Dear Me in the Future,
I wanted to write this letter to you from the Me right here in the middle. The kids are 7, 5, 2, and 1. The soundtrack to my life is Mommy-Mommy-Mommy. My daily uniform is a shirt marked with some kind of body fluid from some small person. If I am lucky, it’s just drool.
I wanted to write you this letter to remind you of a few things. Most especially, I want to help you understand the ways you can encourage those moms in that middle place. The ones with full arms and dark shadows under their eyes.
Please, please don’t tell that mom to thrive.
Do not say that she will blink and her kids will grow up.
Don’t don’t DON’T tell her to enjoy every moment.
Because here is how those words (meant in love and with best intentions) sound when you are overrun, overwhelmed, and underslept. Those words are toxic. They are laced with the kind of guilt that you swallow down. It breeds in that hidden place. No one sees how heavy those words make you.
They are heavy and guilt-laced because most days when you are in that middle place of tiny ones climbing up your back, thriving is an unreachable goal. You have experienced brief moments of it, so you know what thriving looks and feels like and that it is simply NOT most of your days. You know moms exist who say they DO thrive in that middle place. But knee deep in laundry and needy hands on your body and a floor that needs to be scrubbed again and tantrums and fighting and someone peeing on the bathroom floor again, thriving is unimaginable.
When you say those words to a mom in the middle, especially when you are on the other side, you are flooding her with guilt some part of her.
Because she KNOWS that she will blink and the kids will grow up. I look at my oldest and remember coming home from the hospital for the first time, not knowing who left me in charge of a PERSON. I remember his first everything like it just happened. (Didn’t it?) I know we are not long for days when he doesn’t want to snuggle with me or kiss me on the mouth.
It kills me that I can’t enjoy every moment or commit them to memory. These tiny moments slide away so quickly, even as the hours of a single day seem utterly and impossibly long. Telling me that I should enjoy every moment when I just totally snapped after five hours of the kids fighting each other and fighting me—well, when I hear that I just want to weep from the inability and the regret. I loathe myself and my daily failures.
What I really wish someone would say to me now (and what I hope YOU can remember to say) is this:
Remember one special moment from today.
I say one because there are days one is hard. Some days you will have five and that’s amazing! But on many days, you simply need to hear the freedom and the life-giving relief of someone telling you that you simply need to remember ONE special moment.
Write it down in a journal or blog it or tweet it and have that autosave into Evernote or whatever it takes for you to commit that moment to your forever-memory.
Thriving consistently is a resolution with a built-in failure clause. Enjoying every moment can sound like a judgment. Looking back, I’m sure you will be filled with nostalgia and regret and guilt and so many things that will make you want to tell moms in the middle just to hang on and love those moments. The memory of how incredibly draining and frustrating and tiring and freakishly hard these days are will seem to you then like the memory of labor pains. You know it was tough. But you don’t FEEL it any more. The memory of the pain dulls through time.
Give that mom in the middle some life giving words.
Give her something she can grasp in her hand like hope. Give her one tiny goal that she can accomplish and maybe even surpass every day. Remind her that the days are a treasure, but not in a way that leaves her trying to cling to a heavy box of gold as she sinks to the bottom of the sea.
“My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” Jesus said, and these words still astound me. Because he also said that we should take up our crosses and follow him.
He walks with us, giving light. Carrying the weight of the burdensome bits, if we remember to let him.
In the same way, I want you to remember to give light and life to those moms in the middle. Tell them that it’s so very hard and that you remember. Tell them also that you wish for some parts of those days back and the way your small children could fit in your lap and the smell of them on your clothes. Because of that, tell them to treasure one small moment each day.
You may not be able to shower or pee alone, you can say to her, but you can do this one tiny thing. And you will be glad you did.
This is my new, tiny goal. I say it is small, but it is really lofty and large. Because one moment from each day adds up to a lot of moments over a lifetime. It becomes a rich treasure of memory and of life lived fully, even if just for that moment.
When that daily moment happens, whether it is hearing my daughter say she loves me (just after fighting me like a wild beast over getting dressed for the day) or watching my son’s proud face as he finally learns to shimmy a doorway all the way to the top, I will pause and think to myself: THIS IS TODAY’S MOMENT. I will drink it in and commit the sound and smell and feel and look of it to memory. I will laugh and smile and I will watch with thoughtful eyes. And later that day I will write it down in a book of moments.
This is something I can do.
This is something the mom who feels like she is drowning can do.
One moment, you can tell her. Just one.
I hope you listen to me, Future Me. This will seem so very long ago. It will be different with grown kids and new pains and you will be missing tiny hands and feet. I know it because I already miss the smell of my babies when they were just babies.
Remember that sometimes the best-intentioned words might accidentally make that mom in the middle feel even worse. They might remind her of all the opportunities lost. They might seem impossible, even with God.
Give her life and freedom by helping her think of one small, powerful, manageable, memorable moment each day.
The Unshowered, Overwhelmed, Often Cranky Me in the Middle