I used to be the mother of very little people. I was frazzled and sleep-deprived, breast feeding and on call 24 hours a day. The days then were harder than they are now. There were times I thought, I can't do it. Someone else should do it. I'll get my husband to do it. He definitely would be better at it than me.
Those were the collapsible days, the ones that wanted to fold inside themselves.
I know those days were harder. I should remember they were hard and perhaps feel sad? But I survived them, and so it's a bit like labour. Most of us know logically that it hurt, to give birth. We remember every moment of the process and what we did when. But most of us, I think, don't physically remember the pain. The sense memory actually disappears, in order for us to be able to go through it again.
So when I looked back the other day and found an old email I sent to a friend, I could recognise that the day I had had then was difficult. I was tired when I wrote it, and was feeling pretty miserable. But… when I read it again, so many years later, I thought, Man, that's funny! Wow, that was a bad day! But funny too!
This is what I wrote, over seven years ago, to a dear friend:
If you want to know what went wrong with the day, I'll just say, Everything.
At one point I was in the grocery store with the two kids in the double stroller, pulling the shopping cart behind me, which wouldn't steer straight and kept crashing into my ankles. And then A started screaming with hunger (even though I'd breastfed her just before going out), and so I grabbed a pack of plastic spoons from a shelf, and a jar of baby food from another shelf, and had to plonk myself down in the aisle and feed her, with people walking past and looking down at me curiously. (Why didn't I go out of the store? Well I would have had to wait in the line to buy the spoons and food, so I thought, Do it now, pay later)
So then of course T started yelling about getting out of the stroller, and he wanted to play with the toys, and then the mask he put on his face got stuck so he started screaming about THAT, and then just as I was feeding a spoonful of food into A's mouth, she did a huge sneeze. So there I was—sitting on the store floor, with one screaming toddler throwing toys on the floor, one sodden food covered baby, and shoppers trying to get around me—literally sprayed from head to toe with pureed baby food.
Funny! Terrible, but so funny! Don't you think?
The mental image alone makes you just groan, and laugh, and say, I feel for you, mother of two young ones, sleepless and stuck. It makes you want to give that mother a sympathetic smile, an “I've been there” look, and maybe even a hug.
The email went on. It listed things that happened next, and the whole thing read like a set of dominoes going down, one, by one, by one.
But at the end of the email, I wrote how I loved my kids. I wrote about how the next day my son and daughter greeted me with a smile, and my son said he loved me. I wrote, “And life goes on.”
Which it does, doesn't it. It can't help itself—time passes, and things that were hard then have changed, or disappeared. New challenges come and time passes. Pain comes, and it passes. And you begin to see that even when things are hard, it won't always be the exact same kind of hard. You may even be able to laugh at those things one day, or find the positives inside them. Things may even get easier.
I feel for the mother I was then, but also admire the pluck I had. Because I went on with the day, and loved my kids that day, and kept on loving them and parenting them the next.
And I wrote a story about it that I think I actually knew was funny even then. Because a day that hard can only be laughable, ridiculous. You have to laugh at it, right in the face, if you can.
And then, you pick yourself up.
Try and find the redeemable moment in all of it.