(from May 2011 Montana Woman)
Most days my children trot off to elementary school, and most nights they sleep till morning without a peep. The hourly feedings and changing diapers are a hazy memory replaced by schooltime stories, playdates and craft projects. But a visit to a friend with a new baby boy and nighttime feedings for babies of another kind recently reminded me of the demanding work of mothering.
The farmyard stork, a.k.a. my husband, deposited two newborn lambs in my basement laundry room in February. He raises sheep at work, but we live in town. It was one of those “other wifely duties as assigned” and was a fun novelty for me and the kids. One was so weak, I wasn’t sure it would be strong enough to let us know when it was hungry. But, at 3 a.m., I heard persistent “baaahs” coming from downstairs. I stumbled around in the dark, mixed bottles, filled the little tummies with warm milk replacer, and watched them curl up again until the morning. During the day, they jumped around the laundry room, testing out wobbly legs and nibbled the edges of the laundry basket. If I disappeared around the corner, I could hear the tap of their little soft hooves as they ran to keep me in sight. Thankfully, the late night feedings for baby lambs only lasted a short time. When I was nursing my own children in the middle of the night, it felt like a slow motion fog of fatigue that seemed to last forever.
Many of the phases of caring for infants and young children feel like they will never end. A friend and mother of five told me once, “This too shall pass.” The baby that won’t stop crying, the dirty diapers, the shrieking toddler will all end and change and grow. As will the trying to survive a trip to the grocery store with a three and a one-year-old. I used to have to bite my tongue when a sweet old lady would tap my arm and say, “oh enjoy this, they grow up so fast!” and I would think, “you have SO forgotten how hard it is to go shopping with toddlers!”
But it is true children grow up fast; just please don’t remind me when you see me at the store. Someday, they will go to the bathroom, go to school, even go to camp all by themselves. Someday they even buckle their own seatbelts and shut their own car doors – hallelujah! And yet, someday they won’t insist on good night songs or blow kisses on the way to the school door. Now, I don’t have to do so much to physically keep my children alive as they can feed and dress themselves. Now, I comfort sad hearts when a playmate moves or feelings bruised by playground conflicts. I can only guess at the challenges my kids will bring me in the future. The job of mothering never ceases to be demanding, but what it demands of us continues to change.
After visiting my friend and her baby, and caring for little lambs, I am again impressed with us mothers as we constantly adapt and do the hard invisible work of caring for infants and children and families every day. Way to go, Moms!