It’s a morning just like any other morning—waffles in the toaster, a growling Keurig, two energetic boys running through the house with blankets on their heads pretending to be monsters. I pack my oldest’s lunch with a handwritten note, run surfer paste through his hair, and help the little one with velcro shoes. The light looks beautiful in the living room at this hour and I stop to briefly stare at the way it filters through the $3 flower bouquet sitting on the coffee table.
In my bedroom I haphazardly apply two swipes of concealer under my eyes while the baby inside my belly does gymnastics. I’ve had two cups of coffee and apparently the caffeine is waking her up, too. I pull a grey t-shirt over my head and realize, for the first time as I’m standing still, that I feel … cold.
A smile stretches across my face as I reach back into the closet for the mustard yellow cardigan I bought three months ago during the Nordstrom anniversary sale. The tags are still on.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m pregnant and this summer was an exceptionally sweaty one, or if global warming is to blame, or if I have seasonal amnesia and simply forgot how long the heat usually lasts in Sacramento, but as I pull that cardigan on over my shoulders, I cannot help but relish this moment.
It sounds dramatic, all this over a sweater, but right here, right now—I feel cold—and it is nothing short of a relief.
I’ve lived in California my entire life, where, arguably, we have the best weather in the country. Ironically, we are also wimps about it and prone to complaining. There’s an unspoken, underlying Goldilocks persona in all of us—we don’t like the weather too hot, and we don’t like it too cold. We’re Californians! We pay a zillion dollars to live here, and we like our weather just right. Oddly enough, for as fair and perfect as the temperatures are almost year-round, we also talk about the weather a lot, especially during a season of extremes.
Man, this heat is BRUTAL.
Will it EVER stop raining?
I am SO ready to wear shorts again.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say we take for granted the 200+ days a year of mild temperatures, but the minute things get too hot or too cold, we become intolerable.
Having said that, the collective joy and relief felt on the first day of change is noticed by all. It happens a handful of times throughout the year … the very first time the pavement smells of rain after a drought, the very first time you trade your leggings for shorts and feel sunshine on your bare legs, the very first time you wrap a mustard yellow cardigan around your body after sweating for months.
Sweet, sweet relief.
The heat didn’t last forever. The cold didn’t last forever. The sun will come out again; it always does. The leaves will drop, the rain will fall, the fog will settle.
Relief, relief, relief.
While other friends were getting pregnant with their third babies two years ago, I found myself in limbo between FOMO and the harsh reality of the timing not being right for us. If baby fever is a real thing, and I believe it is, my thermometer was ringing in at a solid 103.8 that year.
Despite the desire to grow our family, these things were also true: the stress from my job was eating me alive, a manuscript was due, my marriage felt rocky more days than not, and I think I cried more in the second half of 2016 than I have in the last five years combined. I cried about my marriage in therapy. I cried about work in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru. I cried in the shower from the pure pressure and loneliness of it all.
I was not in a position to have a baby—physically, emotionally, or otherwise.
You know how some years just need to be over? That was my 2016.
January of 2017 was looking up, though, and I remember New Years Day feeling like more than a fresh start, feeling like actual tangible relief, like the first day you wear a mustard yellow cardigan after sweating through all of August.
Full of hope and optimism, we put a plan in place accordingly. The book would come out, we would throw a huge party, I would buy a new (non-maternity) dress and feel like my best self. I would drink lots of coffee in the morning and lots of champagne in the evening and be fully present to celebrate that momentous occasion. And then, after the book launch, a few months later, we’d celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary. We would plan a trip, I would buy a new (non-maternity) swimsuit, and we’d toast a decade of marriage on the beaches of Nicaragua.
We’d come home that July, tan and grateful, with the book and our anniversary in the rear-view mirror, and we’d get down to baby-making business.
That was the plan.
… but that didn’t happen.
I thought I’d be holding a six-month-old by now, but I got pregnant almost a full year later than we wanted to. My oldest will be seven years older than her. My middle will be four-and-a-half when she’s born. The gap is big and noticeable, and not what we planned for when we etched our family design in our minds.
I worry about this sometimes. I know families grow in all sorts of ways. I know there’s no wrong or right way to do this, and that siblings can be spread out more than seven years and still be close and get along. As my friend Erin loves to say, “if one day my kids have a text thread without me on it, I’ll know I’ve done my job well.”
But still. I worry. Will she always feel left out, being so much younger? Will it be weird to have one kid heading off to college while one is just starting middle school? Is it strange to have one kid in fourth grade and another one in diapers?
I recently attended a weekend retreat for creative moms. A few of the women I met there also have two boys, all younger than mine. Their faces said it all: they are still in the weeds. They are still learning to juggle the demands of having more than one child, and still getting used to the feeling of being outnumbered.
I wanted to hug them while I listened, remembering both how close and far that memory feels to me now. Was it yesterday or four years ago that I sat on the floor of the bathroom with a baby on my boob and a potty-training toddler on the toilet? I think I had some combination of breastmilk, spit-up, and actual urine dripping down my body and seeping into my clothes every single day for six straight weeks.
It was not my finest hour.
It was not my finest year—going from one to two kids—if we’re being honest.
“It gets better,” I whispered to the women across the table. I tell them everything they want to hear: that one day, their boys could be playing in the backyard unsupervised for hours at a time. I tell them one day their kids will know how to operate the television on their own, and that they too might be able to sleep in until 8 a.m. on a Saturday thanks to Apple TV and Paw Patrol. I tell them about magna tiles and LEGOs and fort kits, and all the fun things my boys do together—and more importantly—do independently from me.
And for the very first time, I realize, sitting across the table from these exhausted mothers in the weeds, what a gift this age gap has actually been for our family.
Because over the past two years, while I’ve attended baby showers and dropped off meals and watched my friends buy bigger cars, something profound happened in the background.
I came up for air.
These last two years I have felt—dare I say it out loud?—relief. I have enjoyed every minute of watching my two kids play together and not ask me for anything. I cannot stress the freedom I experience when I leave the house with nothing but a clutch in my hands. Bedtime is a breeze. One of my children even goes number two without informing me he’s doing it (!). Imagine that.
It hasn’t all been glitter and roses, but when I take a step back, zoom out, and examine my life over the past two years, this is what I see:
A yellow cardigan, being wrapped around shoulders desperate for warmth on the first day they are thrilled to be cold. I see something new and familiar all at once—the feeling that we’ve been here before but simultaneously forgotten how good it feels; this breeze, this breath, this sleep, the sweet relief of finally switching the thermostat from AC to heat and sensing a different air flow through the house.
My kids are spread out further than we originally wanted; this is true. But I think despite what we wanted, God knew what we needed, and those extra two years were it.
I’m heading into February with my eyes wide open. I am fully rested now, but I know what’s coming our way. I am about to enter another season of extremes where every part of me is pushed to the limit physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I am about to sweat. A lot.
So tonight, as I sit in the backyard with my feet up, yellow cardigan draped around my shoulders while my kids ride bikes under the patio twinkle lights, I smile and remind myself:
The heat doesn’t last forever. Nor does the cold. The sun will come out again; it always does. The leaves will drop, the rain will fall, the fog will settle.
Relief, relief, relief.
One day, eventually, I’ll be here again.
Words and photo by Ashlee Gadd.