This past Monday night, I was at my wit’s end with my entire household.
Like many working moms, I look forward to the two hours of family time we get between the time we get home and the time the kids go to sleep. We try to keep our weeknights plan-free, with the exception of Monday evenings, when my daughter has gymnastics and our routine gets rushed in half. Normally it works out just fine; my husband cooks dinner with my son, and we all eat when we get home. This has been our routine since September with little drama.
But on this particular night, all hell broke loose the moment we walked in. My 6-year-old daughter was, for some reason, hell-bent on antagonizing her little brother. My 3-year-old son—usually a good eater—flat-out refused his favorite dinner. The dog wouldn’t stop barking at the deer outside, and my husband was a stress-ball, preoccupied with a certification he has to complete later this month. Bath-time was a disaster, I may have skipped four or five pages of my son’s bedtime story, and I rushed my daughter through her nightly reading.
It was one of those nights all parents wish to forget.
By the time they went to bed—45 minutes later than usual—I felt like a complete parenting failure. I’d yelled and I’d been impatient. Normally I’d hit the gym to make myself feel better, but it had started to snow. I knew turning on CNN would depress me, so I decided to binge watch the last three episodes of “This Is Us.”
In one of them, there’s a scene where Rebecca is at the end of her pregnancy with triplets. She’s sitting in a rocking chair in her unborn babies’ nursery, staring at three empty cribs. Rubbing her big belly, she begins talking to them—sharing her hopes and fears about becoming a mother. Watching the scene unfold, I couldn’t help but be transported back to the awe I felt in my own daughter’s nursery more than six years ago.
I remember walking by her crib each morning and wondering what it’d be like to have a wiggly infant swaddled up in there. I remember rocking in her rocking chair and wondering what the weight of her body on my chest would feel like. Or what nursing would feel like—would it hurt? I remember organizing onesies and teeny baby socks in her dresser and imagining them on her. I remember practicing pushing her stroller with a diaper bag on my shoulder—not knowing how many diapers and outfit changes would really be necessary for those early newborn blow-outs (word to the wise: two extra outfits = not enough!). There was a blissful and sweet ignorance to it all.
To me, Rebecca was experiencing that “space between” in motherhood that I am pretty sure all moms experience at one point. It’s that limbo when you’re either pregnant or about to bring home a baby you’ve adopted: You are not quite a mother yet, but about to cross over—from a world where you know nothing to a world where you will still know nothing (but are somehow supposed to instinctively know everything!).
It’s terrifying, it’s exhilarating, it’s awesome… and it only happens once. I say this because, though I had plenty of similar moments of awe before my son was born, it felt different the second time around: We were in the know now. We weren’t parenting experts, but nearly three years into the gig, we had an abundance of institutional knowledge we could draw on—which meant most of those first-timer fears and anxieties were absent. I still loved feeling his kicks and watching him roll around in my belly—but it wasn’t new. And, because I knew how he’d be delivered—via Cesarean like his big sister—even that part, which usually varies a lot from pregnancy to pregnancy, wasn’t unique.
Yet there was a comfort in all this: the “knowing.”
One of the best parts about “This Is Us” is that the storylines are not told in chronological order—so you see multiple age versions of each character. Rebecca talking to her babies is the same Rebecca we see years later struggling with her tween daughter’s weight issues, missing her singing life pre-kids, or facing unexpected challenges of raising a black son in a white family, to name a few. As Rebecca talked to her unborn babies, I bawled my eyes out—because I could see so much of myself in her. The unsure mom-to-be worried about what’s to come and how she’ll be as a mother—and, later, the veteran mom who lays down the law and sometimes maybe skips some pages at bed-time.
That night, as I do every night before I go to sleep, I went into each of my kids’ rooms and kissed their foreheads. I lingered a little longer than usual watching them sleep, realizing that, for as much as I know them now, at 3 and 6, I don’t know anything beyond what I know in this moment. Anything beyond the here and now is unchartered territory. In this moment, I can tell you Ben loves “Paw Patrol,” blackberries, soccer, race cars, and being his sister’s sidekick. And I can tell you Maya loves Shopkins, gymnastics, olives, dolls, soccer, art, playing pretend/dress-up, and leading her brother around. They love one another and get annoyed by one another—typical siblings. But will they always be close? My siblings and I are; I can only hope that is the case with them. And what challenges will the awkward middle school years bring? Then it’s high school and boyfriends and girlfriends and driver’s licenses, then college and careers, maybe marriages or families of their own if they so choose… it’s a world of unknowns—and there is excitement in that.
Looking back, if I could tell that nervous mom in the nursery anything, I’d tell her two things. First, that the plunge into motherhood is the most incredible and bewildering gift on earth. And second, that she should be more forgiving toward herself on bad days because kids love unconditionally, something we learn the moment a baby is placed in our arms. When we “cross over.” When we know.