“Woah, Slow Down, Mama! That’s Too Much Stuff!”

Today was the hardest day I’ve experienced in motherhood, one that ended with me in tears as I sobbingly proclaimed to my husband that I must be the world’s worst mother. It was his first day back to work following the holiday break, and I had made all these grand plans of how I’d handle the first full day with two children. I spent part of last night meticulously mapping out all the things I’d get accomplished — and then Alice couldn’t sleep. Spit ups, gas, belly cramps — her face writhing in pain as she screamed and fussed and the only comfort to be had was nestling her head into my neck, her breathing slowly calming down until the next painful cramp came again. The day was not much better for my poor baby girl, and each time she almost drifted off to sleep she’d be awakened by her sister. With my patience already thin as a needle following a couple sleepless nights, I became upset….and then my beautiful little girl on the day that I felt like I was failing both her and her newborn sister sat down next to me and asked, ‘Mama, what’s wrong?’ And I, caught up in a bevy of postpartum emotions, let loose a laundry list of everything that’s aggravating me…and then she placed her small hand on mine and said, “Woah, slow down, Mama. That’s too much stuff.”

She may not realize it, but she’s right in so many ways. They say comparison is the thief of joy, and today I invited that thief into my home, my sanctuary. I let myself get caught up in the pressure parents are under, all the so-called do’s and dont’s and checklists that ‘experts’ proclaim is best; I opened myself up to feelings of inferiority and failure, jealousy and envy, by comparing myself to those ‘super moms’ who seem to be able to do it all so easily, without realizing that I’m a darn good ‘super mom’, too, and I am sure that if you are reading this you are as well.

When I harshly declared today to be an utter failure what I didn’t take into consideration was Lilly waking up at 3:30 a.m. asking me what she could do to help her baby sister and then spending the next hour learning how to bicycle kick an infant’s legs and massage their tummy to help relieve the gas pressure; or the slow, unhurried pace to our morning as we ate a bowl of cereal in bed while watching a movie — still a special occurrence in our home; or the way in which she models my care of Alice throughout the day, paying special attention to the way in which I speak to her baby sister — the words I use, my tone of voice, even the careful and gentle gestures I make — as she lovingly ‘nurses’ her plethora of babies, which currently consist of two pandas, a polar bear, two bunnies, and a cat, and then burps each of them before preparing special beds for naptime, quietly reads them a book or tells them a bedtime story or sings them a lullaby, and then changes their diapers and clothes after they wake; or even the way in which she prepared pancakes for me at her play kitchen this afternoon because, as she said, they’re my favorite and I’m her friend and that’s what friends do; or how she helped me get dinner prepared in the slow cooker and then beamed so brightly while she served lunch, carefully ladling the chili into each of our bowls and refilling our water as needed.

She is the kindest, sweetest, most caring person I’ve encountered — full of empathy and a natural desire to help others — and if both my daughters grow up to embody those traits then I am blessed to be able to say I am their mama.

If I could choose to banish one thing from my life, it would be the dreadful mom guilt. Its stifling presence is overwhelming and yet so hard to overcome. There will be very few Pinterest-worthy, made-from-scratch dinners adorning our table in the evenings in this season of our life, but there will be family meals each day (even if it’s just a frozen pizza), and in these perfectly imperfect moments our daughters are still learning important social and emotional lessons.

And as I care for Alice, my older daughter will be watching, absorbing one of life’s most precious lessons — how to nurture and care for another. And these lessons in love and patience and unselfishness and ultimately finding the joy in dozens of dirty diapers and countless sleepless nights and not allowing myself to become overwhelmed by too much ‘stuff’ are of much greater consequence than getting caught in the ‘rat race’ that now, unfortunately, encompasses so much of early childhood.

In the evening, my daughter emerged from the bath, her wet spiral curls framing her face. “I want to play with the baby. Just for a little bit,” she requested. As then as she lay down on the living room rug, Alice, hungry and exhausted, began to cry again. I looked at Lilly and began to say we should wait until tomorrow when, instead, looking into her slate blue eyes, I loudly blew a saliva-filled raspberry. Having never remembered me doing this, Lilly at first looked slightly taken aback and then, a moment later, she began giggling. It was the deep belly giggle that once it starts seemingly has no end, the one that would make anyone’s troubles melt away, at least temporarily. And as I blew continuous raspberries and Lilly giggled and giggled, Alice stopped crying and intently watched us both, and at one point I even thought I caught a glimpse of her very elusive smile.

Needless to say, tomorrow’s checklist is much more concise:

[ ] Plenty of love
[ ] Lots of giggles

Everything else can wait.

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