I've had friends recently ask me, "Is it hard?"
"Is what hard?" I would respond.
"Having three kids" they would say, as if it was so obvious they couldn't possibly mean anything else.
And for me, the answer was always the same. It wasn't so much "hard" as it was tiring. And I think as the weeks went on and the deeper in a sleep debt I crept, the more tiring it became. By week 5 after having our third baby, I found myself unable to crack an egg without getting shell in the bowl and stumbling over my own two feet going up the stairs carrying laundry; simple tasks I once did effortlessly had now become a challenge because my brain and body weren't getting adequate rest. I even convinced myself I could fall asleep standing up if I just had 5 minutes and no one at my feet asking for water or a snack. The other day I overheard my oldest daughter, Olivia, saying, "Mama, you need a massage and a vacation!"
"Girl, you are so right!" I thought to myself.
So...hard? Not necessarily the first word I would choose. But completely and utterly exhausting? In every single way.
When I think of experiences that are hard, I most often think of the loss of my Grandma Bea, just weeks before we welcomed our second baby girl into our family in the Fall of 2015. The combination of grieving the loss of perhaps the most significant person in my life up to that point while simultaneously basking in the joy of a brand new baby and fresh new life had my head -- and heart -- spinning. I think of challenges I faced growing up, including battling a severe eating disorder in high school -- suffering silently and without the support of a single friend -- as being hard. I think of certain experiences in my life that shook my world in a way I never could have anticipated. And then other things come to mind that I haven't experienced personally but know so many who have...infertility, the death of a child, the loss of a spouse, cancer and other terminal illnesses, fatal car accidents, suicide. That stuff is hard. In fact, "hard" doesn't even begin to cover it.
But as my littlest baby girl was falling asleep on my chest after her middle-of-the-night feeding a few weeks ago, I sat in the darkness of the room, soaking in the silence that filled it, listening to her calm, quiet breathing in rhythm with my own, and I realized what actually has been the hardest part of having three. Perhaps the hardest part of motherhood in general, no matter how many children you have: letting them grow up.
With three children, ages 4, 18 months and 1 month, you start to realize (if you haven't already), just how fast it really goes. I look at my oldest daughter and am still unsure how I have had the privilege of being a Mom for nearly four whole years. Where did the time go? Wasn't it just yesterday Dustin and I were bringing her home from the hospital and completely clueless as to what we were doing? I watch now as she unloads the dishwasher unprompted, makes her bed in the morning or asks if she can help me fold the laundry. I see her taking care of her baby sisters, putting a bib on Penelope before dinner and tucking Adaline in with a blanket, then kissing her forehead and saying, "Oh Della you are so sweet!" in her perfect little voice.
Was she really once a tiny little baby that fit in the crook of my arm and depended on me to meet her every need? Even as I type this, I find myself tearing up at the thought of her -- or any of my babies -- being that small again. They seem so grown up now. Were each of my daughters once without a voice? An option? An attitude? Independence? Was there really a time when I was their favorite sleeping spot, when their head fit perfectly on my shoulder or when their whole hand just needed a single finger of mine to hold on to?
The growing up part of motherhood is incredibly bittersweet. We can't stop our babies from growing up no matter how hard we try. Believe me, I have. I've even prayed that God would keep Adaline a baby, just for a little longer than my last two babies were. Somehow if He could just slow down the time I spent with her as a newborn. Or just to help me not to miss a thing. And to appreciate every second I spend with her in these early days and weeks. Because oh how quickly it goes by and slips away.
I found myself regularly in tears as my 3rd daughter outgrew clothing, looked differently than when I put her to bed the night before or someone commented on how much she's grown since they last saw her. Even more so than the first two times I watched my babies grow, it was so hard for me this time around. It was exciting and wonderful but equally painful. "An emotional rollercoaster" as I often explained to my husband after a particularly long day at home. It's exciting to see them grow and change but heartbreaking at the same time.
Why does it have to happen this way? That this perfect and tiny baby has to grow up to become her own person, with her own personality and preferences, one day having a tone, or throwing a tantrum, slamming a door or screaming in my face. How can the same person go from completely needing me from Day One to one day, perhaps thinking they don't need me at all?
I regularly found myself crawling into bed at the end of the day during those first weeks of being a Mom of 3 and looking over at my husband, as he looked back and saw the exhaustion written all over my face and in the dark circles under my eyes. As we listened to the hum of our baby girl breathing loudly in our bedroom and our two older daughters settling into sleep in the rooms beside ours, often with singing and giggles, I would whisper to him, "We're going to miss this, you know. One day our babies will be grown and our home will be empty and quiet. And I will cry because I'll want these days back." Bless Dustin's heart; I cry now because I'm so tired from being so needed yet admit one day I'll cry when I'm not. How's that for an emotional rollercoaster?!
All too soon my children will be in school; my days at home will no longer be filled with bubble baths and untangling curls, changing diapers and folding little clothes, matching up tiny socks and making muffins, holding small hands and cutting up food, reading books at bedtime and rocking to sleep, sticker books and teddy bears, tea parties and bows. One day there won't be a baby in my arms or a toddler at my feet; the daughters that once asked to do everything with me -- or needed me to do everything for them -- will be learning to do things for themselves and others, and little by little, becoming who they were always meant to be. One day they will be too big to carry; I'll no longer be "mama" but instead "Mom"; they won't ask me to crawl into bed next to them to snuggle or want to hold my hand wherever we go like they do now. And the reality that was my world for so long as a mom of babies and young children will be replaced with things that seem so foreign to me now.
But as each day passes, I'm learning that it's okay to be sad that they are growing up. Because they are my babies. My truest treasures. The three greatest gifts I've ever been given. And that in and of itself carries a weight unlike anything else in the world. We all know that with each stage comes new joys, new heartache, new experiences, new emotion. With each new season comes excitement, but also some sadness that the season prior has come to a close. It goes by so fast and I know even in the hardest moments, I will never look back and regret the time I gave to my children -- whether in the middle of the night, early in the morning, all day long...I was present and there for them and they will grow up knowing I always will be. And I think as a Mom it's our unending love for our children that makes it all so bittersweet. I love my three little girls so much that it truly makes my heart ache to let them grow...because I know that means one day letting them go.
So the next time someone asks me, "Is it hard?"
Perhaps my answer will be, "Yes. Letting my babies grow up is the hardest thing I've ever done."
Thankfully, it's up to me what I do with the time I've been given with them. I have the opportunity to wake up and make every single day count. I can make that choice. To cherish every age, every season. To be present. To live in the moment. To laugh a lot. And to let them be little. To stay up way later than I should while my baby girl sleeps on me, just because I can. To treasure these days. To appreciate it all...and to embrace every single messy, imperfect moment, even the sad ones as they grow. And most of all, to love them better than anyone else can. Because I'm their Mom. And no matter what, I always will be.