I found myself at my sister's house that winter, with a three month old and the big kids. We were hanging out at her house with her three children, too. We were loud and crazy, toys and kids everywhere we turned.
One night I was lying in my nephew's bedroom where we were staying for a few days and I heard my sister singing a lullaby to my niece to help her get to sleep. She put emphasis on words. She used a higher voice, then a silly voice. She laughed. She tickled, and baby laughed. I heard her sing it slowly, as if she had all the time in the world. She sang it as if she were completely and totally present in that baby nursery. She sang it with patience and love, and as though she enjoyed what she was doing in that moment- standing in the cold room, bare foot, hair a mess, spit up on her shirt, not having sat down all day, totally in need of a break after all I saw her do that day, and a thousand other things to do later.
And then it hit me... We DO have time like that. We just FEEL like we don't sometimes. We CAN sing an entire lullaby. How long does it really take? A minute? Three minutes? Can't we spare that much time to our babies at the end of a long day where everyone and everything else took our attention, energy and patience? Can't we share that much love every night? Isn't it the least we can give?
It made me cry. To think that I used to sing entire lullabies also, three kids ago. To think that recently I'd been rushing the bed time stories or even skipping them when the big kids begged. To think I'd been fast forwarding my renditions of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for my newborn and offering up only the speedy remix version of You Are My Sunshine to my middle baby who at almost five years old so desperately needed those 2-3 minutes of extra attention every night from her momma singing a real lullaby.
I felt guilty, embarrassed, sad. I felt frustrated and angry that really, I can't find that much time? When will it get easier, I remember thinking?
From that night on, I've sang real lullabies to my babies. I've answered yes more often than not to the extra bed time story or to the "Can you tell me a Once Upon a Time, Mama?" where I make up some random story about my oldest son being a knight or a prince or a boat captain or an airplane pilot and we talk about pirates and the adventures he's on and it takes literally two minutes and he's smiling ear to ear as he rests his head on his pillow to sleep.
I've said yes more. I've made time for these moments and ignored the laundry piling up or the work emails I know I "should" respond to. I've put it aside as best as I can - and it's not easy some nights - to focus entirely on them before bed. In fact, it's probably the hardest time of day. I'm spent, used up, zero energy left. I just want to curl into my own bed and have someone tell me a story and let me doze off to sleep instead of face all the responsibilities that I don't have any time earlier in the day to handle since I work full time out of the house and it's a HUGE juggle to get it all done...
But I do it because I saw it CAN be done. My sister sings an entire lullaby to her little one, so I can, too. It's important. It's a good bonding moment. It makes me feel calmer, too. They deserve that much from me.
I am not perfect. There are plenty of rushed nights still. There are nights where I sigh or roll my eyes to myself when one asks "I need a hug now too! I need you to kiss my stuffed animal!" and all I want to say is "Please, please just go to bed so I can breathe!" We all have moments. We all go through phases, like the one I was in with a new baby and big kids who all needed so much from me and I was about to crack if someone asked one more thing from me, like a lullaby.
Give yourself some grace in those challenging moments. Let yourself be in those moments of chaos and know that it WILL pass. You can improve and get better.
And slowly get to a point where you start saying yes again to more stories at night or where you allow yourself to really focus on singing the lullaby with all your heart put into it, not rushing to get to the dishes on the table downstairs. Tell yourself it's only five minutes, I can spare five minutes.
This parenting things is so hard. I don't know a single mother who doesn't want an extra 24 hours in her week, an extra five hours in her day.
We all need more time to get it all done. But what if that's the point? We CAN'T get it all done, ever. We have to just keep trying to do most of it, the best of it, what's most important, instead of all of it. That's enough, that's OK and acceptable. That's really OK. YOU are OK.
Hugs, mommas. It's hard, I get it. It's nice to admit when we're sliding into a negative pattern, and then reach up for a hand - to another momma who gets it - to change things around. For me, my sister did that for me, without even knowing it. I've never told her that I heard her that day, that it changed me.
It's a simple thing, singing a full song to my baby at night and being present when I do it. It's not changing my world or theirs, but it's changing those moments, and that's what life is about. Small moments changed into something better, more positive, moments where we are really alive, present and focused on what's most important- love.
That is what my babies will hopefully remember someday when they are grown: My Mom said yes most nights for songs and stories. My Mom slowed down to see me, hear me, be with me. Is there anything more important than that?