It is the middle of the night—around 2 AM by my best estimation—when I roll over in my sleep onto a tiny hand, an indistinguishable amount of stuffed animals, and a small, hard object that feels suspiciously like a phone.
In spite of my sleepy state, I know the hand belongs to my seven-year-old daughter, Zoey, and that the stuffed animals are hers, too. The iPhone, of course, belongs to me, and the music that I’d put on to help Zoey fall asleep hours before is still softly playing.
I sigh, realizing I had yet again crashed alongside Zoey after reading that extra chapter of Little House on the Prairie she had insisted would be the last one.
Although my intentions are good, stemming from my desire to sneak in a few extra minutes of one-on-one time with Zoey, I can’t help but find myself thinking this falling asleep habit is just one more way I keep failing at the I-have-everything-figured-out-and-I’m-achieving-everything-I’ve-ever-wanted-and-oh-by-the-way-I-do-everything-right-when-it-comes-to-motherhood kind of success I’ve always wanted.
I begin to mentally scroll through a list of the ways I feel I keep falling short of that put-together picture of parenthood. It’s another terrible habit I have, falling into a trap where I compare the way my life is to the way I think it should be.
There are the small things:
Even though she’s seven, I still lay down with Zoey when I put her to bed, and all the parenting books I’ve read say this is a surefire way to raise an endlessly spoiled child.
Most nights, I bring my work laptop home intending to catch up on work, only to leave it untouched due to more pressing tasks, the requisite demands of parenting, and—the most common culprit—my sheer exhaustion.
No matter how hard I try, our evenings are a whirlwind of unstructured, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants semi-chaos, leaving in their dust—almost always—an empty lunchbox with no packed lunch, a stack of dirty dinner dishes in the sink, and a load of laundry still sitting in the dryer days after their “best folded by” date.
There are the big things:
Despite my best efforts, there’s a job that’s not quite covering all the bills the way I want—and need—it to.
We live in an apartment instead of a house, the one that’s filled with an IKEA table and chairs instead of the Crate and Barrel matched set I find myself pining after once a month when I flip through its glossy, color-coordinated, cozy, comfortable-room catalog.
Across the hall in my own bed, there’s no partner to remind me that even though my brain does a good job of thinking otherwise, everything really will work out just fine.
And then, to top everything off, there’s the worst guilt-inducing culprit of all, the thing that’s currently singing sleepy songs into my hip bone.
It’s the phone that I’ve just now picked up to check on the actual time—it’s 2:14 AM, to be exact—and that I’m now using to scroll through my Facebook feed. It’s the phone that’s assaulting me with a bright screen of spectacular status updates from all my friends, which I’ve somehow missed as I’ve been stumbling through my days.
I scroll past a grade school friend’s set of professional photographs that have captured every glistening corner of her new, custom-built home. I glance at a snapshot from a couple I knew in high school, their ecstatic but tired faces announcing the birth of their third child, who has completed their picture-perfect family. I stop when I see an announcement from a college sorority sister whose writing has been published in a nationally-renowned publication.
And as I lay there scrolling, endlessly comparing my life to all of theirs, mine seems to come up short.
Next to me, Zoey sighs and shifts in her sleep and the sound and movement are enough to give me pause. I glance at the clock and realize I’ve been looking at my phone for over an hour. I set it on Zoey’s nightstand, but, not wanting to disturb her slumber, I stay next to her, wide-awake and wondering if I’ll ever measure up to expectations I hold for myself, the ones everyone else seems to have already achieved.
Zoey’s quiet whisper stirs me awake, and panic grips my bones as I sit up quickly, wondering if I’ve overslept.
She reaches up and pulls me gently back next to her, wrapping her arm across my chest.
“Don’t get up, Mommy,” Zoey breathes into my neck. “Stay with me.”
“But I need to start getting ready…” my voices trails off as Zoey’s hand finds mine.
“Not yet,” she begs. “Everything is perfect right now. This. Us. And these warm covers, too.”
Zoey giggles, her laughter warming us even more, and just like that, I realize the ridiculous, dangerous comparison trap I fell into just hours before was a complete waste of time. Because, right now, in this quiet, sweet moment we are sharing, my perspective shifts:
I think about how Zoey is one of the sweetest, kindest, most generous souls I’ve ever come across, and I feel confident that my evenings of falling asleep beside her haven’t affected her one bit.
I think about how the work I never get to at night means I have a job that paid for the food I put on the table last night—the food that’s now stuck to the plates in the sink—and I feel blessed that I can use my talents to provide for Zoey and me in so many rich and wonderful ways.
I think about how the setting of our present has made the pain of my past fade away, and I feel grateful I was able to step into a place that finally feels like home.
I think about how the chaos of our evenings means we are together, and I feel lucky Zoey and I are going through this life side by side.
I think about how love might be waiting for me, around the corner somewhere, attached to a person who will wrap me up in the promise of forever, and I feel hopeful for the future.
And I think about how if my phone was in my hand right now, and my profile was pulled up, that cursor blinking back at me, waiting for the status update I felt like sharing right at this moment, all I’d need was the one word:
Visit Corey’s heartfelt series Everyday Nostalgia for more beautiful reflections on her life.
Featured image by Lindsey Cornett
Corey Wheeland is a writer, graphic designer, and, most importantly, mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. Wanting to find her way back to herself after her divorce last year, she decided to pursue her lifelong passion for writing. This pursuit manifested itself in the creation of a blog called The Nostalgia Diaries, where her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. Since the creation of her blog, Corey’s writing has been featured on Motherly, Perfection Pending, SheKnows, Red Tricycle, Yellowbrick, Mamapedia, Parent.co, and Chief Gratitude Officer. She’s determined to spend the rest of her days living creatively and colorfully, all the while drinking cinnamon green tea, listening to good music, and soaking up as much sunshine as she can.