much about trying to make her do anything (aka, when I let my focus be on other things and let her just be in my general vicinity but without the intensity of my full, smothering attention), she usually did just fine at sleeping on her own…or at least not fussing. In fact, it seemed that all she needed was for me to just let her look around, rather than needing to make every time slot about doing something since I was constantly trying to fill up her waking hours with “brain-stimulating” play or books or places to be. (Nowadays, I figure Hyrum gets plenty of “brain-stimulating” activities just by being in the presence of the loud, messy atmosphere that is life with young children.)
Of course, in those early days, keeping the schedule was much more about me than her, if I’m being honest. In those first days and months as a mother, I still had yet to learn that rather than expecting the baby to conform to MY needs and timetable, I was going to have to change my own timeline to meet HERS. I didn’t think I was a selfish person before, but I was definitely selfish about how fiercely I guarded my alone time—introverts often are. And while there isn’t anything wrong with taking that time to recharge and refresh myself (I would be a terrible mother if I DIDN’T take that time!), I definitely had to learn how to get by on less. Much, much less. And I definitely had to learn how to fit that time in around my mothering demands, at least in this season of my life, rather than expecting my child’s schedule to somehow magically mirror my own.
Yesterday it was like I reached a peak in the middle of my motherhood climb and was able to gaze down on the valley where I’d started my journey. I was able to clearly see, for that one brief moment, how far I really had come. I wish I could reach back and whisper to myself as I held fussy infant Raven in my arms, “Just wait–one day, this isn’t going to drive you crazy. In fact, if you could get a glimpse of yourself in five years, you would be amazed at how you’ve learned to juggle it all…and somehow not get frustrated. How you have learned to stop trying to make everything happen in a certain way and instead accept that whatever will be, will be—and even laugh about it.”
The second thing I noticed in the kitchen yesterday? That the tender mercies of the Lord are around me all the time, in the humblest of moments. Sometimes they come in times when I plead out in desperation and expect, almost demand, them. But some of the sweetest ones actually come when I just allow myself to pause in the midst of ordinary life, when there are dishes piled up in the sink and flour on the counter and dinner prep keeps getting interrupted by small children tugging on my pants or zooming their cars in and out of my legs.
I just need to take a moment to look for them.