Seven and a half years in, three kids deep – somehow, I know the kinds of shrieks and cries in the middle of the night that mean that someone is sick.
Laying on the couch, watching reruns on Netflix with the husband, our minds had both started to drift off to the idea of it being Friday, of bedtime and sleeping in the next morning.
Then we heard the littlest one cry out. Somehow I knew.
We were greeted with the smell of what I can only consider toxic bile when we walked into her room. Stomach bugs always emerge long after the kids have gone to bed, didn’t you know?
I snapped into formation. Peeling soaked pajamas off of her while she cried in confusion, and I’m sure in horror. I equate throwing up to anarchy in the universe. What is going on? What is happening? Nothing makes sense anymore. This is horrible!!
It is literally an existential crisis.
God gives moms the ability to not be grossed out lots of times when we really probably should be, though maybe not always, I chanted to myself. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind as I scooped her smelly body up, and down the stairs we went. Directly to the bath, do not pass go.
We cleaned her up. Lysol’d and Febreez’d her room. Pondered whether our faithful purple flannel sheet was a lost cause, or if we felt like even trying. Poor Mickey Mouse, he was covered.
We cleaned her up. Gave her some water. She wasn’t sure about brushing her teeth. I plopped her in bed with me, where she proceeded to squirm and wriggle and poke my forehead with her index finger for the next forty minutes, before I gave up and put her back in her bed.
She woke me up a few hours later, where we repeated this same disgusting and tedious process. The sickness. A bath. Her wanting to snuggle in bed with me before she gave up and went back to her bed of confusion and terror. And then again another hour after that.
Somewhere between swiping her mattress with paper towels, peeling off her soaked pillow case (she has effectively now run us out of extra sheets and pillows), and being poked in the forehead with her tiny index finger, I realized how long it had been since I had an up- and-down-and-up-again night.
I was telling a friend of mine recently that the moment you start catching a break, the moment they start sleeping through the night, eating their vegetables without complaint, letting you dress them, not resisting you at every turn, you get soft.
Your body is quick to put those memories out of your mind about how you had to feed your fifteen month old blueberries while she laid in bed on your chest because she wouldn’t go back to sleep.
Your mind is quick to forget what it’s like to marathon nurse all night while your newborn turns your nipples into ground beef.
Your mind is quick to forget what it’s like when they turn two, and stomp their foot and scream “no!” at you for the first time.
Your mind is quick to forget how they put a toy train in the oven, play-doh and coins down the heating vent, and dumped a bottle of sage that they stole from the counter in their shoes when you weren’t looking.
You catch any break at all, and then you get soft. And then you have to fight to remember, and it’s like doing it all again for the first time.
My aim in this life, if I have learned anything worth saving after surviving four score and three years of toddlerhood (time is relative, toddlerhood is the longest time period in existence in case you were wondering), it’s that I don’t want to be the lady in the grocery store, wagging her finger at a young mother, telling her to soak up every moment.
If I remember nothing about vomit in my hair, pudding on my nice white sweater, crying and kicking the bottom of the fridge because I had to cancel date night, if I forget how it feels to be tired down on molecular level where I want to just gouge out my eyes when they hurt from being so tired – I hope I remember enough to be smart and wise enough not to be that woman.
That woman, with the brushed hair, mascara on both eyes instead of just one (and not smeared even a little bit), wearing clean clothes, putting her avocados and Kashi cereal in the cart as she buys groceries for just herself and her partner. Chiding the mom whose child is emptying the grocery cart one box of Nutrigrain bars at a time, whose child just sent an entire jar of salsa crashing onto the beige tile floors, to smile and enjoy it. Because it goes oh so fast.
I hope I can appreciate how soft I will have gotten as time drifted away from those toddler years.
I hope I can tell her, hey, I know how hard those years are. But you can do it. Heck, you’re doing it now. These years are special, sure. But don’t give up. You can make it.
Something like that. I hope I’m that woman. Who remembers before she speaks that she has probably forgotten,. She probably forgot a long, long time ago just how hard it is.
And I hope she remembers.