My sister calls around 9 a.m. We’re not everyday callers, or even weekly chatters. We live six hours apart and don’t see each other very often. We keep in touch via text, the occasional Voxer message, and heavily-filtered, highly-ridiculous Snapchats. Phone conversations? During the morning rush? With eight kids between the two of us? No one’s got for that.
Naturally, I answer right away.
“Hi. Everything okay?”
“Yeah. But I need to ask you something.” The whole story is a bit long and involved, but by the time we hang up, we have a plan. She and her girls will catch a ride with my dad and step-mom (who planned to come for a weekend visit) and all seven of them will be at our house before the end of the day.
“You’re sure it’s okay?” she asks right before we say goodbye.
“I mean, my girls are still …” she pauses, “… little. They’re busy.”
I—as if I haven’t had my own little kids—say, “It’s fine. Go pack. I’ll see you tonight.”
After what I’m sure was a cacophony of underwear, diapers, pacifiers, and pajamas being thrown into duffle bags, my sister arrives with her girls, two of whom are not happy about being woken up from a dead sleep, along with my dad and stepmom, just 12 hours after our phone conversation.
I help tuck the older girls into their beds and we try so hard to smile and coax the ones who are crying into happiness. “Hi sweetie, you’re at Aunt Sonya’s house,” I coo. They’re not impressed.
My sister and I greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll just go lay down with them,” she says.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” I whisper. She smiles and nods on her way to the bedroom with an inconsolable toddler in her arms.
“Me too!” she turns to say. “When they’re quiet, I’ll come out to talk.”
Later, Sister tiptoes out of the bedroom with sleepy eyes. I see how her body has relaxed, how her shoulders have dropped back to their normal level. I recognize the relief of arriving safe, of getting children to sleep, of not having your own piles of laundry to fold or a kitchen to clean after the kids are in bed—of making it through another day. We smile and with one look, we agree to table our kid-free talking time. Tomorrow. And we both head to bed.
Except tomorrow comes and there are children everywhere. Cousins hug and diapers are changed. Potties need sitting on and the little bottoms need wiped. Pancakes need making and cups need refilled. There are playdough syringes to evacuate and baby dolls to help dress. We have snack time and lunch time, nap time, and then (after another snack) more playtime—all of which happens through a mix of tears and laughter, whining and squeals. We make it through cranky time before dinner time —followed by bathtime, teeth brushing time, cousin pajama dance party time, book reading time and then (and then!) it’s finally bedtime.
Again, Mom is needed. To be close. To cuddle and soothe. To kiss and to hush.
Again, when all is quiet, Sister sneaks out of the room. She’s in pajamas and has her glasses on. “I’m so tired. Can we talk tomorrow?” Of course.
The clock has yet to strike noon and I’ve already said the words ‘I’m sorry I forgot’ five times.
Hi, I’m sorry, I forgot: to call and cancel my appointment that conflicts with the other thing I scheduled on the same day at the same time.
I’m sorry, I forgot: to turn in the paper you needed last Friday, the one to get my children assigned a teacher next year.
I’m sorry, I forgot: to send you a message on your birthday, friend. I thought of you, though! (Does that count?)
I’m sorry, I forgot: to text if you, my babysitter, are free for the event we are supposed to be at … tonight.
I’m sorry, I know we’ve met before, but I forgot your name.
I am constantly, constantly forgetting.
I have lists and calendars, alerts and alarms. But there’s just so much going on right now, it feels like I’m at capacity. I am able to manage what is right in front of me, what’s essential, but that’s it.
I simply cannot remember anything that isn’t in my line of vision, isn’t popping up as a non-snoozable notice on my phone, or doesn’t share my last name.
I want to be able to remember it all, but I can’t.
I just can’t.
It feels like I’m only half a second ahead of my sister in this motherhood thing, but after being under the same roof for three days in a row, I can’t believe how much I’d forgotten about having little kids. (How is that possible? I was just there.)
Every day, every moment, she is on. Selfless. Gentle. Sacrificial. Patient. She transitions from one need to the next, moves in sync with the constancy of it all, like waves in an ocean. So beautiful to watch from the shore. So powerful when you’re in the middle of it.
I swore I’d never forget what it was like to have little kids. But somehow, with the demands of this current stage, I have.
Before my sister and the family left, as we gathered blankets and stuffed animals, filled water bottles and kissed goodbye, I couldn’t help but feel strange—because I’m past the stage she’s in. I’m sorry, I wanted to say, because I forgot.
I forgot how hard it is to travel with little kids. How many things they require.
I forgot how tired I was for so many years, how it feels to be so full and so empty at the very same time, how I wouldn’t choose anything else, yet also wouldn’t mind having a really good long break. I forgot what it was like to have someone need you so much and to never, ever, ever be alone.
Being with my nieces, seeing the fullness of those cheeks, the perfect poutiness of their lips, the size of their here-then-gone tears, helped me remember just how much I’ve forgotten.
I forgot the knock-out smell of those diapers, the sound of Mommy Mommy Mommy 12 hours a day; I forgot how fast they can move and how heavy they become when they don’t want to. I forgot what happens to their bodies and emotions and voices if a granola bar breaks in the wrong place, if a sock feels funny, or when a nap is missed.
How much more have I forgotten?
How many times have I run into a mom in a stage I’ve already been through—and because I didn’t remember—I couldn’t be the woman I hoped I’d be for her? The one who offers words of encouragement (and maybe a hug).
So I want to say it now.
I’m sorry I told you you looked great and I asked how the baby was sleeping, but forgot to ask you how you are doing, how you are feeling.
I’m sorry I said, “everyone learns to use the potty eventually” and “they’ll sleep through the night soon” because I forgot just how much time I used to spend with the books and the blogs and the endlessness of the internet—seeking advice from sources that could offer me insight on the “right” way to do it.
I’m sorry I might’ve sounded dismissive when you asked all those questions, because I forgot. I forgot that—for a season—I was just like you, thoroughly consumed with figuring out the best time and method to introduce solid foods. And in another, transitioning from the bottle to a sippy cup. And in yet another, how to get my child from the crib to a toddler bed.
I’m sorry I forgot the anxiety of pool season, beach vacations, bathtime when looking away, standing out of reach, or letting your guard down—even for a second—simply isn’t an option.
I’m sorry I forgot what it felt like to carry a diaper bag, a baby, a toddler, the weight of pregnancy and your family’s world in your arms, body, and heart.
Yes, in my current season, I’m busy with swim schedules and summer camps, arranging for friends to come hang out and making sure everyone has clean underwear. And I’m sure in a few years, my concerns about paying for braces, buying new soccer cleats, and deciding the right age to give my oldest a phone will be replaced by fresh ones. Like adding a driver to my car insurance, setting curfews, or writing college tuition checks.
We forget so much of the past because we must give our attention to what’s most important. What’s right here, right now.
I hope I remember that my memory will never be as good as the experience.
And if I do, I want to be quick to say I’m sorry—because I forget.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.