There were days when I lived to put the kids down and then could do nothing more than curl up in bed with my good friends Pillow and Netflix. Years, in fact.
I started my days tired and ended them depleted.
My early years of motherhood are a fog of confusion (wait, this is it?) and loss (pre-baby body, pre-baby freedom, Saturdays that actually felt like a break, etc.), punctuated by crystal-clear moments of joy and fulfillment.
Like the time we introduced our toddling son to his brand new baby brother and watched him take a pacifier out of his mouth to give it to his new charge.
Or all the times I caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of little ones holding hands in their car seats.
Or the time I sat shoulder to shoulder with my husband and watched our kids play hide-and-seek around a fallen tree, seeing my family from an outsider's perspective and feeling so deeply grateful that they are mine.
But enveloping all of that beauty was the fog. The exhaustion and the self-doubt, the short fuse and the I said exhaustion, right?
A close friend called me recently, laying her self-doubt and burnout at my feet.
"Are my daughter's outbursts a reflection of my parenting?" she asked. "Am I doing this all wrong? When — please tell me when — does this get easier?"
I listened because when I'm in that place, that's all I really need from the person I bear my heart to.
But since our conversation, I've been mulling over what I could say to her that would have a prayer of making a difference.
I've wondered what has changed in my life between then and now, beyond the ages of my children. And the main thing I keep putting my finger is this:
What I wish I'd mastered then — when I was in the throes of the baby-and-toddler years — was how to take care of myself and why it mattered.
Pillow and Netflix weren't filling me up.
"Self-care," a buzzword online these days, isn't just a list of good things to do; although, there is that! (Hot showers, favorite candles, globe lights on your patio, stolen minutes of journaling, to name a few.) It's also a state of mind. It's a lens through which you get to see your family, your home, your life.
It's the belief that living with your eyes and heart wide open is so much better than going through the motions.
I don't know if I could have gotten to this point when my kids were tiny, even if I'd known then what I know now. But I'd like to give other moms the chance to try.
In the words of T.S. Eliot, "Be still and still moving."
You will always be moving. The bottles will need to be cleaned and the Band-aids dispensed. The potty accidents and endless snack requests won't wait.
But you can still be still.
And still moving.
The moments you claim as your own as you breathe in the warm evening air on your way back from the mailbox, the chances you take to fill a bath for yourself instead of one of your littles, they will help you cultivate a stillness of mind that will spill over into your unremarkable, remarkable days as a mom.
Fill yourself up.
See the world through a lens of gratitude.
Learn to be still — and still moving.