Holding my daughter’s gloved hand, I pull the key out of my pocket and we enter an empty house. Daddy is working tonight, and it’s quiet with just the two of us here. I reheat the soup I made for this purpose earlier in the week and gather my strength for the tumultuous bath and bedtime routine ahead. I can’t seem to stop myself from wishing for backup at the end of the day.
I miss my tribe in these moments. More accurately, I miss a particular season. My daughter was born into a little coven of mamas who gathered on bright quilts spread across the grass at the local vineyard, watching our babies gum on watermelon rinds. We pushed strollers together in the early mornings, before the heat of the valley took hold. We cooked meals together in the evenings, nursed our babies to sleep, and cleaned up the kitchen together. It was an odd and magical bond; we were all wives of medical residents. Our husbands worked at all hours and, it seemed, all the time. We insulated each other the best we could against lonely, weary evenings like this one, when most families are coming together for the day.
I know, of course, that I’m painting that season with kinder colors than I saw when I lived it. The isolation I experienced living across the country from my family with a newborn was real and painful. Our time in California was not all sunshine and rosé; sweet moments punctuated long stretches of regular life. But glancing out the window, I see the same grey bank of clouds that has hovered over the Midwest since January and I can’t help but wish for the fragrant blossoms and balmy weather of a California spring.
As much as I miss that season now, a small voice asserts a hard truth: I missed it then, too.
Part of my bond with those mamas stemmed from our shared experience. It would be insensitive to draw comparisons between our experience and single motherhood, but I will admit that we said such things in our moments of frustration and self-pity. As much as I loved my friends outside of this network, it was hard to explain why I chose to spend a rare Saturday morning with my husband instead of joining them for brunch. And, of course, they were typically engaged with their families on the Tuesday evenings when I really needed some company. Those of us with significant others whose waking hours were promised to the hospital (and whose sleeping hours occurred whenever they could snatch them) didn’t need to explain the tension embedded in the residency lifestyle: we all lived it.
Unfortunately, it was that tension I felt most poignantly during that season of my life. Solo parenting all night with a newborn while my husband worked, and shushing her cries the following day as he slept was a harsh introduction to motherhood. And then there were the moments that few mothers escape, like the weeks I remember only as one long nursing session. I felt tethered to the chair in our living room, staring down at my daughter’s fluttering eyelids and knowing I had grown numb to the wonder of her sheerly by exposure. How I longed for a husband that worked less, a family that lived close by, an opportunity to use both hands to complete a task. My eyes were drawn to all the moments my husband wasn’t there, the round-the-clock, no-back-up responsibility for my newborn, and the notion of how much better our lives would be on the other side of this experience. I savored the time with my friends and rested my weary heart in the little community we formed, even as I willed the calendar pages to flip by more quickly.
Eventually, I got my wish. His residency ended and we said our tearful goodbyes. We moved across the country to be closer to family and started the “real life” we’d waited 12 years for: the house, the more regular schedule, and the long list of other delayed gratifications we’d compiled over the years. Now, sitting in this wonderful, wished-for house, I’m humbled to find myself looking back on that season of less - missing it, and knowing that I missed the beauty of it while I had it.
Cleaning up our dinner-for-two, I turn off the water and listen to my daughter chatter as she sets plastic plates and food out on a table near her little play kitchen. She sets a plate for her best friend, Clare, and one for each of her classmates in the nursery school she attends three mornings a week. Framed by the grey skies beyond the window, she looks perfectly content in this season. Her life is rich with friends who gather on driveways for spontaneous playdates. It reminds me we’re building a new tribe here that’s not just for me—it’s for all of us.
A few days ago, we had another family over for dinner and my husband was there to help me set the table. He opened the door and poured glasses of wine for our friends. It was just a regular Friday night, and it never could have happened in that previous season. The guys chatted in the dining room while my friend, Laura, and I watched our little ones navigate the perils of taking turns and sharing space. I felt more at home in my own home that evening, as we shared our lives with each other. Ice cream was passed around and I rested the bowl on my growing belly, eyeing Laura’s newborn with a realization that things would be much different for me this time around. I wouldn’t have my California tribe, but that didn’t mean I would be alone.
I recently read the true definition of “being present” is simply the act of noticing things. Without meaning to, I miss so much of the beauty in front of my face because I’m busy glancing backward, longing for something that used to be—or peering into the future, wishing for something more. I will be forever grateful for the precious tribe of fellow mamas and resident wives who walked with me through my first year of motherhood. They inspired me to create moments worth noticing, even when life is hard.
I’ll probably never stop longing for just one more Tuesday evening with those sweet friends from our time in California, and maybe in a year or so I’ll miss these quiet evenings with my daughter, too. I realize now that it’s okay to have seasons I miss, so long as I don’t miss the season I’m in.
Guest post written by Adrienne Garrison. Adrienne is a native Midwesterner and mama of two—a toddler and newborn. She is passionate about friendship, nature, and date nights with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband of 11 years. Her essays have been published on Coffee + Crumbs and New Millennium Writings. Adrienne is currently working on a low-residency MFA in Creative Writing through Pacific University. Her latest daydreams and adventures can be found at pinktingedperspective.com
Adrienne is a member of our Exhale community. To learn more about Exhale and how you can join this amazing community of creators and dreamers, visit www.exhalecreativity.com.