Pregnant with girl-one, my cheeks glowed with anxious anticipation.
I remember a conversation with a co-worker sometime near my due date. Her smile smile crept along the grooves so many years had traced into her face.
I can just picture your little one, toddling after you in the garden.
I smiled, too. I liked that image. I would be a good mother.
But as it turned out, our apartment couldn't host a garden and I was so overwhelmed by both the new and the born that I could hardly shower, much less think about planting even a simple window box. I couldn't do anything, really, except hold that baby.
Today I'm home alone with just girl-three -- both girl-one and girl-two are overnighting with their cousins and it sure is quiet around here. Girl-three and I are getting things done. I have bathrooms to clean, floors to wash. She has cups to bang, chairs to climb. We are together and separate -- symbiotic, really -- both happy doing our jobs.
I run the vacuum while she squeals and toddles after it. The garden is frozen but I imagine she'd toddle after me out there, too. Suddenly I can't help but wonder: would I be a better mother to just one?
But then I remember how it really was.
With just one, I cried because I couldn't get anything done. Grocery shopping? She'd need a snack. She'd lick the cart. Meatloaf? She'd climb the chair right when I had sunk my hands into that raw meat. Playdates? She was afraid of everyone (Though we did go as often as we could both stand it). We spent a lot of time reading books. Book after book after book. She learned to spell her name early. I was her sun and her moon.
With two, I cried because I couldn't be everything to girl-one anymore. So I read books while bouncing the screaming baby. The book flopped up and down and sometimes I couldn't finish. But I tried. I played in the dollhouse while fighting off the sleep deprivation that threatened to smother me. Coffee helped but I wondered when I'd feel full-steam again. I turned on the TV for girl-one when I tried to get the baby down for a nap, even though I hated leaving her alone. I did my best.
With three, I stopped crying. Girls-one and two entertain each other, and when girl-one is at school, girl-two plays on her own a lot. I engage her when I can, but we all have roles to play. Sometimes I feel guilty for making dinner instead of sitting down to play a board game with them or for writing a blog post while they watch TV, or for the fact that at any given moment, one out of the three might be unhappy -- but for the most part, I'm comfortable with the way we do things. With our version of symbiosis. And I think it's safe to say we're all thriving.
So the answer comes in memories. No, I'm not a better mother to one -- or to three. The addition of each girl has evolved my thinking and approach, but I've always followed my gut and just did what I felt was right in each moment. I can look back and label each move as good or hm, maybe not so good, but I'm not sure I see the point in that.
So what am I then, if not better, for the six years I've already been wearing this hat?
Not better. No. Just mother.
A mother with three little souls attached to her hip and heels and heart. They feed me just as much as I've ever feed them.
And that's the image that keeps me going.