I saw myself at the playground yesterday.
I’d taken my kids to the park to enjoy the first 80 degree day of the year, and was guiding my baby down the slide when my daughter sprinted over, panting, “Mommy, that girl looks like you!” and pointed across the playground. Don’t point! I whispered, but followed my daughter’s finger across the playground to the tall girl pushing the baby swing 50 yards away. She does look like me, I thought. Not exactly–more like a younger me.
20 minutes later–after my daughter tripped headlong over the stranger’s diaper bag–we struck up a conversation. She was still pushing her chubby baby in the baby swing. “He’s 9 months old,” she tells me, “and he loves these swings. This is his happy place.”
I nod. I understood what she meant–she could have been describing my own child, many years ago. Encouraged, she told me just how much she was struggling with motherhood: her baby was demanding and cranky, despite her best efforts. He was rarely happy unless he was swinging or nursing. He was a horrible sleeper. She felt like a rotten mother, and she was so very tired.
Whoa. This stranger was me–the younger me. She must have been 25 or 26. How well I remembered myself at that age, standing at that very playground, pushing my own baby boy in those same swings–his happy place. He loved those swings.
New motherhood knocked the wind out of me. The pregnancy was a surprise, and my firstborn was a textbook high-need baby. I tried every technique known to mankind to soothe that baby boy, and he was still unhappy most of the time. Most mothers in my shoes would have spent every day counting the hours until bedtime…but what bedtime? He never slept. Neither did I. There was no respite, no time to recover. I felt like a rotten mother, I never got anything done, and I was so very tired.
And as this stranger asked me about my kids, saying does it get easier? I was overwhelmed with compassion for my own 25-year-old self that she was reflecting back to me: she was so clueless, so sincere, and so completely overwhelmed.
There’s so much I’d like to tell her, if I could.
First, I’d like to tell her she’s doing a good job. I know how hard it is, to love your baby so much–to work so hard to make him happy–and have so little to show for it. I’d tell her she’s not wasting her time, with all these hours she’s spending pushing the baby swing or pinned to the couch nursing. I would tell her it may not look like she’s getting anything done, but she’s doing so, so much for her baby.
Next, I would tell her to lose the guilt. I would tell her not to waste her time comparing herself to other mothers, or comparing her baby to their babies, or scrutinizing their routines for a glimpse of what she’s doing wrong. I would tell her she’s a good mother.
After that, I’d go on and tell her that it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. I’d tell her she’s in the middle of some tough days, but there are more challenges ahead. I’d tell her she will be better for it. She will find strength she never knew she had, and those struggles will give her a depth she wouldn’t dream of giving back. I would tell her that though she thinks this stage might break her, it won’t. But it is making her strong.
I’d tell her it’s okay to want to punch those women who tell her babies grow up too fast. Or at least to stare daggers at them.
And I’d tell her she’ll get some sleep, eventually.
But for now, I’d tell her it’s okay to be right where she is.
What would you tell your younger self, if you could?