The greatest contradiction of my life

It is 7:15 a.m.

I have already given a substantial pep-talk about the importance of a healthy breakfast. I have avoided a visit to the emergency room and a minefield about why I get to sleep in the bed with my husband while my 4-year-old son, Ezra has to sleep alone in his room. Just a typical 15 minutes in my life as a modern, work-at-home mom.

“I want candy now.” I stare in disbelief. We have this conversation nearly every day. If I ever decide to quit my job as a writer, I am confident I could be a hostage negotiator.

“You know why you can’t. Tell me. Why can’t you?” I prod, urging him to find the conclusion in the own tangle of his preschool mind. I read an article that said this is what I’m supposed to do.

“Because it’s morning.”

Yes. It is still morning.

The day has just begun but already as I sit to drink my coffee and feed my 11-month-old, Vea, I feel exhausted. I haven’t slept through the night in roughly 2-and-a-half years. Even when the children do, I bolt awake with a gasp at 3 am to check on them.

As a teenager, I professed that I wanted seven, yes seven, children.

It would be so much fun at my house, I thought. Early adulthood cast more realism over my desire to be a mom and I began to slightly dread it. Fear it, even. I still wanted it. But it seemed all the mothers I knew were sleep-deprived and wrecked with stress. I watched them muddle through each day in my corporate job and I feared for their mental health.

Then one day shortly before Christmas in 2011 two pink lines appeared on the pregnancy test purchased hastily from CVS to ease my conscious. Just like that, the universe flipped inside out. A few weeks later we saw the bubble swaying in my uterus as the technician waved the wand through the jelly on my abdomen. My husband, Michael, and I both cried hot, intrusive tears. Where did this love come from? Had it been there all along mingled with the dread? Or was the dread the wall I had built to keep myself from wanting it too much?

Moments after Ezra was born I felt this pressure in my chest.

It was an anxiety I hadn’t anticipated. I would never be able to relax the same way again. My body was bound to this earth in a holy and frightening way. If I died unexpectedly, I knew my spouse and parents and siblings would go on just fine. But not this child. Especially not now when my body was literally his lifeline. He had broken away from my body, but just barely. Suddenly I feared dying.

People say you don’t know love until you have children. I don’t think this is true. But I do think few people realize love until they have children. They don’t feel its weight and mass until that tiny life is dependent upon theirs. Motherhood is so much love and so much sacrifice together all at once. I have never loved doing anything as much as I love mothering these children.

But why, oh why, is it so hard?

I ask myself this question almost every single day. I look to my mother for guidance but motherhood 30 years ago did not look like this. I am a modern work-at-home mom. I’m not keeping up with the Joneses I’m keeping up with the #momlife. I’m supposed to hand make bows and feed my children organic cereals and host Pinterest-worthy birthday parties all while looking like freaking Jessica Alba.

I have to decide between attachment parenting, sleep training, and find my tribe of mothers. Will I be a crunchy mom, a tiger mom, a free-range mom? What the hell do all these terms even mean? Will we vaccinate? Will we use time-out? Will we ever sleep again? Will our children hate us?

All those questions aside, I love this life. I love the constant bustle and the teachable moments. I love the crafts and the excitement my son gets when we decide to bake chocolate chip cookies. I love the first few warm days of summer when we wear short-sleeve shirts and no shoes and stay outside all day. I love movie nights with popcorn and pizza. Despite the hardships, I love potty training and weaning and creating routines.

Motherhood is the greatest contradiction of my life.

It drains me dry and simultaneously fills me up. It is utterly boring and absolutely thrilling. Time lurches and sprints. I want to push them away and never let them go. I am always looking for a break from them but as soon as I have it, I miss them. I want to expose them to this great big world and shield them from this massive scary place. I worry I am not giving enough. I worry I am giving too much.

Aside from the sleep deprivation, I thought the hardest part about motherhood would be the actual taking-care part. The managing part. The juggling and balancing. Oh, and the sleep deprivation, did I mention that? But really the hardest part is learning how to take care of myself. Learning how to be kind to myself. Everyday I have to fight to stifle the guilt and shame I feel and instead focus on the wonder of these two amazing, beautiful, curious children I have.

Sometimes I muse at myself—how did I fill up my days before I had children?

When I was only working 45, 50 hours a week? Why did I feel so exhausted all the time? Although I fantasize about what it was like to move through life without the tether of motherhood, I was only the outline of the woman I am now. I had very little grit or determination. Not sleeping for the last 2 and half years has not made me weaker. It’s been a pseudo-Navy Seal training. Whatever life throws at us, I know I can make it through because last weekend my husband and I were both sick with a stomach virus and took care of two sick kids. I didn’t know how we were going to survive that weekend, but we did.

Some of my mom friends are single, have children with diabetes, twins, five children under the age of five.

How do they do it? I wonder.

Just like me. They just keep going.

They scrape into that primal instinct all parents have—to protect and preserve. The truth is the night my son was born my husband and I were also reborn. I remember weeping in the delivery room in with an audible wailing. I had crashed through my biggest fear of becoming a mother. This love is so big and scary.

I don’t know that I’ve ever cried like that before with such abandoned. This new amazing beautiful life that begs me for candy nearly every day, who insists that I am the one who should go to time out, who hugs me as if I have been gone for days when I’ve only been at the gym for an hour. This child birthed in me a new woman—a mother.

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