Hours of mindless Netflix binges and newborn snuggles filled most of my maternity leave days with baby number one. Of course there were the sleepless nights, the rude awakening that is the adjustment to parenthood, and all of those “fun” body changes, but those are thankfully clouded over and I’m left with the sweet, quiet memories that led me to believe things with my second would be just the same. I envisioned us like a Pampers ad; all heart eyes and softly vignetted. You hear so often from seasoned parents, “It goes so fast, cherish every moment,” and I tried hard to follow their sage advice.
With baby number two, I anticipated those serene days that I so fondly remembered with my first. I was ready to soak in that small fraction of time when the baby was so little and so vulnerable. But I was also worried about making time for my toddler and maintaining our close bond.
After my daughter’s arrival, I watched as my toddler son slowly started to become more attached to his dad and less dependent on me. I was thankful for the growth in their relationship, but I selfishly hated how I couldn’t be his go-to person anymore. I spent my time occupied with a baby unable to interact much yet and refusing the comfort of others including taking a bottle or pacifier for soothing. I watched from the window of our kitchen as the two of them rode their bikes in the yard and fought the guilt I felt at losing the freedom that a tough pregnancy and newborn stage had kept me from. I craved alone time with my son and the satisfaction of caring for someone that could wrap their little arounds my neck and say, “I love you, too.” I questioned if I was failing to “cherish every moment” with my newborn AND my son.
About seven weeks in, during an incredibly trying day with the baby, my husband offered to take her and shooed me and my toddler out the door. My son’s eyes sparkled with excitement and he seemed in disbelief that he would have mommy all to himself. We giddily hopped into the car, treats in hand, and I peeled out of the driveway like a teenager headed for a party. We headed towards the lake for some fresh air in hopes of recharging my batteries and getting some time in with my little dude that we had both so missed. After finding the perfect lakeside spot and opening up our popsicles, I noticed a very familiar and telling look on my toddler’s face.
My number one was going number two. And in the excitement and rush of getting out the door I hadn’t grabbed the diaper bag. A rush of mom-guilt hit me hard.
I braced myself as I broke the news to him that we needed to head home after our treats were finished instead of hanging out like we had planned. His face fell and he instantly lost his grip on sanity in the way only toddlers can do. A gigantic meltdown ensued and I felt my cheeks turn hot as other beachgoers began to notice. I did the mom-version of the walk of shame; I slowly dragged my screaming, devastated, poopy-pants popsicle-faced son to the car keeping my head down and my voice low; pleading with him sternly and trying to salvage any piece of our outing.
Almost to the car, he broke loose in a move worthy of a professional athlete and bolted in front of traffic. My mom reflexes kicked in and I lunged, pulling him back so hard he fell (there came that mom guilt again). The gigantic meltdown turned nuclear and remained so the entire ride home, tears streaming down both of our faces. The disappointment in the air was tangible and heartbreaking.
I felt like the rose colored glasses I had used to view my son and husband’s time together had been abruptly ripped off and left me with the glaring reality of how tough parenting a toddler and infant can be. It was a wakeup call that we aren’t a romanticized Instagram family wearing flower crowns and perfectly mismatched neutral outfits. We’re in the thick of spontaneous meltdowns countered by hilarious toddler conversations. We’re in the middle of piercing newborn cries and a world of “firsts.”
I laid in bed that night and replayed the beach scene a thousand times, flinching at the failure I felt and at what seemed like a missed opportunity for connection with my son. And eventually I started to smile. It turns out, we’re not in a Pampers commercial. And we’re not going to remember those low key outings where everything went perfectly. We’re going to remember the BIG moments. The messy ones. The ones that make us cringe, then laugh. The ones that remind us we’re perfectly imperfect. These are the moments that define our reality and make the sweet moments even sweeter.
The disappointment and failure I had felt were weighed down by that immense pressure I had assigned myself to be picture perfect and letting go of that was like breaking free of shackles I didn’t even know were there. It felt incredibly freeing to realize that we as a family and me as a parent were just fine. It’s okay that this outing didn’t meet my expectations and it’s okay to feel raw, even if it makes us uncomfortable. As I gain more space from that day now deemed “Poopy Pants and Popsicles,” I know I’ve learned that moments don’t have to be perfect to be cherished.