There are good days. And bad days. And worse days. And better days. And there are days that blend in together and go on forever or end before you have the chance to realize they even begun. And every new day is a reset button for you as a mother. Yesterday is no indication of tomorrow. And other women tell you every day gets a little easier, but really, that’s only one of the many possibilities for the next day. It could harder. Much harder than the last. It could be the same. It could be a day you forget about all together. It’s not a progression of ease, like running, where you condition your body to be stronger than it was before, to move more easily in the world as you push it to its limits—though as a runner, you know that even with this form of endurance, one run is not necessarily an indication of the next.
As a mother, you feel yourself getting stronger too. You feel yourself being better at coping with leaving your son. But it hasn’t gotten easier. In fact, the week before gave you a false sense of security. A false sense of improvement and longed for ease. He had two days where he didn’t cry as you left. Two whole days were you felt like you’d made progress. But then, this week arrives, and the tears are as bad if not worse than when you first started to leave him. He clings to you and screams and wails and the teachers at the facility—for which you are paying far more than you can afford—are all too preoccupied to help. And you realize their job is hard and there are a lot of children who need their attention. You understand all this and sympathize. But in this moment, when your son cleaves to your neck like a 90s choker necklace and monkey-wraps his legs around your waist, climbing you like a palm tree and dripping snot all over your shoulder and shirt, in this moment, you don’t care about the other children. In this moment, you want at least one of the teachers to come over and help you. You want their attention to be on you and your child and the fact that it’s not easy today just because it was last week.
And finally, after many attempts of putting him down and picking him back up, and walking him over to his chair to eat with the other children and trying to say goodbye, after this drawn out farewell has only made things worse, you come up to one of the teachers and hand him your crying child. You say, “You have to take him or he won’t stop crying.” And something inside you breaks or bursts or hurts. These words had to fight their way out of you. You had to ask for help. You had to ask for help from the place you are already paying to help you. From the place you shouldn’t have to ask. And all the doubt about what you are doing floods right back. All the questions: “Is he ok?” “What happens when I’m not there?” “Is he getting enough attention?” “Is he happy?” “Is he crying?” down to, “Am I a good mom?”
Because all questions lead to that one. And you tell yourself you are. As you walk through the city where there is jackhammering on what feels like every street. As you fight the jackhammering in your head from migraine you woke up with. As you call your husband to calm down by hearing his voice. To hear him tell you everything will be alright even if you both have no way of knowing this for certain. As you buy a scone from your favorite bakeshop and devour the whole thing within blocks. As you run into a former student of yours who tells you today is her last day at her job because her brother died a month ago. She is holding back tears as she tells you this. You don’t even manage to get out the “I’m sorry,” before she tells you she’s going back home to be with her parents for a while and asks you how you’re doing with your school work and how long you have left. Two years, you tell her, unsure of this and the transition from her brother’s death to your academics. But you tell her you have a son and so it’s been hard to get enough done. You feel guilty for bringing up your little boy in the face of her loss. But she smiles and tells you that her mother got her doctorate while raising little ones. And you recall what a positive presence this student had always been in class. You recall how she stayed off of her phone and asked questions and came to office hours. And you think, you can do this too.
You remember how lucky you are to get to do this. And even if it doesn’t get easier, it changes. Even if this morning was rough, the afternoon can still be better. Even if this week was all tears, next week might be smiles. Even if it doesn’t get easier, you do get stronger. You get better at coping and managing and moving on from the difficulty. You anticipate the “Am I a good mom?” question at the end of every line of doubt, and learn how to redirect it to the declarative, “Yes, I am a good mom.” You choose an image—your son refusing to put on his diaper yesterday and running around from potty to your bedroom giggling, his whole body a high-speed joy-wind. And you hold on to the image. You let it grow louder than the jackhammering doubt and pain in your mind. Because when other women tell you it gets easier, what they really mean is that you will get better at finding ways to cope with the hard times.