MOM! Mom! MOM! MAMA!
I peel my eyes open and check the clock. It’s 3:34 a.m. I take a deep inhale and slowly exhale. Some nights, in that space of time, she falls back to sleep and I do too. But I can tell by the calls that continue to come, not this time. So as sweetly as possible at 3:34 a.m., I call back to her.
Yes, Elsie? What do you need?
I knew the answer. It was always the same. It’s been the same every single time. The answer keeps me exhausted. The answer never changes.
You, mama. I need you.
Facing a battle between awake-me and still-sleeping me, not wanting awake-me to win at 3:34 a.m., I throw my legs out of bed, feet gripping the soft carpet beneath. I put one foot in front of the other, taking heavy, labored steps. I make my way around the dining room table to the entrance of her bedroom. The night-air is illuminated by the light of a pink and white unicorn nightlight. The blankets have fallen off her princess-pajamas and her eyes are bright with anticipation.
Mom, lay with me for just one minute, please?, she pleads.
And I do. Each time. I lay with her at 3:34 or at 2:41 or 1:57 in the morning for one minute or five minutes and at this point, awake-me has celebrated victory. I run my fingers through her soft blonde hair and I watch her drifting back to dreamland. She’s safe and she’s secure and she’s beautiful.
And I’m tired.
But another battle takes shape in my mind, this one between my mind right now in this moment and my heart of the future. My mind right now in this moment wants the warmth of my own bed and a three-year-old who consistently sleeps through the night. My mind right now in this moment wants equal work between me and her dad during nighttime, but during nighttime wake-ups, she only wants me. We’ve tried sharing the work, but it results in tears and bad feelings and is honestly, just a lot more work than my zombie-like walk to her bedroom some nights. Resentful, I am not. Tired, I am.
And my heart of the future longs for those words.
Mom, I need you.
Mom, lay with me for just one minute.
Because my heart of the future remembers just figments of the sweetness of her voice, and only somewhat how that hair felt exactly as my fingers made their way from front to back. I am no fortune teller, of course, but I know my heart and I have a pretty good guess that longing for those things and for those moments, it will.
To the moms and dads and aunts and uncles and grandmas and grandpas who share work in the village that it takes to raise our tiny children while they are tiny, I want you to remember this:
They won’t need us like this always.
So those moments for you, whatever they are - the games we play at the dinner table to encourage eating one piece of something, the fights over nap times or bath times or dinner times, too - they’re temporary. The meltdowns in the grocery store or the seasonal flu that we become the world’s best nurse during - they’re fleeting, actually. And the soft and sweet words when our babies and little ones honestly and genuinely tell us their truth - that they need us, even for just one sweet minute at 3:34 a.m., is just that - a minute, a moment. We live through it and then it’s gone.
Let’s find the joy there. Let us own the feelings of tiredness and let us figure out how to cherish those moments where we are the most exhausted. Because we’ve earned it. Joy exists and is so rich in those moments where we feel down and out, when we feel just done - when we have to rise up and reclaim our value, and let the heart of the future win, every time.
Because the heart of right now will thank us.