It was a typical end-of-the-week afternoon in my backyard when I realized what I dislike most about being a mom.
My best friend who is single had stopped by for a visit. She was attempting to entertain my kids while I grilled dinner, me cursing myself for not bringing home a Costco rotisserie chicken instead — all because of some article I read about the dangers of carrageenan.
In between baby coos and trying to dissuade my toddler from feeding dog kibble to her stuffed animals, my friend and I talked about her weekend plans, because of course I didn’t have any beyond DVR. She, on the other hand, had options. The kind single girls dream of: Reservations at a swanky restaurant was option one. Jazz and wine at the Museum of Modern Art was another. Meeting up at a new gastropub downtown was a third.
In an hour or so, she’d leave me to bedtime routines and cranky babies, while she’d scurry off to luxuriate in a long uninterrupted shower before slinking into any number of in-the-moment outfits. She’d then head out into the night, the possibilities as fragrant as her perfume. Her mind swarming with thoughts of work and wine. She’d probably get drunk. She’d probably order late-night takeout. She might even kiss a stranger. My friend could be recklessly irresponsible if she wanted to, answering to no one.
Picturing all that lay ahead, for both of us, was when I realized what the hardest part of parenting is. And it isn’t what I thought it would be. It isn’t the poosplosions — the goriest of them always happening when you’ve forgotten the extra wipes or spare outfit or when you’re wearing white.
It isn’t the stretch marks. Oh, the stretch marks. No hundred-dollar cream or magic potion is ever going to restore the skin on my hips to what it once was.
It isn’t the crying. The newborn colic crying. The 6-month-old teething crying. The toddler tantrum crying. The just because I want to annoy you crying. The two children at once crying. While pretty freaking awful, it isn’t even the crying. Though there’s no other more disconcerting sound in the world than a child in pain, be that pain real or imagined.
It isn’t the mess. The expense. The discomfort of having to hold your own pee to deal with someone else’s. The hardest part isn’t even the sleep deprivation. I thought the sleep thing would be easier the second time around. I was wrong.
Car keys have ended up in the freezer. I’ve slept through my firstborn loudly dumping a bottle of Kefir on the master bedroom floor. There have been moments of exhaustion so poignant, with both children, that I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to wake up again.
The hardest part isn’t any of those things, though admittedly, they do suck. No one likes the smell of fermented dairy products in their brand new carpet. The most difficult thing about being a mom is something I still struggle with, two kids and two years later.
It’s that I’ll never truly feel free again.
I’ll never get lost in the night like I did before my kids were born. Never again will I float from place to place on a whim, dashing from one exciting oyster pearl of a party to another, via smoky cabs and forgotten conversations with the people who drive them (way back then, three years ago, Uber wasn’t a thing) with nothing on my mind but the moment. I won’t be able to let go like that, to lose track of time — not on a dance floor or even on a long run. My kids will always be clouding my judgment, shaping my decisions, deciding my night.
Realizing I’ll never be able to set out into the world without my babies and not constantly feel the pull back to them, as if a magnetic umbilical cord is still attached, fills me with both joy and a strange a sense of loss.
Sure, I’ll hire a babysitter like everyone else does. Have dinner, drinks even. See a movie. Mingle at a party. And dance, I’ll probably even dance. But a part of me, almost all of me, if I’m honest, will have one foot already out the door in a rush to get back home to peek in to see if the humans I helped create are still breathing.
I’m wistful for my emotional independence. I really am, because I can’t even run to Target alone without missing them, worrying for them, hoping with every pang in my heart that they’re OK.
That’s when it hits me, how close my wings have been clipped. It’s exhausting loving little people this much. And while my kids are the best thing that has ever happened to me, the lack of freedom a love like this entails is the hardest part of parenting, hands down.