What can I say? I love being a momma. I mean that with all seriousness. The love I have for my child is unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is precious, terrifying, humbling, faith-inspiring, joyful, and pure in every intense emotion. The world looks fresher, filled with magic. It has also never looked so threatening. Danger lurks in strangers, table corners, electrical cords, bits of food cut slightly too large. Seeing my child smile at me, hearing his high, sweet voice sing or tell me he loves me, feeling his hand grab mine – I feel like I am in a living heaven. Even when it some might call it hell.
Yes, parenthood is not for everyone. So, for those of you who want to job shadow, I thought I’d map out my day today (a Saturday). A day in the life of a momma of a toddler…. What better way to get a feel for it? To try it on, no strings attached, to see if you like it before making the unbreakable commitment? Knowledge is power, after all. Fasten your seatbelts ladies and gentlemen!
4:30 AM You are wakened from an awesome dream to the sound of your child calling, “Momma.” You can tell from the sound – don’t ask me how – that he is calling from the bathroom, that he has just gone poo, and needs his bummy wiped. Your husband sleeps like the dead as you get up to wipe a tiny bum. It takes three times to come clean. Surprisingly, you are able to successfully negotiate with your kiddo for a few more hours of sleep. Somewhat shocked at your success, you return to bed.
5:35 AM You are jarred out of an “almost” sleep (to which you have just returned after the bottom wiping) by a terrified wail. It is unlike anything you’ve ever heard. It is full of tremendous fear, and your adrenaline surges you into instant lucidity. As your husband continues to sleep, you rush into your child’s room to find that he has pushed a Lego up his nose and it is stuck. You notice one side of his nose looks fatter toward the bridge. Thinking back on all the Facebook posts and parenting blogs you have read, you plug the other nostril and have him blow as hard as he can. The Lego pops out, along with a lot of snot, which he wipes from his face with his hand and onto your pajamas.
6:00 AM You are without question up for the day. In fact, while your husband sleeps, you are watching Lego City for the 100th time in three weeks. Your little one identifies all the Lego sets in the show that he owns and all the ones he thinks he should own. (Lego is brilliant!) On a good note, the episode is fifteen minutes long and the show is pretty creative. However, it is the 100th time you’ve seen it, fifteen minutes is still fifteen minutes, and your amazement at the show’s creativity permanently died 94 viewings ago.
6:30 AM Your little one is hungry. You make pancakes, eggs, and raspberries. It is not your first trip to the breakfast rodeo, so you know that you must carefully plate the food items so that none of the different items touch. You also know that you cannot pour the syrup on the pancake until after the eggs and berries are eaten. It isn’t that you are using the syrup as a carrot, a sweetened pancake the reward for eating the eggs and berries. It’s that you know that if the syrup touches the egg or berries, people in the next county will hear your little one’s anguished-but-absolute refusals to eat any of the tainted food. Including the pancake.
8:45 AM Your husband wakes up and comes downstairs. Your son tells him he ate pancakes for breakfast. Your hubby says, “I know. I see it on the carpet.” (Yes, in a moment of exhausted weakness you had let him eat in the family room while watching another Lego City.) Your son says, “No. Those are eggs.” And that, my friends, is as far as that goes with regard to your husband's involvement. You realize it is up to you to clean up the egg pieces.
8:50-9:00 AM Your little one peppers every story (in truth almost every sentence) with the word “poop” and its various forms. He poops out eggs. He dreamed about poop last night. His teacher’s brother had diarrhea once. You flash back to yesterday when he had his interview at the early preschool you really want him to get into. The very same interview where he named his ladybug Mr. Poopy Pants (which the teachers edited to Mr. Pants) and proudly announced he made poop with Playdoh. Your hopes for Harvard flicker, as if hit by a strong wind, but you mentally stabilize your hope with sheer will power.
8:50-9:30 AM This is your sweet spot. It is too early for anyone to melt down. And it’s the weekend. Hubby is home! That means you can catch up on work, cook, clean, go to the bathroom, take a shower, or – dare I even say it?! – sit and do nothing (!!!). It is your first break in days and, in your mind, it takes on the significance of a trip to Bali. Today, you are not solely responsible for the hands-on parenting, constant conversation and entertainment, at-home education, and playtime. These joys are shared with Daddy! Hubby is busy playing Legos and Cars – the type of play you aren’t typically interested in, but do several hours a day, every single day, because your kid loves it. Your heart fills will love for your kiddo and hubby. You ask yourself what you ever did to warrant such blessings. Then your hubby disappears so he can shower, something he does every day that you only have time to dream of most days.
10:30 AM By now, your little one is fully energized. And by energized, I mean he could power a small country. At this point, you and Hubby formulate a plan. You somehow come up with many ideas that don’t involve you, citing daddy-son time, special bonding memories, and other bs. Hubby is wholly on board, and again you feel your blessings. On the best and worst days, they are gone a few hours. Best because while they are gone your time is your own. Worst because you inexplicably miss them like crazy and wish you had gone with.
12:30 PM Lunch time. Not quite the witching hour, but often an augur of things to come. On good days, you ask what your kiddo wants, make it, and watch him contentedly eat it. On bad days, you ask what he wants, make it, and listen to him refuse to eat it.
1-1:45 PM More playtime. You try to keep it low key because there is no strategic failure greater than ramping up your kid right before sleep time. You consider doing some art, but the thought of cleaning up the resulting disaster zone is mildly disheartening. If your heartfelt desire to be a good parent who brings up a well-rounded child does not outweigh the specter of clean up, you do a puzzle, play Lego, or encourage solo play.
1:45 PM Your request to have your little one clean up his toys is either met with happy compliance or tears and screams. You sing the clean up song, hoping that helps, but realize you are singing it alone.
2:00 PM Naptime. This is, perhaps, the trickiest time of the day. The hell you can go through to get those moments of solitude and quiet almost make the solitude and quiet not worth it. But you persevere because there are days when you may go crazy without it. Naptime is a subject that must be snuck up on. Mentioned too early, the tantrum may color the in-between time and last for longer than most sane people could imagine. So, as he plays, you stealthily get organized. You pour his milk, mentally prepare, take a deep breath, and… it’s show time. You ask him to use the potty. (You know that if he falls asleep for 3 minutes and wakes up having to poo, naptime is toasted, so the preemptory potty stop is super important.) You put on the pull ups just in case. You tell him it’s time for “Nook and a Book.” (He calls milk “nook.”) You use the euphemism to avoid the disaster that sometimes accompanies the word “nap.” If he starts screaming he doesn’t want to nap and isn’t tired, your mind goes several directions. First, you realize he’s caught on to the euphemism and your flickering hope of Harvard resumes its high definition quality. At the same time, you wonder if you are forcing your child to nap when he has outgrown naptime - which would make you the Joan Crawford of modern-day mommies. You decide how to respond. Can you distract him with discussion of which book he wants to read? Is this a day where you suggest quiet time instead of sleep? As his face quivers and reddens and his tiny foot stomps down viciously, you quickly assess whether you are looking at the approach of a "shower" or a Category V Hurricane. You evaluate whether the “rain” is caused by exhaustion or willfulness. If exhaustion, your response is tender and caring. If willfulness, you gear up to play hardball. You know that if you lose to the tantrum, you have lost the war and Stalin would have been a kinder conqueror.
2:45-4PM I call this period “Bliss.” Because it is job share weekend and thus afternoon responsibilities will be shared by two, you and Hubby can chill. You could think of it as a miniature “date night.” However, your daytime date night is really no different than your nighttime date night. You and Hubby try to conjure up some energy, but then decide that lying on the sofa and watching a movie with your eyes closed is just what the doctor ordered. Your mind briefly considers that you have reached a point in life where acknowledging your shared exhaustion counts as intimacy, and you drift to sleep.
4-4:10 (or 5-5:10) PM (depending on the length of the nap) Your little one wakes. He calls for you to come upstairs. You love this time – especially as your morning this morning did not start with him crawling into your bed for the usual family snuggle. You crawl into bed. He snuggles in like he did when he was really little. As the minutes pass and he fully wakes, he starts to talk. You learn of the million things that go through his mind. He talks about the “T-Wex” and “stahs” and “Tesalas,” his favorite cars. He tells you the story line from Lego City as if it were a story from his life about real people. He tells you that Luca earned two marbles at preschool yesterday. He holds your face or pets your hair and tells you he loves you “like 80 infinity.” This time is precious. You cherish it. Your love is overwhelming. You realize you’ve silently, unconsciously prayed that someday many, many years from now, the memory of this moment escorts you from this life to the next.
4:10/5:10-6:30PM You go to the park or ride bikes or walk while he scooters. You get home and one grown up plays while the other grown up cooks dinner. Your son asks Alexa to play “Your Welcome by Moana” at least 12 times in a row before switching to “Frozen.” The house is alive with the sounds of a family.
6:30PM You sit down for dinner. Hubby pours you that glass of beautiful red wine and you imagine an evening ahead after your little guy goes to bed. But it is a meal, and lately such wouldn’t be complete without your little one refusing to eat something – or everything - on his plate. The series of mental questions begin. Does he not want to eat because he isn’t hungry? Does he not want to eat because he doesn’t like it? Does he not want to eat because he is a pain in the a$$? You and Hubby meet eyes over your child’s head. A few years in, you still have no idea how to handle this. If you make your little guy eat and he isn’t hungry, parenting articles forecast he will lose the ability to self-monitor and become obese. If he truly doesn’t like it, do you make him eat it anyway – like your mother made you eat those disgusting tomatoes so many years ago, the ones that made you puke? Or, do you make him something else and risk becoming an unpaid, over-worked short order cook with a permanently lousy attitude. You or Hubby blindly cobble together some response. Sensing your confusion and weakness, your little one starts negotiating for after-dinner candy. You no longer sip your wine with any sense of savored sophistication, but rather toss that next “sip” back like straight tequila.
7:00PM Bathtime. Bedtime. Nook and a Book Part 2. Teeth-brushing. Prayers. As your energy wanes, your kid’s energy trebles. He is literally sucking your life out of you - just like he sucked the meat out of your boobs when he was breastfeeding. You make sure you see “prayer hands” and then begin “Now I lay me.” Ever pious, he wants to alternate speaking parts so that each of you says every other word of the prayer. When asked what he feels thankful for, he leads with tv. If God senses you need a bone, your kid might add “family” or “Momma” to the list. You kiss his little face, tuck him into bed, and FLEE.
7:30-GOD KNOWS WHEN The little bugger refuses to go to sleep. This is true whether the nap ended at 2:05PM or 5PM. This is true whether he woke up at 4:30AM, like today, or between 5:30 and 6:30AM (most days). This is true whether or not he finagled that after-dinner sugar high. You have not - and seemingly cannot - find the secret to getting the kid to sleep when you turn off the light. So, you settle in and wait. After 15-30 minutes you hear him calling your name and check the monitor. His face up is pressed to the monitor camera such that all you can see is a nose and a wild, night-vision eye. He says, “Momma, I need a wittle wove.” You head in for one last snuggle. You talk a bit. Give Eskimo, butterfly, elephant, and giraffe kisses and leave a little less rapidly than the last time. A few seconds later, you check the monitor. His light is on and he is “reading.” Anywhere between 10 minutes and another hour in, you hear him sneak to the closet to play with the Legos he hides there. Occasionally, you hear him talking to his “buddies,” the stuffed animals he sleeps with. In most cases, you are fairly certain that you have fallen asleep before he has. And, yet, you know one thing for certain: be it Stockholm Syndrome or motherly love, you can’t wait till you get to see him in the morning!