This article was originally published on January 22, 2013.
I’ve been thinking about you lately–you moms with little children. Maybe you’re young, and maybe you’re not-so young, but I think having little ones keeps you youthful, right?
I want to say something to you while I’m close enough to that stage to remember what your life is like, but far enough outside to have a bit of perspective to offer.
My youngest child is 5 right now, and my oldest is 13. Life is busy and sweet, and we have lots of messes and mayhem (and frustrating nights where I totally vent into my journal and record all the details that bother me–so I can see them in black and white and realize that things will always get better), but life is not chaotic . . . like it used to be.
When my husband was going to graduate school, we lived in a modest apartment on campus with our three preschoolers.
I love this photo Eric took one evening as I was nursing Ethan and reading nursery rhymes to Alia. Grace couldn’t find any available “lap space,” so she grabbed her bottle of milk and just leaned against my legs.
That was my life.
One afternoon, I thought it would be fun to get everyone out of the apartment for a few hours and go to a special store in Boston called “The Christmas Tree Shop.” They had all kinds of toys, home supplies, and decor items (year round), and I was feeling up for an adventure.
So I bundled everyone up in their coats, hats, and mittens, got all three strapped into their car seats, and drove for 30 minutes to get to the shop.
Ethan was being fussy, so I put him in the front pack, draped a blanket over us, and let him nurse while I pushed the cart. (In hind sight, that seems incredibly awkward, but desperate times. . . .)
After shopping for 20 minutes, my cart was about half full, and I was feeling pretty excited about my purchases: a Dora tent for the girls, some curtains for our windows, a night light for Alia’s bedroom, and a few little knick knacks for decor.
“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom right now.” Alia said.
“Just a few more minutes honey. I’m almost done shopping.”
She started dancing. “Now, Mommy, now! I can’t wait!”
More dancing. More panic in her voice. (Turns out she had contracted a strange virus, and her tummy was totally unsettled.)
I rolled the cart over to the restrooms at the back corner of the store, parked it to the right of the ladies’ room door, lifted one-year-old Grace out of the cart, and proceeded to walk my two girls into a large stall in the restroom (still nursing Ethan).
Alia needed some extra time to take care of things–more than Grace could handle–so Grace slipped under the door and started running around the empty restroom.
Splash . . . Splash . . . SPLASH!
Suddenly I realized that little Grace was running into each of the other stalls and sticking her hands into the toilets (having a grand old time).
I opened the door to Alia’s stall so I could reign Grace back in, and Alia started screaming that someone was going to SEE her. Fortunately, no one else had come in, so I was able to grab Grace and direct her back into the stall, help Alia get cleaned up, get everyone’s hands washed (especially Grace’s), and then calmly exit the restroom (though inside my head I wanted to scream).
I’d spent so long in the restroom, however, that by the time I was ready to head to the check-out, the dutiful employees of The Christmas Tree Shop had re-shelved everything in my cart.
Isn’t that a fun story?
It makes me laugh now. (Didn’t then.)
Motherhood is utterly ridiculous at times, don’t you think?
But here is one idea that I wish I had known back then. (You’ve probably already mastered this.)
Several times, when I was in the midst of the mundane (sweeping, mixing formula, wiping spit-up, picking up toys), I wondered why the young, healthy, vibrant years of a woman’s life are also the prime years for childbearing.
Doesn’t it make sense (I reasoned) for women to have a chance to LIVE before settling down to raise children? (I wasn’t talking about waiting until our 30s or 40s–I was thinking it would be perfect to start around 60.)
I felt like I was spending the “best years” of my life changing diapers and trying to sleep while toddlers were piling My Little Ponies on top of me.
But now I don’t see it that way.
Now I think, “How lucky am I to get to spend the healthiest, strongest, most energetic years of my life as a mother!”
I can bounce on the trampoline–holding their hands in mine, boogie board with them, and jump up in a flash to provide kisses when they bang their foreheads on the edge of the table.
I can hold my babies on my hips (yes, I still hold Spencer sometimes), chase them up the stairs when it’s time for bed, and talk about boys with my teenage daughter–because it wasn’t really that long ago that I was going through her exact same time of life.
The more time I have to move forward on professional projects and travel the world, the more I realize that time spent with children IS living. (What on earth had I been thinking?)
I still have lots of years to pursue other adventures, but this adventure of young motherhood, which is too-quickly shifting to empty-nest-hood is a beautiful, beautiful time.
Just something to think about when your children are splashing in the toilet.
QUESTION: Have you ever had a crazy moment like the one described above? How do you maintain a healthy perspective when your life feels chaotic?
CHALLENGE: If you ever begin to feel like your time with young children is more exhausting than it’s worth, take a moment to step back and acknowledge the wonderful role you are playing in raising your little ones.
Koni Smith says
Love it, April! Thanks for the reminder! It’s fun to have a little one again (although I do miss the sleep) and a teenager as well. We are running the whole spectrum of kids at home! 🙂
Next to family, friends and the ocean, The Christmas Tree Shops one of the things I miss most about moving away from Massachusetts! We have a newborn at home for the first time in five years, and I thank my lucky stars because I can already see my 10, 7 and 5 year olds growing up and passing milestones that seemed light years away to me when I was a new mother. It goes by so fast, and I know I’m going to miss it desperately, even though I’ll be sure to enjoy the stages that come later in their lives as well. It’s amazing the difference between ‘new’ motherhood at 29 and ‘late’ motherhood at 40 – if I could only have known then what I know now!
April Perry says
How fun that you shopped there too, Beth! It’s true . . . if only we could have known then what we know now. I guess it’s helpful that we’re sharing all these things with the young moms today, right? 🙂
Tiffany Sowby says
It goes by so quickly. Seems like just yesterday I considered myself a “young mother.” I find myself treasuring the days still at home with my 2 little boys more than I did with my older three. I wish I had known exactly how quickly those hard days would pass. Excited to see you not once but TWICE this week!
I think I needed this. I blogged about the day off we recently had–and the craziness of my family. My kids, 11, 9, 7, 6, 3, and 1, have been driving me beyond crazy and it is hard to keep my patience and my sanity. But, I am trying to refocus on the importance of just loving them and being with them now. Thanks for this post.
[email protected] says
I’ve actually been wondering if I’ll spend my entire life doing nothing but raising children. I have 9 of them, my oldest is almost 24 and my youngest is almost 2. By the time he is old enough to be on his own I will be in my 60’s.
At times I wonder what I was thinking, but I can think of nothing more important or fulfilling I could be doing with my time so I press on.
Love love LOVE this post. My kids are 8, 7, 3, and 2. We’re (mostly) out of the lack-of-sleep kind of chaos, but life with my extremely curious and energetic kids keeps me on my toes. I’ve often wondered the very same thing. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was shopping with my two littles and saw a sweater I wanted to try on. The kids were running out if patience with the trip- so I decided to skip the dressing room and try it on right there in the store (over my shirt). As soon as I got it over my head, they both took off in opposite directions. I tried to whip the sweater off quickly and go after them, but in my haste I accidentally took off my shirt with the sweater. So embarrassing, but hilarious in hindsight. It was actually even a little bit funny when it happened. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh.
I really needed this today!! I am a single mom who works full time outside of the home and then tries her best to take care of her three kids ages 5, 3, and 1 1/2. The two youngest girls have been sick and last night was my breaking point. I think I’m coming down with what they have had so I am already exhausted and not feeling great by the time I get home from work… I feel bad that I’m not giving the older one enough one on one time because he is at an age where he can occupy himself better than the others so I rely on him a lot. My three year old was using the bathroom by herself while I was trying to fix supper and pick up the house and help the oldest with his math homework. That’s when it happened. I went to check on her and found her helping the littlest use the potty too. I mentioned that they were both sick well, the little one was on the potty, but she didn’t make it all the way, there was diarrhea all over the floor (and walls) and my three year old was trying to “help clean up” by dumping an entire bottle of liquid soap onto the mess. I lost it. I sat on the floor and cried. For a long time. 🙂 Finally, I had to pick myself up off of the floor and I got the mess cleaned up and I burned supper in the process. I told the kids we were having cereal for supper, which they loved, and we spent the rest of the night cuddled up in my bed so that everyone could be next to mommy and we watched movies.
I think what gets me through is knowing that I’m the only one there to do it, so it has to be done. Sometimes that makes the things I should be enjoying with my children much more of a chore to me.
That is why I love your posts. My mom is passed away, and I don’t have any girlfriends who are in my situation and can relate to what I am going through. I look to the posts on your site to give me perspective and help me take that step back and realize what an amazing thing I am doing. I am so certain that one day I will look back and marvel at what I accomplished. I thank you and all the contributors on your site for helping to pull me out of my funks on the days that I feel like I am not good enough and when I start comparing myself to other mothers I see out there who look like they got it all together. My goal this year is to relish in the everyday and to be more present with my children. To recognize that we are creating memories in the everyday moments and not just the planned events.
I hope that one day I will be able to make it to a Power of Moms event. I think it must be so empowering to just even be in a room with so much knowledge and wisdom from other mothers. It would be extremely comforting for me. Till then keep up the great work, and thank you for inspiring me everday to be more than just an overworked and underpaid and never appreciated Mom.
April, Wendy, Stephanie, Jessica, – I love all of your stories about the craziness of having young ones. I am working on writing a little book and am collecting anonymous stories from mothers. I would love to include these in my book if it is ok with you guys. A ‘go ahead’ can be sent to charlamajeran at gmail dot com. I’d love to mention this website in the book if that helps at all.
One of the completely unexpected things I learned from my son is that babies really don’t grow as quickly as everyone tells me. And I’m sure lots of people will contradict me…But this is my experience so far. My son is nearly 3 and in many ways still “a baby” and while filled with many good moments, those 3 years were longest in my life. And sometimes I feel I should have waited to have children longer. But on the other hand, it does comfort me, that when it is time to do more just for me I will still be young enough to fully enjoy it 🙂
I have still not taken the plunge for baby number 2 and not sure I can take any more craziness, you’re very brave lady 🙂
I am a mother of three children ages 5,3, and 2. I am also pregnant with twins. I am extremely happy to be a mother. I have always wanted to be a mother of a lot of children. It has been my dream since as long as I can remember. I have had so many crazy moments that I don’t know where to begin. I have had many days, of kneeling on the floor cleaning up a mess crying and hoping that the messes will end. I often feel that there are not many women who can relate to me or at least not many who will admit to the chaos, so it is very good to read your stories.
April Perry says
Congratulations on your twins and on the wonderful family you are creating! Oh, the stories you could tell, I’m sure! Thanks for commenting here, and I wish you the VERY best with your exciting life as a mom. I heard once that motherhood “is the hardest job you’ll ever love,” and I liked that. xo
Charla Majeran says
Heidi – I think I might be able to relate to you. After my third child I suffered from post partum depression. Life for me was literally crazy. Getting to sleep through the night has really done wonders for my sanity but life with kids is full of chaos. And I agree with you, it is so helpful to read stories of other women who are struggling just like you are.
Tricia Prues says
Awesome, April. Thanks for sharing this again. Very encouraging as I raise my 7 mo old with a 3 year old who is utterly sweet and gets more strong-willed by the day.