I long for the days of rocking a sweet, milk drunk babe and watching the clock tick away the minutes of sleep I could be getting. I miss the sheer exhaustion of those nights, holding tiny fingers in mine, knowing good and well I will be borderline comatose at work the next day. But even in the thick of sleep deprivation, there was a pure cadence to the newborn life. Bottle feeding, swaddling, nap, rousing with coos and giggles, tummy time and tears, soothing, cradling, rocking, another bottle, another nap, and on and on it goes. Aside from the exhaustion, it was rhythmic, simplistic and beautiful.
Some may argue otherwise, but for me, those were the uncomplicated days of parenthood. What I’d give to have that mindless rhythmic routine be my life again.
Now in place of sleepless exhaustion, there’s another level of exhaustion I never knew existed. Instead of late-night newborn wails, I’m kept awake by the endless anxiety and indecision of parenthood. Which preschool do I choose? Is it wrong to ask a four-year-old for his opinion? Is it wrong to ignore his opinion and just do what you think is best for him? Do I force my eight-year-old to stay in a sport she’s telling me she wants to quit even though that’s all she does at home? Why do I have one kid that’s willing to try new foods and one that’s adamantly against it even though I’ve raised them both the same way? Am I spoiling them? Am I spending enough time with them between work and school? And on and on it goes.
I think back to that moment when the nurse first told me I was being discharged from the hospital with my first child, and I felt like I was being fed to the wolves. Here’s this tiny, fragile creature and they’re trusting that I’ll just know what to do with her when I walk out those hospital doors. Pure terror. But then I got home and I realized that even though my daughter couldn’t tell me what she needed, newborn life was formulaic. There are only so many things she could need or want, and it all centered around basic, obtainable necessities that I could still manage to provide, even if I was exhausted.
Newborns are easy.
But then the day came when it didn’t center around me. Both of my kids started having these big emotions, needs, desires, and it’s no longer something as simple as needing a nap or a bottle to calm them down. Perhaps there’s a playground bully involved or even worse, an insecurity that I can’t help heal. I managed to make it to 34 years of age without needing a therapist, but this year, the exhaustion wore me down. Not that there’s anything wrong with therapy, but it was just so much easier when they were just babies, that fit in the crook of my arm as I rocked them to sleep.
I know when I look back on it, it won’t be the newborn days that I remember or even the anxiety of the toddler and youth years. I’ll remember my son graduating from preschool, whichever one it is, and fondly remember the excitement on my daughter’s face as she nailed her first back handspring. It won’t matter what they ate or what they didn’t eat.