The five of us went somewhere.
It was spontaneous.
The experience was pleasant enough that I am fondly referring to it as an “adventure” and not as a soul-crushing challenge to my ability to mother my children without violence and/or public shame.
And the outing wasn’t just pleasant. It was… easy. For starters, we just went. As in, “Kids! Time to go!” and then we five independently walked out of the house and got into the car. No diaper bags, no extra outfits in case of a blowout, no bottles or nursing covers or binkies. No toddler snacks to hold them off until our dinner arrived. No toys. Just five people walking out the door.
The car ride was a little hairy – the 5-year-old decided he didn’t want to go – but once we got to IHOP, it was smooth sailing. We ordered, we ate, we didn’t spill, and we mostly stayed put in our seats without epically disrupting the entire restaurant’s atmosphere and operations.
On the way home, my husband and I even dared to share a cocky “Check us the hell out” glance. But over the course of the night, it started to dawn on me. This sort of thing was happening more and more. On Memorial Day, we went to the zoo and no one cried. Last month, we visited friends and were able to have uninterrupted adult conversation while the kids played upstairs. Is this… is this what our life is like now?
It’s slightly unnerving, this newfound calm. (Should I take up watercolor? Deep clean the blinds? What do people do when they aren’t drowning in babies?)
Don’t get me wrong. My youngest is only freshly three and predictably obstinate, all round belly and yellow curls, still part-baby, part-girl. My 5-year-old hasn’t yet made the giant leap into kindergarten, and my 10-year-old, in her furious, fiery way, is still my most challenging. While I get paid vacation days now, we never have the money to do much with them. We still struggle. In a less physically consuming way, perhaps, but with the emotional gristle that requires logic and hope. The children are undeniably getting older. And my husband and I? We are getting better – at parenting, at planning, at life. I have to admit… I like who we are right now.
Yet, I hold onto the remnants of our struggle the way the grieving hold on to the exhausting manifestations of their loss – knowing that once it’s gone, it’s gone. The anxiety and fear and bone-tired frustration, yes. But also, this identity I’ve worn since my twenties, the gritty resilience of carving a life and the sticky-sweet of sleeping toddlers. The wholeness of us, the simplicity that comes with being a young family, my three beautiful babies… when it’s gone it’s gone.