It was nearly midnight, and he still hadn’t given it up yet. There was a blanket of snow on the ground and more pouring from the dark sky. We had a warm fire going in the house and every room was hushed. It was the perfect setting for some little ones to lie their little heads down and drift off to dreamland. Still, there my husband and I were, bowl of popcorn in between us and a rented movie on the television, paused for what felt like the fiftieth time.
The wails coming from our son’s bedroom were a mix of tired and pained. Always a champion sleeper, I knew something was up. I trudged upstairs yet again and held him in my arms, rocking him in the dark. He wasn’t warm, and I knew he was full and dry. Regardless, he wasn’t happy and didn’t even calm down when I played our favorite song quietly on my phone. That trick always works, and when it didn’t, I resorted to Plan B.
We killed all the lights in the house, turned the gas logs off and headed to bed together as a family. I snuggled up beside my son and tried my best to calm him. He flailed his legs about and smacked me in the face, then curled up on his side, facing me. He opened his mouth wide and pointed to the back.
Even though every bone in my body was tired and even my eyes were exhausted, I didn’t go to sleep right away. I lied there propped up on my elbow and stroked his back softly.
Where did my little boy go? His long blonde hair is starting to curl just a little and it’s long enough to tuck behind his ears. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was dipping a comb in baby oil in a makeshift attempt to tackle his persistent cradle cap? Weren’t we just sitting together under the pecan tree two autumns ago, him in his bouncy seat not quite walking, and I in my skirt, gathering the fallen nuts that the storm had shaken loose? Wasn’t it just last month that he was tiny enough to fit into the cook of my arm?
Now, he’s growing every day. He’s running with his big sister and playing hide and go seek like a boss. He’s hilarious and talkative and opinionated and knows every character on his favorite shows. It happened so quickly I don’t think I even had time to notice the shift. It was a silent, gradual change that crept upon me when I wasn’t looking–when I was too busy washing the dishes or prepping the slow cooker or folding the work shirts. You put your baby boy down one day in a little white romper and you pick him up in overalls and a baseball cap.
I thought about all of those things while everyone finally rested beside me. That night was frustrating, and one I won’t soon forget. It reminded me that parenthood—for all its filtered Instagram glory—can actually be really, really hard sometimes. We can love our kids to the moon and back but if they pull out that play tunnel one more time from the closet or get up from the table to race around the kitchen, we soon realize that our reality looks very different when it’s right in front of us.
The thing is, though, that even the difficult, messy, incredibly challenging parts aren’t for nothing. They serve their purpose, even when we can’t see it at the time. I’m grateful for that night, even if we did end up only sleeping about five hours total. I’m grateful that my son needed me so much that he went absolutely batty trying to get a point across to me. I’m grateful I was able to go up those old and creaky steps to get him, gather him in my arms, and pull him in close beside me.
We’re parents, but we’re also people, and we’ll inevitably tire and become frustrated. Our wits will have ends and there will be afternoons when we wonder if the nighttime will ever come. I’ve been there, and I know you have too, mama. And like my son, reaching in the dark for some solidarity, for someone to look him in the eyes and say, “I get it now, and I understand,” I’m here to tell you you’re not alone.