Because who needs that kind of honesty when you are already struggling? So instead, they tell you it gets easier. Instead, they say, you’ll find a routine and get used to things, and of course, this too, is true. You do get used to things, because a human being can get used to anything.
And this morning, the sidewalks are crusted-over in a thick skin of ice, and you have a mile to go, and with each step, you do get used to the way the ground seems to move beneath you. get used to the way the stroller swerves or lodges in the slush, the way your feet slip as you try to push it onward. But that doesn’t mean it gets easier. You just grow accustomed to difficulty. So much so, that on the paths cleared with salt, you feel less of a relief and more of an absence. You feel something vital to the way you move about in the world is missing. The way you feel when you are walking and not pushing a stroller. Not ease, but absence. The way you feel when you drop your son off at school and go to get your latte, not ease, but still, and always, absence. The way you feel anytime he isn’t with you, because he has become so much a part of everything. And when you do get a glimmer, a levity in your step, running with the chill creeping into your nose, it is immediately followed by guilt. Always.
Then tonight, when the only thing to calm a toddler is a dinner of fruit loops followed by chicken nuggets, and you give in, guilt again, always. And when your husband is still upstairs trying to get him to sleep and neither of you have eaten, guilt and absence at once. Maybe these are the two ingredients of difficulty? Other women didn’t tell you that, but even if they did, you wouldn’t have believed them.
Then, the following morning, your son wants to sleep in and you can’t bring yourself to wake him—a piece of your heart snoring through a stuffy nose and turning onto his belly with that infant butt-in-the-air pose at your touch’s slight attempt to rouse him. And so, instead of taking him to school and using the day to write and maybe put a dent in the mountains of laundry everywhere and the unpacked suitcases from vacation and the floor covered in snow-salt residue, you fearfully keep him home for the day, bringing him with you while you teach Fit4Mom Stroller Barre, completely uncertain as to how he will handle being cooped up for that long after too many days of freedom. After yesterday’s temper tantrums and throwing food and dragging your computer to the ground and requesting time-outs only to sob at their coming to fruition. And you feel, yes, guilt, for feeling this way, guilt over your worry, guilt at how hard it can be to keep up with a toddler, and guilt at your choosing his absence.
But, your son is all hugs and kisses and love when he wakes. At class, he dances to the music and joins in on the workout from his stroller. And when you ask other Mamas what their most difficult moment of motherhood have been so far, they remind you of not sleeping and of long days alone with a baby, and you think, that part does get easier. You think back to how you didn’t sleep through the night for the first year of his life and how you never had your body to yourself. And you feel a sudden ease, a sudden reminder that you’ve taken your sleep for granted, your body not feeding another anymore for granted.
And then, these sleepless Mamas of newborns take you and your son out for coffee, and you think, you couldn’t possibly stay in a café and enjoy this because your toddler will not sit still or behave, it will be too hard, you think. But they buy him a donut and entertain him with hugs and hand holding the newborn baby, and he is all content and loving and ever so loved. And so you think, this difficulty you feel now will also dissipate. It will transform into something else. And you think, maybe other women were right to tell you “it gets easier.” They were right to motivate you this way. To keep you hopeful. But maybe, ease and difficulty are just not the right extremes to describe motherhood, because it is never purely easy or purely hard—every difficulty comes with a kind of relief on the other side of it—never just guilt, because there is usually joy, never just absence, because there is always you, even if you’ve forgotten to give yourself credit for your own presence, there is still always you, moving forward through whatever the path may be that day.
So now, after 2.5 hours of trying to get your son to nap—which included a victorious kaka on the potty followed by a disappointing one in the diaper; a joyful pee pee in the potty and one your leg that you didn’t mind because it helped the kaka happen; four books; countless songs; several climbs out of the crib and back into–-he is sweetly asleep, and he makes it look so easy. And you are here, eating the blueberry topping off of the unfinished donut your fellow Mama’s bought him, and you are a beautiful mixture of tired and happy, of the difficulty you’ve just had and of the ease that the morning brought you. And you remember, that through it all, no matter what other women do or don’t tell you, you have each other. To keep the conversation going. To share the difficulty and celebrate the ease. To drink a coffee and watch your children smile at one another. To cherish how easily loving comes to them, and learn from their ease.