When my firstborn was about two months old he made the rookie mistake of sleeping through the night one time. That glimmer of hope, that proof of his ability, it propelled me into a fixated mission to follow the proper steps and create the proper environment and throw the pixie dust into the air until he was sleeping through the night every night. I bought all the books, I read all the blogs, I e-mailed the friends who had gone before me. I would get the information, formulate a plan, and train that kid to sleep gosh dangit. I don’t blame you if you’re pointing and laughing at me right now. I am here to serve.
As you veteran moms know, he eventually slept through the night, and probably not because of much that I did but because babies eventually sleep through the night. Eventually. (Take heart, tired new mama, your sweet, sweet nocturnal baby will one day sleep through the night too. I promise.) It took longer than I expected, though, and the days began to feel more and more like painting the Golden Gate Bridge: As soon as you finish, you start right over again because that salty Pacific air just demands it, laughing at any sense of “accomplishment.” Between the sleep deprivation and the monotony of the days as they blurred together, I was exhausted in every sense of the word.
And then one day, a little miracle happened. The baby was refusing his nap. Despite following The Steps and sticking to The Routine, he was just not having it. I paced outside his door, listening to him cry and looking at the clock, which I’m fairly certain was moving backwards as I tried to give it “just a few minutes.” Defeated and enraged - not necessarily at the baby but at the noise in general and at the loss of that hour I was supposed to have to myself - I flung open the door and marched into his room. I’m not sure what I intended to do at that point, with all that rage and all those hormones, but what I actually did was pick that tired baby up, red-faced and tangled up from his wrestling match with his swaddling blanket, and I said to him (and probably more so to my self), “That’s okay, we’ll try again next time.”
I had probably never said those words in my life, or at least I had never meant them as genuinely and as tenderly as I meant them right then. How had I not seen it, the gift inside of all this repetition, this bridge painting business of having to do the same thing over and over (and over) again? But there it was, tucked right inside the swaddling blanket of the nap that wouldn’t happen: The gift of trying again.
I suddenly saw that in all of the myriad “failures” of parenting - the skipped naps and the big messes and the forgotten appointments and the temper tantrums and the million other woulda coulda shouldas that can destroy a fragile new parent - there is always, inevitability, a chance for redemption. The repetition of it all, while sometimes mind-numbing, contains within itself one of the rarest gifts of all: The gift of a re-do.
There are very few re-dos in this grown up life we’ve found ourselves in these days. We say things that cannot be unsaid. We hear things that we cannot unhear. We act impulsively, occasionally, and painstakingly deliberately at other times. And in the end, our choices usually have repercussions that we can only build on top of. We rarely, rarely get a re-do.
But that nap that my baby would have none of? We got to re-do it the very next day. That time I tried to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store with a cranky toddler and had to abandon my cart before we got kicked out? Guess what? We needed groceries the next week too. That time I totally lost my cool when my three year-old wouldn’t stay in his room after graduating to a big kid bed? The very next night: Re-do.
The endless repetition of these basic tasks is certainly not my favorite part of parenting. But motherhood, like any endeavor really, is a mixed bag. We take the bad with the good. We excel at some parts and we just try to survive some parts. If we’re diligent, we try to get better. If we’re smart, we celebrate even the tiniest of victories. If we’re wise, though, we find the gifts within the struggle. The wisdom of motherhood is that within the hardest, most boring parts of this job, the rarest gifts can be found. And if that doesn’t ring true today, don’t worry, we can try again tomorrow.
Written by Anna Quinlan. Photo by Kate De La Rosa.