“Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”
My son shouted the word over and over again as he ran across the porch of his preschool towards me. Sometimes, this incessant repetition will provoke an automatic biological response that many mothers know well: stomach begins to clench, followed by hands, then jaw; nostrils flare; eyes close (or perhaps worse, roll); enormous willpower is exerted to keep from yelling, “WHAT?!”
But this time was different.
When I picked him and his sister up from school that day, I hadn’t seen them in nearly five days, the longest I’d ever gone without seeing my children since they were born. Thanks to a kind husband, I’d been able to get away for a long weekend with my best friend, whom I see only a few times a year because she lives on the other side of the country.
The trip came at a good time—right at the end of nearly two full weeks of preschool closings due to bad weather and about two months into my new gig as a work-at-home mom. My three-year-old son and 18-month-old daughter are both at rather difficult stages right now—the three-year-old is . . . well, three, and the toddler is at that tough crossroads between still needing a lot of physical assistance but wanting to do everything herself. I was feeling frayed around the edges, and a few days away was exactly what I needed to rest and renew.
And while I enjoyed the trip so much, I began to miss my kids intensely by the end of just the second day. Whenever I saw a toddler or a preschooler, I felt a little pang of that maternal longing that has gripped me ever since I felt that first flutter of movement in my belly when I was pregnant with my oldest nearly seven years ago. By the time I got back home, even though I was bleary-eyed and exhausted from a redeye flight, I couldn’t wait to see them.
So at pickup that day, my son’s cry of “Mommy!” was jubilant rather than demanding. He was as happy to see me as I was to see him. His little sister, too. Our reunion was joyous and exuberant, both kids climbing on me and all three of us exchanging hugs and kisses. I told my son how much I missed him, and he said, “Aww. I really missed you, too, Mommy!”
For the rest of the day, at all of those moments when I’d usually find myself frustrated—coaxing my son to pee before his nap, dealing with fickle appetites at snacktime, keeping the house from exploding due to the restless energy that crackles between the hours of 5:00 and 6:00, picking up the food my toddler has thrown on the floor for the fourth time at dinner, ignoring my son as he comes out of his bedroom again and again after bedtime, unable to fall asleep at the onset of daylight saving time—at each of those moments, I found myself simply happy to be with them. All of those moments that would often set my teeth on edge found me relaxed and smiling instead. My son’s obsession with touching my nose (“Can I touch your nose? Can I touch your nose? Can I touch your nose?” We are working really hard on bodily autonomy, so he has to ask before he can touch it. And he does. Over and over again.) seemed sweet and quirky rather than obnoxious and exasperating. My daughter’s constant need to be “UP!” in my arms was welcome rather than vexing.
I was actually reminded of the long, dark days, weeks, and months after my oldest daughter died, when I’d have cut off my own arm for the privilege of having a screaming, stubborn, rambunctious toddler annoying me constantly. I’d have given anything for all of those ordinary, everyday moments that drive us crazy. One would think (I would think) a parent who has lost a child wouldn’t ever need a reminder like this, but the truth is that while I feel a deep sense of gratitude for my children and perhaps have a more-acute-than-average sense of how fleeting it all is, I, too, can get stuck down in the weeds like everyone else.
So as that first-day-back went on, the question that kept running through my mind was this:
What if I could see my children with these fresh eyes every day? How might I be able to change my interactions with them if I could approach them each day with the same mindset that I had when I picked them up from preschool that day? A mindset that helps me get my head up out of the damn weeds?
I know this is so much easier said than done. When you’re in the weeds, you’re in the weeds. When that cry of “Mommy!” is demanding and crazymaking rather than jubilant and endearing, it’s so hard to remember that both tones of voice come from the exact same place—the enormous heart of a beautiful child who loves you and needs you even more than you need him (and that’s saying something).
But I’m going to try. When I feel that coin clink into the machine, when my stomach, hands, and jaw begin to clench, I’m going to try to think back to that moment at the end of my five-day trip, that moment when I was almost as anxious to see my kids as I was the day they emerged from my body, and I’m going to try to see these amazing kids of mine with those fresh eyes.