I sat on a bench watching Dudeasaurus playing in the sandbox; he was happily lost in a world of shovels and sand cakes. 6-month-old Mookasaurus was slowly falling asleep at my breast, his eyes drifting closed as his warm, soft body relaxed in my arms. I absorbed the moment and tried to preserve it; this was the picture postcard of perfect parenting.
Yet I knew that long before bedtime I would be tired, exhausted, done.
And thus I stumbled upon the metaphor of a bucket of sand, and mine had a hole in it.
Imagine a bucket. Most of us start our parenting journey with a full bucket — you’re high on love for this tiny, helpless, beautiful creature as well hormones and maybe drugs. You’re optimistic and hopeful for the future. This is the sand, the good stuff.
Then life gets in the way. Sleepless nights, breastfeeding issues, colic, well-meaning “advice” from every corner. Guilt about everything you’re doing or not doing or not doing right. Health problems, relationship problems. Slowly, grain by grain the sand drains out of the bucket. Yet another screaming diaper change and another scoop is gone. A screaming argument with your partner about who’s making dinner and a handful is dumped out.
Before you know it, the bucket is half empty — or perhaps only half full. You’re tired and snappy. Baby’s bedtime can’t come soon enough but by then there’s nothing left in you for you so you collapse in a heap until you’re woken by someone needing you, again. Easy things become so hard. Thinking becomes impossible. You move as if through treacle.
But the bucket can be replenished. A good night’s sleep, a moment of relaxation, baby’s first smile, the sweet moments of babyhood and childhood and parenthood begin to refill it. Watching trashy TV alone or with adult company, or having a conversation that doesn’t involve mention of poop, milk or sleep. Laughing. Reading a good book. Finding the single crazy thing that helps baby sleep on her own to allow you a moment to yourself. These things slowly fill the bucket again.
Hopefully, the bucket reaches equilibrium. Yes, there are bad days where nothing goes right and everyone yells too much and you don’t know how you’re going to go on. But that’s balanced by the good days where the laughs outnumber the tears and baby takes his first steps, and the average, everyday days that make up most of all of our lives.
But sometimes, Dear Liza, the bucket gets a hole and the sand comes tumbling out. No amount of giggles or date nights seem to be able to keep it topped up. The solution is of course to fix the hole, but that means finding straw. A good start is to let go of the Mom-guilt and tune out the advice that just feels wrong. Find your tribe or build a support network. Find a way to finally catch up on sleep!
Of course, Dear Henry, like the song it can become a cycle — you need energy to do those things but you have none; you need a non-leaky bucket in order to repair your leaky one. Fixing the hole with anything that comes to hand can stem the flow just enough to figure out a more permanent solution. Getting a cleaner and babysitter for a few hours to take some pressure off may be enough. Meeting an old friend and having a real heart-to-heart could help make long-term solutions clearer.
In our house, the solution turned out to be a weekly evening break and morning off for me. It took a few false starts (first the breaks just didn’t happen, then they didn’t help) and lots of talking, miscommunications and more talking. But finally the hole seems pretty well plugged. I now swim most weeks and stay right out of the way in the morning, even if that means Dudeasaurus is late to school or arrives without a water bottle or with just a jam sandwich (literally bread, butter and jam smashed together, not even cut). The breaks don’t always happen, for one reason or another, but for now at least it’s enough to keep the sand in.
We all know that sand gets everywhere. But next time you empty half a sandbox from your kid’s shoes, instead of getting annoyed at the mess maybe think of one way — big or small — you can pour the sand into your own bucket.
Then, perhaps, you’ll be able to approach your bucket list with all the energy of a 4 year old in a sand box.