I’m in the deepest of sleep when I sense her in my room before I hear her. My four-year-old stands next to my pillow, in tears, explaining that she had a bad dream. She is wondering if she can please sleep in my bed?
We don’t have any hard and fast rules about this scenario- sometimes I say yes and sometimes I scoot them back to bed. This time though, this time maybe I was too tired to really think it through or maybe I just sensed that we needed each other, me as much as her.
Our king size bed is as big as can be, but she snuggles right up next to me and that’s how we fall asleep that night, two in the morning, side by side.
We’re playing outside, afternoon sun, the four of us, me pretending the clock isn’t ticking closer and closer to the dinner hour and I still haven’t a clue about what we’ll eat. The air is too perfect, the sun too kind, the breeze so gentle. They’re running around wild and free, neighborhood noises filling our ears, sidewalk chalk staining our fingertips.
My oldest had been playing down at a friends’ house and here she is, running up to me, tears streaming down her face.
I do the quick scan up and down to see if there’s blood anywhere–are you hurt? are you okay? is there blood? no? Okay then–and I begin to assess the true damage, this time to her heart, a much more difficult wound to mend. A friend said an unkind thing and my girl is still young enough to first run to me in her pain. I don’t want her to ever outgrow this instinct.
I pull her in close and get a little bit of the scenario of what happened. We sit on the couch, our legs wrapped up in each other, her nearly on my lap but not quite, and I begin to whisper into her ear all of the things I know about her that are true. You are brave, my dear one. You are strong. You are loved. You are kind. You are creative. You are adventurous and friendly and silly to boot.
Her heart unwinds, reminded of who she is, and off she scampers to play once again.
It’s been a long day, a hard one, and I just need to be done. I need them to put themselves to bed, quietly and kindly without a single whine. This, of course, is not how it goes.
On this day when I am at my end, tired and sad and a little bit scared, they become the very most difficult versions of themselves and I have no love to give.
I kiss them and go downstairs to the living room hardly ten seconds after saying goodnight and I hear them jumping off their beds. They are laughing and bouncing and having a full-on party not ten seconds after they promised me they would go to sleep.
Oh, no way. Not in my house.
I march upstairs, fling open their door and the look on my face must have stirred sheer terror because they launch themselves into their bed, covers over their head, trembling. I don’t remember everything I said, but I definitely growled “I’m so serious” about five times.
I close the door but stand by it for a few extra seconds to make sure they don’t start messing around again and hear the sisters whisper.
“Brennan?” calls out the four-year-old, “What just happened?”
The six-year-old responds: “Ellie, that wasn’t our mom. That was the mean mom. I don’t like that one.”
And as tired as I am, I just cannot end it this way. I go in and crawl into their bed, pull them in close and say “Babies. Mommy is so sorry. Sometimes I’m so stressed and I’m so tired and I take it out on you. That’s not fair. Can we begin again tomorrow?”
They forgive me and hug me, ain’t no thing, because children are expert forgivers and I kiss their foreheads and they fall asleep- peacefully, this time.
So much of mothering feels like it’s done in the secret places where no one else sees. We do it anyway– we gather them up close, whisper love and courage when they need it, love the hardest we know how and apologize when we miss the mark.
For these few stories of mine, I bet you have a thousand that haven’t been captured of you doing what you needed to do in that moment for your babies and whispering love and nailing this mothering thing. For these stories right here, I could tell of twenty others when I failed completely.
But as mamas, we love them always. As mamas, we do what we need to again and again and again even when we’re empty because that’s what love does. It’s easy to remember the ways we feel like we’ve missed the mark, but let’s choose to see the tiny moments of love that add up to build a life. Let’s see what we do well and let me remind you that you, my dear, are nailing this mothering thing.
Even when it doesn’t feel like it and even when you don’t get credit, you are doing a good job and they are so, so loved. I promise.
Sarah Sandifer is a mama to three darling and rambunctious little girls. She is married to her college sweetheart who now serves as an Army Chaplain and is taking them on quite the grand adventure. Sarah’s great loves are the Colorado mountains, dark chocolate and coffee, though she would be a total mess without the grace of Jesus. You can find her thoughts on life, motherhood, and marriage at SarahSandifer.com and she’s also on Instagram @SarahSandifer.