By Kirsten Clodfelter
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how shitty your month has been. Or how long your pitiful toddler has been waylaid at home with the flu. (I mean, who’s counting, but it’s been 17 fucking days, if you’re wondering. SEVEN.TEEN.) It doesn’t matter how much work you haven’t done or how many deadlines loom or how suffocating the fist-squeeze in your sternum has grown since just hours ago. It doesn’t matter how little sleep you’ve gotten for the last, oh, 1,000 nights or so, even though your partner took off two days from work last week to be the heavy, to offer a little relief.
It doesn’t matter that there are mornings when it takes you an hour—AN HOUR—to make a Thermos of coffee because of how many times the weak-throated whisper of Mommy freezes you a foot beyond the frame of the door. And because you can hear the hurt-animal misery in her voice, you always retrace the way to her, shadowboxing homage to one step forward, two steps back in its literal iteration.
It doesn’t even matter that you sometimes feel so beaten down by the length of each day’s list of tasks necessary to simply maintain that it becomes difficult to imagine ever getting a little bit ahead—every email answered, every bill paid, every chore finished—and all without having had to echo the sigh or snap of those terrible, isolating refrains to the tiny person who loves you fiercely the most: Not right now. In a few minutes. Maybe tomorrow. Wait. Wait. WAIT.
Grinding through in head-above-water survival mode is not sustainable. A self-defeating cycle. It’s impossible to reach shore this way, but the alternative? Drown. So we tread on. We half-heartedly measure progress in inches right up until the discovery that, this time, it was only millimeters. Sometimes that’s defeating and sometimes that’s humbling and it is okay for it to be both. We backslide and press forward. We celebrate small victories though sometimes through gritted teeth.
And it doesn’t matter—this can’t matter—because other times we are lucky enough to be called back to the frantic present by its momentary stilling. Your two and a half year old, surprised to find you one morning actually sitting on the couch for a moment, climbs eagerly into your lap. Her words fall out of a smile so big you can hear the stretch in the way the syllables tangle, the notes high. Make space, Momma. Cover me up. She wiggles beneath a blanket and asks, more carefully now, Can you cuddle me? And the only answer that could ever exist is yes. All the rest of that bullshit will still be there later.
You fold your body around hers and hear her sigh—even at not quite three, she knows that letting go is sometimes a thing to be safe-kept—and nestled down next to your little daughter. You are reminded of the way your edges soften to hers, the seam between you strong, felled for the inevitable withstanding. Maybe this is what keeps us from giving in to how tired we always are. What allows us for a few minutes to stop straining for the shoreline, to find some kind of tenuous amity in the way the blue of the water is more beautiful than we’ve cared to notice recently.
Kirsten Clodfelter is a freelancer writer, editor, and digital marketing specialist. Her essays have been published in Salon, Good Housekeeping, Redbook Magazine, Scary Mommy, Mom.Me, Ravishly, Role Reboot, and others. She lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughter.
(Originally published here at WTFMommying.com, February 2015)