I held my tiny boy in the front seat of my car today.
We were parked outside of Max’s preschool, tucked beside a tree, waiting for the clock on the dashboard to find the numbers that would signal it was time to rejoin the world. A damp burp rag hung from the sun visor, creating a prism of sun and light that played over Bennie’s jammies as I nursed him. When he finished, he popped off and tilted his head way back to look at me. He smiled his big, gummy smile. His sweet, soft cheek was pink from where it had been resting in the crook of my arm. And his eyes danced as he glanced from me, to the tiny leaves whispering in the wind, then back to look at me again.
We’ve been spending a lot of time in that front seat. I don’t always know where to go, in the time between leaving Max at school and picking him up. Of course there is always so much to do. Ben needs to eat, and he screams in his car seat, hungry or not. There are chores at home, errands to run, play-dates to join, groups to attend, invitations to accept. I’m just not sure that I’m comfortable yet with making a life on my own. Sometimes I’m afraid that it will feel too dark to be home by myself with a baby who doesn’t nap. I’m afraid that if I allow myself to retreat to the comfort of our living room, that I might not realize when it’s time to come out. If I sit quietly in the rocking chair, with Ben dozing in my arms, am I courting the isolation that depression ushers in? Other times I feel guilty, because I know I’ll enjoy the uninterrupted time sprawled out on the floor with Ben, trading smiles and losing myself in his sweet eyes and silly laugh. Ben gets the happy, playful Mom, and Max gets the tired, grumpy one? And I’m not always sure what I’m capable of accomplishing in just one morning, so I choose to do nothing. I try to schedule our mornings, so that I feel like I deserve the special time with Ben. Sometimes we do lie on the floor together at home, and I sing him silly songs that I’ve made up to fill the silence that surrounds us. It feels indulgent and wonderful. Or I pretend to be very busy, so that I can convince myself that I’m fine. See? I’m walking around the mall! Out in public, feeling very exposed! Everything is fine here! See? I’m at Target, SO much to buy! Gotta keep our household running! Busy, busy me! Oh look! The baby is asleep in the stroller and these cute ballet flats are 2 for $30! Just needed to pick a few things up! And suddenly, it’s time to pick Max up from school. Every day I try to hide my exhaustion and put on a happy face for him. The baby doesn’t care if I cry, but I don’t want Max to see. I desperately want to be the mom that he remembers, and not this mom. I am trying to be all things to all people. I want to be the mom that I used to be.
A well-meaning older woman stopped me in Starbucks the other day and commented on Ben’s smile. “It must be so luxurious to be out and about in the middle of the day!” she smiled. “So nice to be home with a baby!” My eyes filled with tears. “It’s amazing” I responded, and tried to smile back. “I have a four year old, too” I offered. Her eyebrows raised, and her smile faded. She clearly thought that I was scolding her, and reminding her that this wasn’t my first rodeo. It’s not. But that’s not what I meant. What I meant was, “Can it really be luxurious when I am stretched so thin? Can it really be just a fun day at the mall when I am desperate to find a way for both of my boys to know how very much I adore them?” This life is amazing, and perfect, and everything that I wished for, but I am still sometimes drowning in sadness and doubtful that I am giving each of them exactly what they need.
I miss my big boy so very much. The transition to five full mornings of preschool is heartbreaking and reassuring, all at once. He loves the vibrant, warm, welcoming community there. It is our second home, by now. He needs to be around people…he thrives on it. But there is a tiny part of me that longs for the days when I was enough for him. When we could wander through a pumpkin patch together or he could sit nestled next to me at our favorite Mexican food restaurant. I’m trying to balance the then and the now. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to squeeze everything that everyone needs into each day. So I stay close. I hunker down. I shrink the radius that we travel in. I do one thing. And I come back to that parking lot. I snuggle my baby. I wait for my Max. And I exhale as I feel my feet grow stronger beneath me.
Today, after Ben finished nursing, he laid back in my arms and turned his face toward the sky. The radio filled the car with the lilting words of “Let It Be”, and Ben’s eyes locked with mine as I smiled and sang each word to him. For a few moments, his wiggles paused while he melted into my arms.
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me.
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be
I felt pure joy in that moment. I was overwhelmed by my blessings, and my happiness made me feel free. I kissed my sweet boy, and breathed him in. He smiled wider as I sang. He nuzzled in under my lips as I pressed my face to his. We were caught in a moment of undeniable grace, tucked in the front seat of my car, dodging the sunshine behind a dirty burp rag.
I tucked Ben in my ring sling, and we walked into preschool to find our missing piece. Max cuddled up next to me as we sat in the corner of the music room together and sang a sweet welcome to Shabbat. He nuzzled Ben’s cheek and kissed his ear. He licked his arm. He laughed with him, and reconnected with him in a way that was instinctual and steadfast. And then he climbed into my lap and balanced on my leg, and threw his arm around Ben’s tiny shoulders. My lap was full. My heart was full. I don’t always know what kind of Mom I will be tomorrow, but at that moment, I was proud of the mom that I was today.
And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine on until tomorrow, let it be.