As with most things in life, there is a natural ebb and flow to parenthood.
Sometimes the tide comes in fast and strong. The ground is washed out from under you and you find yourself treading water, looking for something to help keep you afloat. Last week was like that. Sleep was hard to come by, as were long enough reprieves from my children to feel like I could reset. Tempers were short, tantrums and days felt long. I didn’t take time to care for myself and that seeped into my parenting.
But tides turn and the waters recede. You can touch the bottom again and there’s enough space to enjoy the sand and the water together.
We spent Monday out of the house with friends at the zoo. Our daughters, about 6 months apart, kept each other entertained with games of tag, imaginary cooking, and a shared desire to climb on every single rock despite numerous signs warning against it. Our sons, also about 6 months apart, were content to take in the sights from their strollers and carriers. There were almost no tears. My toddler ate the lunch I made for her. There were laughs. There was no rush to go anywhere or do anything. There was walking, and fresh air, and weather warm enough for no jackets in late October.
It was the tide going out and revealing the beach. It was a day I needed to reset.
I could tell just by how different the hustle and bustle of the bed time routine felt that night. After dinner I splashed in the bath with my son. My baby boy who says “dada” on repeat, who smiles almost constantly, who’s delicious rolls of soft, smooth baby skin become a little less rolly every day. My daughter, wearing only pink pants (her third pair of the day due to an accident in the car, then sitting again in the wet car seat) and a flower necklace, declined a bath despite a peppering of pesto from dinner on her face and chest. We wisely picked our battles and didn’t push the bath issue. As I left to go put my son to bed, I could see her standing on her step stool, animatedly telling her father about a magical school bus adventure. I could hear him trying to interject reminders to brush her teeth.
I listened and pictured it all in the light coming in from under the bedroom door. The hustle and bustle of one kid trying to draw out the pre-bed rituals, the other falling asleep in my arms as I rocked him. In the stillness of his bedroom, I listened to the sounds of our family, our house, our life. I tried to be present in the moment, for these moments are gone too quick. I rocked him a little while longer, even after he was asleep. When did my tiny newborn, the one I could snuggle comfortably into the crook of one arm, become so big? It seems impossible that already he is crawling, cruising, and gearing up to take his first unassisted steps.
When he was asleep in his crib, I joined my husband and daughter to read a final bedtime book. We turned her nightlight on and the reading light out. She snuggled in beside me and ran her hands through my hair, a practice which sometimes irritates me to no end, but tonight brought me peace knowing that it soothed her. I lay beside her and watched as her eyes grew heavy and closed, and she drifted off to sleep. When was the last time I rocked her to sleep? It seems impossible that one night I rocked her to sleep, put her down and never picked her up to rock her again. It seems impossible that next fall she’ll start school. When did my first tiny newborn turn into a big kid?
As with most things in life, I know the waves will appear on the horizon again and threaten to come crashing onto the beach. When it happens I’ll take deep breaths, tread while I have to, and look to family and friends for a place to climb out of the water for awhile.
The beach always feels best right after the tide has gone out. Right now, it’s the only place I want to be.