At the beginning you’re just a tired little Mom engine struggling up a mountain of sleepless nights and stanky diapers, sometimes literally crying over spilt breast milk. Days and weeks which bleed into one another, glued together with a refrain of I think I can, I think I can, I think I can hauling your tired ass into bed.
And most days you could. Others…not so much. Sputter, sputter, and chugga, chugga, stall and collapse.
Things usually get easier. You crest, coast downhill for a while, the big, black mountain of early mom-dom in the background as you steam competently over flatlands, slow and steady. You can sit back and take your hands off the controls for a minute. Breath. Sleep. Read a book.
Then BOOM! Suddenly you’re in a tunnel picking up speed, barreling toward that light you’ve been waiting for since those exhausted nights, those endless days when you thought one more redirected tantrum would push you over the edge of sanity.
Except now that light? It’s too damn close.
I want to turn around.
I want to go back and chugga chugga along for another little stretch.
My anxiety trigger has always been time. Ok, food too, but mostly time. For so many years I piloted that parenting local, seemingly stopping every few feet, feeling like we would never reach our destination.
Now here I am, on the express.
The panic has set in. Do I have enough time to tell them all I want to, to love them as much as my heart will hold? But there will never be enough time, my heart will never be big enough to hold that, no flesh can. This wild mother love is born of magic and heat soldered together with something unworldly. And right now the seconds and minutes and months are speeding by so fast it’s in danger of bursting out of my chest altogether.
These moments hit me unexpectedly. Not with the slow coalescence of a ghost of the past coming to greet me, but with the force of a freight train bearing down, suddenly and out of nowhere. I am a damsel tied to the tracks, a shiny penny on the rails unaware it’s about to get flattened. An unexpected memory, a reminiscence. Recently a detour down a long-forgotten road flooded me with the sharp recollections of pushing a stroller through Brooklyn side streets. It hit me so hard I felt it physically, like a closed fist to my heart.
How can this be? How can those bundles I silently begged and sometimes even cursed to go to sleep through the night or leave me alone for five minutes, how could they be this much closer to actually leaving me–not for five minutes, but for forever?
Oh, the days are still sometimes long, still filled with homework reminders and the teeth brushing bits. Have you studied? Do you have your wallet? Your keys? Those questions have replaced the frantic maternal chorus of Don’t choke on a grape! and Did you wash your hands? The conversations are grown up. The lessons heavier, the stakes higher. The absences longer.
There is a hole opening up in the space near my lungs, tucked behind my rib cage, and there are days when I’m at a loss as to how I’m going to fill it. There can’t possibly be enough hobbies or vacations or books full of words to occupy that space. It’s too stretched out from babies and needs and wants. Stretched too thin, like a balloon within a second of bursting, stretched around this muscle that is motherhood–the one that beats and contracts not just with my own breath, but with theirs as well.
What am I going to do?
You sign up for this malarkey knowing it will come, knowing they’re going to leave. You think it will be different when it’s your turn, but it’s not. Not really. Last week a formal dance, suit pants and a button down and tomorrow it’ll be a graduation cap and then fast forward to a I hope we see him for Thanksgiving plea. And meanwhile the hole thrums and sings like a phantom limb.
I’m not ready. There are days, like the other one, when I cannot breathe. When all I can do is watch in fascination as I barrel forward, train song ringing in my ears. It’s the same tune whistling there, except it’s no longer I think I can, I think I can.
It’s make it stop, make it stop, make it stop.