It was one of those days. In a complete about-face, I packed up lunches in the middle of the morning on a Tuesday and we headed to the park, avoiding unread emails and unfinished virtual school lessons and leaving dishes piled up in the sink.
The weather was that perfect partly cloudy 75 and sunny with a gentle early summer breeze. I needed air and so did they.
When we arrived at the park, there was only one fellow mama playing with her newly turned two-year-old. I could feel her eyes watching as I pushed my half-sleeping baby in the double stroller, darted after my adventurous soon-to-be three-year-old and kept the side-eye glance on my six-year-old.
“How is it having three?” she asked fumbling to hold her baby as he attempted a kiddie climb wall.
“I actually have four. My older step-daughter – just in school right now,” I smiled with a slight giggle – that giggle from a over-tired parent who also feels grateful. I was laughing at myself really. It even sounds absurd to me – four kids does seem like a lot.
She shared about their month in the NICU and 16 months of sleepless nights because her baby wouldn’t sleep until only recently. It made her question having more, she always thought she would have two back-to-back.
“It’s all a challenge and a blessing in its own way….one, three, four,” I commented feeling real empathy for what she must have been the through.
We commiserated about the usual mommy things – feeding, naptime and tantrums – slipping in words of encouragement, and tips and tricks that have worked for me. That having a 5.5 year gap between the first two, 3.5 between the second two and only 22 months between number three and four, I appreciate the wider age gap. And that not a single one of those age gaps was what we planned or expected. We talked about a year with babies during COVID. Our fears of assimilating our little ones back into a non-COVID existence. How will they adapt? How will we?
We headed our separate ways on the playground in mid-existential crisis conversation as only two moms with small kids can do without offending each other – her son wanting the slide, my girls divided between swings and the monkey bars.
Some time later, my fellow comrade started packing up her stuff to head home and I heard a voice from across the playground. “You are a real trooper and you look good doing it!”
I realized at that moment, I am the experienced mom. I am doing it, this momming thing. I am no longer the new mom. I am that mom I used to see and long to be – trucking multiples around, a stroller basket filled with carefully curated coordinating lunch boxes/water bottles with a sleeping baby on top – exhausted and energetic at the same time, the illusion of having it all together only because I am finally comfortable knowing I have no clue. Not panicking when someone falls off the teeter-totter, allowing my loud daughter to be loud and not forcing my shy daughter to say hi. I’m cool with one kid being dressed to perfection and the other having picked her own very un-matching weather-inappropriate get-up. I’m not worried when I check my phone for a text or two, letting go of the fear of being judged by other moms that may think I’m “not being present.” I’m not embarrassed when my kids fight. I am also prepared with enough water and snacks to take an Appalachian trek because too many times I’ve left the house ill-prepared. My choreography to get them all and a double stroller with the ride-along board into the car safely in a busy parking lot is well-rehearsed.
I am her. That mom I used to see and long to be.
It’s funny because I don’t find it harder or easier than before. Just different. I’m different. But I am not a new mom anymore.
It was a beautiful afternoon. But rest assured that as we were leaving, my patience waned. I was tired and hungry because even as an experienced mom, I forgot to pack myself snacks and water. So preoccupied about everyone else. I could hear my phone singing the chimes of piling up emails and the blissful break-time was soon turning into the same as all the other days. That’s part of the beauty, though. It isn’t always so beautiful.
I have been struggling with the idea of no longer having babies as my youngest nears her first birthday. Who am I if I am not a baby mom? As I slide unintentionally between one identity and another – today provided a moment of clarity and reflection. I’m not a new mom. I am an experienced mom of four kids. The only difference besides the extra gear and additional snacks to pull out at the pavilion picnic table? The confidence in the not-knowing.
I’m not sure who needed this afternoon more – my girls or me.