This morning, when my alarm went off at 6, I felt like I had just gone to sleep. I got out of bed into a quiet house, and went downstairs to finish packing bags for work and daycare, then I got into the shower and by the time I got out, my 18 month old was wide awake and yelling "mommy" from his crib, and my house was quiet no more. He drank some milk while I got dressed, then I got him dressed, got him his beloved morning Kix, and we were out the door. He insisted on listening to ABCs on repeat in the car all the way to daycare, and threw a serious tantrum when it was time for me to leave. I got some coffee, and made it just in time to catch my train. In the quiet car I started a new book, and read my way into Manhattan.
This, I think, is thirty-four. Being a mom. Having a full-time job. In the thick of family life with an opinionated and fiercely independent toddler, always just a little bit tired, addicted to schedules, and grabbing moments of quiet whenever and wherever I can find them.
Thirty-four is eighteen months into this parenting gig. It is being more confident, and less afraid. It is not being freaked out by fevers anymore, and not running to the phone to call the pediatrician for every little rash or runny nose. It is looking at my toddler with something like disbelief that he could possibly have grown so much and learned so many things in such a short time. It is getting a little thrill every time he says "mommy" because it took him so damn long to learn how to say it. It is toddler babbles turning into actual words and dancing to ring around the rosy in the kitchen and reading Llama, Llama Red Pajama six times in a row.
Thirty-four is trying hard to remember that sometimes the best thing I can do for my little guy is to step back and trust him to be who he is. To stop worrying about whether he is eating or drinking or playing enough, or if he is watching too much TV. To stop comparing him to other kids and counting the hours he sleeps in a day and obsessing over whether he's hitting his milestones on time. It's understanding that for the most part, my job is to give him confidence and love and fun and room to grow, and meals and snacks when he's supposed to have them, and the rest will just take care of itself. It is knowing that this stepping back and letting go happens more often and more dramatically as the years pass, and trying to be here now as much as I can in this brief moment in time when he is small and needs me more than he ever will.
Thirty-four is no longer being shocked at how much a baby changes everything. My friendships, my family, my career, my house, my entire life - all of these things look different when they are covered in a layer of toys, sippy cups, diapers, schedules, and a toddler who suddenly has opinions about everything. It is realizing that trying to act like nothing has changed is exhausting, and that it is absurdly freeing to let go and accept the fact that I'm different than I used to be, that I'll never be exactly the person I was, and that's ok.
Thirty-four is leaning more heavily on my friends - both in person and online - who are also moms for their experience, and for the solidarity, and for feeling less alone on this parenting road. Because what I know that I didn't know before is that even though every kid is different, some parts of being a mom are universal, and no matter how much you think you can do it all, it really does take a village.
But thirty-four is also clinging to my old friends - the ones who knew me when my house was clean for longer than eleven seconds at a time and when I didn't have to schedule nights out around bedtimes and early morning wake-ups. Because for as much as I have changed over the past year and a half, I'm still the same french fry eating, pop-culture junkie, obsessive TV watcher, lover and collector of romance novels that I used to be, and sometimes I need a reminder of that part of me too.
Thirty-four is making a major career change I didn't even know I needed. It is realizing that at this time in my life, I don't need or even really want a high powered job in a fancy office that requires suits and heels and an utterly inflexible schedule. What I need is to do good and fulfilling work with good people, and then go home hug my baby. And I feel so lucky that the right opportunity found me at just the right time, and I am happier in my career than I have ever been. I've been in this long enough to know that the elusive "having it all" doesn't actually exist in real life, but I feel like, at thirty-four, I am as close to it as anyone ever gets to be.
Thirty-four is a lot of wondering. Wondering if I'm doing all the things I'm supposed to be doing. Wondering if I'll ever start feeling like an adult or if maybe this is what an adult feels like. Wondering if I'm being a good enough parent, a good enough partner, a good enough employee, a good enough friend, sister, daughter, woman. Wondering if I'll ever be able to fit properly into my pre-pregnancy jeans or whether I even really care about that. Wondering if there will ever be a time when I have all the laundry simultaneously clean, folded, and put away. Wondering if maybe it's time to start figuring out things like eye cream and anti-aging whatevers and the proper way to apply under-eye concealer. And it's a lot, all of this wondering,
But thirty-four is realizing every night when I put my thriving, happy baby to sleep and sit on the couch with my man in the quiet of my house after a day filled with noise, that I am doing as good a job as I know how to do with all of it, and really, that's the most that any of us can ask of ourselves. And after a difficult year in this country and for the world, and with an uncertain future looming, I understand now more than ever that I have a life that's good. I think that for all of the messiness and the exhaustion and the worry and the details that come with motherhood and with life, thirty-four is kind of a miracle. Because I get to be here with the people I love and who love me and because thirty-four is old enough to know that none of this is a given. None of us know how much time we'll have or how much time the ones we love will have, so I take what I've been given and use it the best way I can. By spending it doing the things I love most, surrounded by my people, with little boy giggles in the background.