I never know how to answer when people say, “I don’t know how you do it!” seeing me with three little ones, car seats completely dominating the backseat of my SUV, and more hands than I can hold at once.
It comes from friends who have witnessed my transition from working mama to work-at-home mama blessed with one, then two, and now three so quickly. It comes from strangers at the grocery store; they’re too far removed from the trenches of parenting little ones that they can’t imagine again enduring the physical and mind-numbing exhaustion.
When we were big time in the weeds with three kids ages three and under, the baby was struggling with colic and reflux (which meant we were all struggling with colic and reflux). I never had time to shower, brush my teeth or hair, or even pee (and never alone), I felt like I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t being present enough for my two big kids (and “big” was relative here – a mere three and one-and-a-half years, respectively), I wasn’t patient enough, I didn’t have enough energy. I didn’t read to them enough; I didn’t get down on the ground and play with them enough. I didn’t keep the kitchen clean, I couldn’t keep up with the laundry, and I didn’t cook. Like ever.
But one afternoon, as I sat on the couch (again) to nurse the baby (again), I witnessed my sweet middle child “shuuush-shhh” her baby doll and rock her in the play cradle. Then she picked her up to give her a kiss, wrap her in a blanket, and say “I wuvf you” before lying her back down for a nap.
In the midst of my insecurities and thoughts of not being enough and not doing enough, I realized I was doing it.
Even if I was crabby and beyond exhausted, going on pieced-together snippets of sleep, and keeping up with the constant barrage of requests from people who needed me all day long, I was doing what I’ve been called to do in this season. I thought I was showing my children all of the ugly parts of me, but they saw the best. They saw me mothering the best I could as I navigated the newest transition for our family. They saw me giving out kisses and hugs and “shhhuhhh-shhhhs”, and “I love you”s, even when I thought I had nothing left to give.
I read bedtime stories, tucked toddlers under covers, and checked closets for monsters and bears. Everyone ate. At least a little something. Five times a day. (Bless you, friends that brought us meals and basically fed our family for essentially six weeks.) We went for walks, and breathed in fresh air, good for our souls, my sanity and relentless toddler energy.
My kids fell asleep knowing they were and are loved. My husband did the same. Because I showed up. And I tried. And I didn’t do it all, but I did what I could.
When people ask, I think I usually answer that well-meaning questions with something offhanded like, “Oh gosh, not well at all!”
It’s easier than being honest about the meltdowns we take turns having, how the mess that my husband and I pick up night after night sometimes consumes me, and that sometimes I’d rather clean than play tractors. I do try to give my kids my undivided attention when they ask for it and banish the to-do list running through my head. It’s also easier than sharing how we co-parent and divide and conquer once my husband walks through the door at night – me cooking, him rough-housing to expel any last bursts of energy, one of us cleaning the kitchen, one of us getting kids in and out of the tub, teeth brushed, hair combed – but always together for books and bedtime snuggles. It’s easier than explaining how I use every minute of naptime for work, and sometimes for hours in the evenings, too – even in the dark of the early morning with the only light coming from the glow of my computer screen. It’s equal parts isolating and rewarding, tiring and invigorating.
The truth is I need to say that I’m just doing it.
Sometimes not well, but always well enough. Well enough still provides security, and smiles, and hugs, and kisses, snacks and full sippy cups, shhhuhhh shhhs, and I love you’s. I’m doing what I can, and my children see the best.
And yours do too.
(All photos from my dear friend Bethany of Meysenburg Photography.)