It is dark and quiet in the house, that precious hour before the sun and children wake up. After digging out my yoga mat from behind the vacuum in the hall closet, I unroll it and lay it in front of the TV in our living room.
Carefully, I follow the instructions on the video, trying to correctly perform each pose. Yoga is a new endeavor for me, and in this moment, I am thankful for Youtube and the ability to learn an unfamiliar exercise routine in the privacy of my own home. Despite being a bit awkward and clumsy, I feel pretty good until we transition from a low lunge into a calf stretch. While the yoga instructor smoothly bends at the waist, hands effortlessly passing her perfectly flexed foot, my hands just reach my shin before my leg muscles start burning, and I struggle to hold the pose.
I’ve never liked stretching because it always reminds me of those flexibility tests they made us do in middle school P.E. class. Seated on the floor, we had to lean as far forward as possible while the teacher measured our reach. No matter how hard I tried, I could barely touch my toes. I hated the fact that even though I could pass all the other physical fitness tests, I could never make the mark for flexibility.
The Youtube yoga instructor tells me to breathe slowly and steadily, in through my nose and out through my mouth. She says good breathing helps to make sure adequate oxygen reaches my muscles, and will help ground me in the moment.
Over time, I am surprised to find the dreaded calf stretch pose isn’t as horrible as it was when I first started. My muscles still burn as I fold forward, but I learn to practice breathing slowly and steadily. I let myself lean into the discomfort and relax in it, quieting both body and mind, gradually stretching deeper and farther.
And in the release, I find a calm.
Naptime: I dread and long for it.
It is a gamble if both kids will actually sleep, how long they will stay asleep, and how much crying will be involved. Today we play outside, giggling and shrieking the winter sunshine warming our faces, But as soon as we step inside, the meltdowns start. First, the baby. All of a sudden the need to nurse is imperative, and she begins to cry hysterically. Then, the toddler. He hangs on my leg, momentarily forgetting to use words, resorting instead to high pitched screeching. The baby screams as I change her diaper, and the toddler screams to out-scream his sister.
So much screaming today.
Finally, I sit to nurse the baby, who is immediately calmed by my breast. Undeterred, my wailing toddler attempts to clamber up on my lap and squeeze into any space his sister is not currently inhabiting. No amount of reasoning will calm him.
“If you just wait five minutes while I get your sister to sleep, then I will hold you. How about a book? Why don’t you go get a book?”
My voice, at first coaxing, becomes tense with frustration and desperation as I continue to beg, “Just lay your head on my lap. No, you can’t sit there. Stop! You are on top of your sister!”
He will have none of it because he wants me. And he wants all of me now.
I can barely breathe as I attempt to hold both children—wriggling, squirming, wailing, desiring my complete and undivided attention. Sitting in the discomfort of my own inadequacy, my instinct is to push everyone off me and make my escape. But overwhelming love keeps me there, shifting my body so I can open my arms just a little bit wider.
When I was pregnant with my son, I watched my belly slowly expand over weeks and months, round and taut, as the tiny human inside me grew, creating stretch marks on my skin. On a hospital bed, as sweat beaded along my forehead and dripped into my eyes, the doctor reminded me to breathe as the contractions grew stronger, each hitting me like a wave, pulling me under in its relentless rip current. Somehow, in all of this, my body was making a space big enough to allow this human to enter the world. My body, just like my heart. Stretching out. Stretching open.
This is motherhood: being stretched over and over again. It pushes me to the limits of how far I can go. Then—when I begin to think I have nothing left to give—somehow, I am able to keep on giving, etching stretch marks on my soul.
The toddler is still crying, the baby is still nursing. But I lean into the tension, close my eyes, and breathe. In through my nose, out through my mouth. I stroke the toddler’s sweaty brow and pull the baby in a little closer as I begin to sing.
My son lays his head in my lap, his little hand in mine, as the wailing stops, his breathing steadies, and his eyes begin to droop. The baby’s body relaxes and sinks into me as I press her to my chest, watching her slowly succumb to sleep. A quiet peace suddenly fills the room. I stare at the two sweet faces reflecting my own, and wonder what they dream of.
And in the release, I find a calm.