motherhood,  Parenting,  sleep issues,  toddlers

The long miles

I’m letting my infrequently napping almost 4-year-old stay up today, because his big brother is home and “too bored to live” when he’s the only bird chirping in the middle of the day. Luke, our resident 6 month old, has also decided prime time be his, and so I sit here answering emails, researching current events, reading articles, “working” while a pile of legos comes crashing down at one elbow and a fat bumbo-dweller eyes me over the top of his messy rice rusk.

This is not the “work at home” dream I lived for the first couples years of motherhood. Long, quiet stretches of nap time solitude were mine, day after day, and so dearly did I come to depend on them that if one little mister skipped even part of his nap, it threw me into a veritable tailspin. I’m not too proud to admit that I used to cry when one – or both – of my older boys refused to nap.

I need so much more rest than I’m getting, but I’m also learning so much.

It reminds me a little bit about my brief stint as a half marathoner. 6 races in about 2 years, one every 4 or 5 months. What began as a dare between grad school buddies became a surprising new hobby, and nobody was ever more shocked than I when I crossed another 13.1 mile race of my list.

And then, almost as suddenly as it began, it was finished. I’m not saying my running shoes are hung up forever, but I got married and subsequently semi permanently pregnant about 5 months after my last race, and suddenly I found myself in a whole new season, watching with incredulity as my body accomplished things I’d previously imagined to be impossible. Growing 4 children, nursing for a combined 37 months and counting, and buying pair after pair of disposable Old Navy skinny jeans as my shape-shifting self reemerged again and again as something – and someone – different.

I have been trying to reframe a lot of the harder pieces of parenting in terms of freedom and choice. (And oh, how I hate the connotation those two words have come to evoke when placed adjacent to one another. What a lie.)

Freedom because I freely chose – and I freely choose, even when circumstances present a false narrative to the contrary – to be here. To be here now, to be doing this with these children and this man, and to be in it for the long haul.

Choice because I could get up and leave. I could wake up tomorrow morning at the cock a doodle doo from the back bedroom summoning his secondsies breakfast at 5 am and I could just … not go. I could roll back over, ignore the cry, and drift back into dream land. Or I could jump in the car and head for coffee.

I think back to the frigid mornings in the dead of an Ohio winter when I first became a runner and to the sound of my alarm going off, summoning me to a 9 mile run in the local cemetery, and I can still taste the metallic dread at the back of my throat, the nausea of exhaustion and the resigned pre-dawn lacing of the sneakers. And then I contrast that with the other memories surfacing, the 5-miles-in runner’s high, the exhilaration of race day, the quiet pride of pulling a race t over my head months later, on my way out the door, remembering that I’d actually done it, that I’d logged those miles.

Motherhood for me, right now, is kind of like that. I look back with fondness and gratitude at my very first year as a mom, nervous and over-read and profoundly sure of myself on the outside and very, very lost on the inside, and I’m so glad to be here, 25 pounds heavier and hundreds of hours of lost sleep later, but calmer and more joyful just the same.

Most of the time.

The harder days are still frequent, and I have to remind myself constantly that bedtime is not the finish line, to lean into the hard middle miles while we’re cleaning and building and growing and I’m stepping on legos, and know that something – if not necessarily my abdominal muscles – is being toned and chiseled in these harder and more physically demanding little years.

We’ve had a foretaste of harder stuff the past week, a glimpse of the complications that await us in the years to come, when kids are older and problems are more complex. And while I face the future of parenting older children with expectant joy, I’m also experiencing just the faintest, the faintest wisps of nostalgia for the quiet, exhausting, overwhelming and joyous little years where nobody was ever not at my side, and where the hardest decisions I made in a day revolved around sweet potatoes versus butternut squash, and whether or not to throw in the cloth diaper and call it a disposable day.

I know that when I’m bursting with a houseful of hungry teenage boys in another decade, I’ll look back at this season the same way. So I’m trying to savor it, I really am.

I’m trying not to hate being here, on the proverbial mile number 7, out of breath and out of shape and longing to be “done,” wanting to put nursing and night feeding and and the endless rotation of pants sizes in the review mirror. But even when I get back to myself, so to speak, I’ll never again be with these same little people.

I might be a prettier, perkier 34-year-old mom next year at the park, but I might not have a 6 year old, by then, who still wants to be picked up sometimes, and who unabashedly loves my fluffy midsection. I might have longer stretches of sleep at night in another 6 or 12 months, but surely some other suffering will have cropped up by then, and I’ll be thinking back fondly of hours logged in the glider, nursing silently in the dark while the whole house slept besides us, the baby and I.

I do want to lean into this season. Even when, occasionally, I feel the need to pull back and scream. Literally.

But there are still miles to go. And one day I’ll marvel that those miles were logged under my own power, by God’s grace. And I’ll fit back into my skinny jeans and watch my lanky teenagers raid the fridge and make plans that don’t involve me, and I’ll feel a pang of wistful not-quite-jealousy for the me of today. Which is enough to make me want to put my shoulder into this Monday and giddy up.

Post race snap from 2007, leading me to believe that parenting is slightly more taxing than long distance running, based on appearances alone…