Last weekend, we had one of those nights where you cry and you curse and you wonder if you’re ever going to sleep again.
The kids had a cold. So naturally, because they spend so much time spitting in my eyes, I caught it, too.
I thought they were better – but as I lay me down to sleep, feeling good about getting them all to bed by eight – I heard my daughter coughing.
My eyes blinked open. I laid there and listened, I tossed and I turned, for an hour. Then two. I administered medicine, and a spoonful of honey. I went back to bed. Another hour went by. I laid with her and rubbed her back. Still no sleep. I went back to bed. For another hour, I stared at the ceiling.
When finally I heard the telltale sound she was about to be sick, I ran from my bed to hers, just in time to watch her throw up on the white duvet.
And I was angry. Not at her, but at not being able to sleep when I was sick.
I didn’t want to be angry. I wanted to be kind and sweet. I wanted to be what she needed. Instead, I asked “Why?” out loud. Why tonight, when your dad isn’t here to help me? Why tonight, when I need to sleep so I can get better? (And be a better mom.)
I pulled her hair out of her face as she threw up some more, mostly into the toilet. I cleaned her up, put her in a different bed, and woke her older brother to tell him where she was and not to wake me if he woke up wondering. I bleached the bathroom and threw the duvet into the wash.
Now it was midnight. I could finally sleep.
But at one o’clock, he did wake up wondering. And he wondered as he wandered to the foot of my bed, where you feel a child’s presence like a bad dream. I sat up, screaming. I marched him back to bed and made him feel bad and made myself feel bad, too.
Now it was two in the morning, and I was still angry. But I was also sad. I was sad I wasn’t sweeter and stronger and more in control of my emotions. And I was tired. I’m always tired.
I laid there and worried, anxious to know what lesson this terrible night was trying to teach me. In that moment, I realized my kids weren’t keeping me awake to torment me. They were sick and sad and scared, just like me.
Instead of being a source of comfort to them, I made it about me. But when you become a parent, it’s not about you anymore.
It’s about taking care of the little people you get lucky enough to love, and tending to their needs at the expense of all the things you need. (Like a shower, a nap, or an extended stay at an oceanfront hotel in a fuzzy bathrobe with breakfast in bed.)
It can be really easy to yell. Easy to get angry. Easy, especially when you’re exhausted, to believe they are keeping you up all hours of the night on purpose.
But it’s also easy to forget they won’t always need you. They won’t need you to pull the hair out of their face or push them higher on the swing. They won’t need to hold your hand, but they will always hold onto your heart – and if you’re lucky, the memories of all the happy days will shine brighter than the darkest, sniffliest nights.
I’m not the mom I thought I would be.
My van is full of crumbled crackers and littered art projects and fast food receipts. My house is full of mismatched shoes and unfolded laundry and Peppa Pigs in the tub. But my heart is full of love for my little family, even when I’m sick and tired of being tired and sick.
I am not always good and I’m not always kind. I can’t control my temper any better than I ask of these little ones who lose theirs – but they forgive me, again and again. And I’d be lost without them.
Lose yourself in the everyday glittery, sticky, outside-the-lines art of being a mom, and forgive yourself when you fall short of who you thought you would be.
Because your kids think you’re lovely, just the way you are.