As I was nursing my daughter to sleep for her morning nap today, I was thinking about all the things I needed to get done during the 60-90 minutes she would hopefully be asleep. Clean the kitchen, change and fold laundry, vacuum, make a grocery list and a meal plan, pay bills, take out the trash... I could go on, but all you mamas know this list too well already. As I'm sure you know this scene: I look down at her little face and see that she's mostly asleep even though she's still nursing a bit. She's asleep enough to gently take her off the nipple and... nope, nope she's not. Start over. Okay now... nope, not yet. Try again in 10, 9, 8... nope, start over.
As we go through this dance every day I think to myself, I should stop nursing her to sleep. I'm creating a bad habit. I need her to go to sleep faster. I need to maximize nap time. I have things to do. Then I notice she's asleep enough for me to stand up out of the glider and make my way to the crib, where we do the second part of the dance, rocking her over her crib until she's asleep enough that I can lower her in without startling her awake. I count backward in my head, 10, 9, 8, don't move, 7... nope, start again I think as her little hand grasps for my shirt and she nuzzles in closer to me and we're back to nursing. Don't put me down yet, mom. I'm not quite ready, I can hear her thoughts as her little sticky hand holds on tight to my shirt and I sigh, my back hurting from the awkward angle and my nose running from allergies that I don't dare wipe away for fear of startling her again.
I look again at her hand and suddenly I'm stunned at how big it looks. When did her hand get so much bigger? Don't put me down yet, mom. It's been almost five months since she came into our lives and just like everyone says, the days are long but the weeks and months are short and it's hard to believe how fast she's growing. It reminds me to tell the noise in my head to quiet down so I can enjoy this moment.
All my life I've lived with internal pressure to perform. Get straight A's. Nail the interview. Get the job. Be organized. Be efficient. Don't waste time. Contribute. Find your purpose. Make a difference. Go. Go. Go. I'm not sure where or when the constant noise in my head started, all I know is that it's always been there, so much so that when I started college (thankfully at a J.C.), I purposefully rebelled against it, taking all theater and dance classes and purposefully failing out of them just to see what it felt like to throw caution to the wind. (Let's just say yes, that was a dumb thing to do and yes, part of me regrets it but it also taught me a lot about myself.)
My quest for motherhood, and now motherhood itself, has challenged that part of myself that needs to be "performing" at all times. At the age of 36, I knew deep down that my high-stress job was probably interfering with my ability to become a mother. So I resigned. It was one of the boldest moves I've ever made and I was terrified, but it was a life-affirming decision to choose my health and family goals over my career path at that moment in time. It allowed me to slow down, to explore other passions, to focus on myself for the first time in my entire life. Family, friends and colleagues were all stunned by this choice and many gently expressed worry: "but you worked so hard for this." Yes, I did work hard for this, I would explain, but I need a break. It was so hard not to let their silent judgment get to me. It was so hard to trust my gut which was telling me, this needs to take a backseat for now. I knew I could still be a lawyer later on. My career wasn't going anywhere. I wouldn't lose my skills overnight. But if I didn't take a step back, I could lose my chance to be a mother for good. Still, my self-worth was tied into my performance at work and stepping away from that left me with a nagging feeling that I needed to hurry up and find the next thing. If that was motherhood, well then I better hurry up with that.
Looking down at her growing hand on my shirt, I remember everything I've learned since quitting my fast-paced job. It still doesn't come naturally to me to slow down. To take it in. To put my relationship with my daughter before my internal pressure to perform. I'm positive there is a reason that, despite my determination to hurry up and become a mother, she didn't arrive according to my timetable. She took her sweet time to arrive earth-side as our daughter, teaching me a lot about patience and faith along the way. Maybe these were lessons I needed to learn before her appearance, so that I could remember to slow down with her and be present. After all, mothering is not an endeavor for which we receive outside accolades for the most part. There is no need to "perform." All your child cares about is that you are there.
Mama, it's so important to savor these moments. Study the size of that little hand, her pudgy little arm, her eyelashes fluttering as she dreams. Remember the importance of the role you're playing now. This role that you risked everything for, not even knowing if you'd get the part. The chores can wait. Work can wait. Live in the miracle. Listen to the message your baby is sending you: Don't be in such a hurry.