This is motherhood: Thoughts from the floor of a four-year-old's bedroom

Julie Maclellan

This is motherhood. This five-in-the-morning moment, sitting silently on the floor of your bedroom as you rage at me in a screaming-wailing-crying-kicking-hitting meltdown of four-year-old emotional overload.

This is motherhood. This place in the darkness where I listen to you cry and I ache. I ache to hold you in my arms until you stop. I ache to leave you there crying on your own as I return to bed, to burrow under the comforter and bury my head in the pillow and pretend, pretend so hard that I heard nothing, that you’re not awake, that if I ignore this moment it too will pass. I ache to yell, to shout at you to stop, to quit making that godawful noise and go to sleep and no you can’t have the #*!@ Cinderella light on because it’s too bright and it’s keeping you awake and you’ve been up for two hours and we both need our sleep and I’m sick and I’m aching and I’m exhausted and I need you to just. Quit. Already.

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This is motherhood. This place in the cold pre-dawn where I don’t do any of those things because right now, what you need from me is just me. Here. Present. While you let out everything you need to let out until you can come to me and crawl into my lap and tell me what it is that’s wrong.

This is motherhood. This cold, uncomfortable moment in the dark when you crawl into my lap as your rage subsides into whimpers and you tell me you can’t sleep without the light on because of the scary crocodile shadow in the corner. This moment when your tiny body, so stiff with rage, softens and melts into mine as you curl into my lap like the baby you were not so very long ago.

This is motherhood. This knowing, in the darkness, that this is hard.

It’s hard for you. To be small. To be scared. To be alone in the dark and want your mommy.

It’s hard for me. To be mommy. To be stronger than I am, right here, right now, for the small stubborn fierce frightened little person who needs me to get my pillow and my blanket and lie down on the floor next to her bed so, in this moment, she can fall asleep without her light on and not worry about the shadows.

This is motherhood. This uncomfortable half-sleep as I listen to you breathe and I remember other times when I repeated to myself in a silent mantra, a prayer born of desperation: This too shall pass.

The first night you had croup when I lay right here, next to your bed, and listened to you breathe, never quite falling asleep lest I miss the moment when your breathing changed and you struggled for air.

That time I came down with a vicious bug and barely had the energy to hold myself upright to breastfeed you. When I sat on this floor and leaned against the dresser and tried not to throw up long enough to give you the milk you were yelling for.

That night you were cutting your molars and I spent the evening not eating my birthday dinner, holding a small screaming bundle of pain against my chest, trying to offer relief where medicine had failed, trying to give comfort where none could be found.

That night at the end of your first week of “big-girl daycare” when you just couldn’t take it anymore and you screamed and raged and wailed because nothing was right, because I sang the wrong lullaby and put the blankets in the wrong order and put the wrong bear next to your pillow and brought you the water in the wrong cup and you were oh so very exhausted but you wouldn’t, couldn’t, give in to sleep and you waged battle against bedtime, on and on and on and on, until we both ended up in tears.

This is motherhood. This realization, as I lie here on the floor with one arm wrapped around my pillow, that these years may be fleeting but these minutes, these hours, are so often exhaustingly, endlessly, relentlessly long.

You sleep. You know nothing of the thoughts that pass through a mother’s mind in the too-long-yet-still-not-long-enough hours before the sun comes up and the morning comes again with its get up get dressed get breakfast clean up the spilled sugar wipe the porridge off your dress pack your lunch it’s time to take the recycling out we’ve got to get our shoes on I’m going to be late for work.

Then Daddy calls you from the back porch to come see something.

You scamper off. I finish packing the lunch and filling the water bottle and I follow.

I see you next to Daddy. You’re staring, mesmerized, at two large spiders, spinning picture-perfect webs at the edge of our porch, the silken strands glistening with dew.

The sun sparkles on the webs and on your hair and on your glowing face with the big blue eyes that still tug at my heart the way they did that very first afternoon some four years ago.

This is motherhood. This sense of wonder. Of awe. Of amazement that every day the world is full of joy just waiting to happen.

This is motherhood. This realization, clichéd though it may be to say it, that I am blessed. That we have never faced grave illness, trauma, danger, hunger, tragedy, loss. That the moments of half-sleep on a hard bedroom floor have been outweighed a thousandfold by the moments of laughter, of discovery, of adventure.

This is motherhood. This knowing that life is full of spilled sugar and uneaten porridge and imperfect people making imperfect decisions in imperfect moments. And the knowing that we will keep on stringing those imperfect moments together into a life that is messy and flawed and full of mistakes and thoroughly, completely our own.

This is motherhood.

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