Today, I woke up feeling disoriented. I feel my son asleep at my side, his warm little body tucked up under my armpit. Where are we? Oh, right... we are in Vermont. It's dark here. It's cold. I say these things silently to myself as I slip out of bed.
I make my way to the bathroom, check the time on my phone and see that it is already past 8am. I slept in, I think. Well, we didn't get in until past two... I sigh and feel the familiar tug of longing for my lost morning hours of solitude.
At least I have yoga.
I sneak off to the kitchen and grab a quick breakfast. I feel confident that Jamesie will get some much needed sleep this morning. He needs it after the late night we had. My mind shifts away from Jamesie and I relax into thoughts of Bikram yoga. I need this class. I fill my water bottle and check my phone again. Shoot, I'm late.
The fresh, cool air invigorates my muscles and catches my breath as I step out of the condo. I'm nearly jumping in anticipation for the warm stretch of Bikram yoga by the time I make it to the frostbitten car.
Despite my eagerness, I feel guilt creep into my mind and I begin to feel slightly anxious. James has to work...I shouldn't be leaving him alone with Jamesie. What if he has too much trouble? Shoot! I am seriously late... The guilt weighs on my like a wet diaper. I have this primal sense as a mother to meet my son's needs, but all too often I do so at the expense of my own well-being. I push the guilt aside and tell myself, I need this.
My frantic thoughts disappear in the energy and heat of Bikram yoga. I let go of all my anxiety and doubt as I enter into a moment of complete meditation and (dare I say?) selfishness. One of the most difficult things for me as a mother is prioritizing time for myself. The guilt of being away from my child, and doing something for myself, can eat at my insides. Although I've learned that when I do take the time to refresh, I am a more present and peaceful mother.
The strength, sweat, and focus of Bikram brings me back to my time spent riding horses. I stare at myself in the mirror, steam gathering around it's edges, and I think of the horse I used to own. Cavalier.
He is a tall, beautiful animal, full of power and fire. I stretch my right hand forward towards the mirror and reach behind me with my left, grasping my ankle as my leg extends above my head. In my concentration, I repeat familiar phrases from my equestrian years - easy... stand strong, balance... no. Steady. Hold... deeper, hold... release. Go ahead, relax.
I step into the shower feeling more confident in my day ahead, and more certain about myself as a mother. This time is valuable, I assure myself.
I leave the yoga studio and glance at my phone as I get into the car. The guilt creeps back into it's home in my chest as I scroll through James's desperate text messages about a cranky toddler and a conference call. I've got to get back, I think as I hurry home to the condo to relieve my weathered fiancé.
"He woke up 5 minutes after you left," James says when he opens the door of the condo. "He was fine for a long time, but then he started looking for you and got upset. I think he is tired."
So much for sleeping in late.
After calming Jamesie down and making sure he is fed, I work on corralling him into his warm clothes for the trek outside to the car. Once he's strapped into his car seat, he is asleep within seconds. Poor guy. He is so tired. The guilt resurfaces, but I fight it back, and reassure myself that the long drive to the Hannaford's supermarket will give Jamesie the rest the he needs.
I park the care and gently pull Jamesie out of his car seat. He stays asleep in my arms and I silently curse myself for forgetting the baby carrier. I walk into the store and Jamesie wakes up confused, disoriented, and upset. He will calm down once he gets in the cart. He loves grocery shopping with me, my sweet little sidekick.
Nope. Not today.
Jamesie is screaming like he has never screamed before. He kicks his legs in the shopping cart and thrashes his body back and forth, utterly beside himself with upset.
Ok... cookies! Where are the stupid cookies?! Chocolate, here... chocolate! My offerings of forbidden food do nothing to stop his tantrum. I rush around the store, looking like a lunatic as I try to calm my son and simultaneously pick out sufficiently ripe avocados. With numerous shoppers making their way around us, I make faces, sing songs, and dance a little jig - all to no avail. I can do this. I just have to get through this.
As I walk the aisles of the enormous supermarket with my shrieking, flailing, tear streaked toddler (who is now in my arms) through judgmental stares and glances of downright pity, I am reminded of the times I spent walking around my college campus with a visible baby bump.
Don't be afraid. Let them look. Be strong. Hold your head high. Breathe... I remember struggling to get dressed in the mornings before class, not wanting to wear something that showed quite how pregnant I was. I dressed according to how many people I thought I would see on my seven minute walk to the history department. I strategically left early, and often sat alone in an empty classroom, my bump safely hidden below the desk. I usually put on a hat or sunglasses, or both, and I always, always wore headphones. Don't look at me. Did she just point at my stomach...? Keep going. You're almost there.
I step into the express checkout lane with my meager pile of food for the weekend. I couldn't properly navigate the huge shopping cart backwards into the tiny lane while holding a child who was trying to lunge out of my arms, so the kind checkout woman unloaded my groceries for me - bless her.
Just as I begin to relax in the finality of the shopping trip of horror, I notice the milk carton leaking. You have got to be kidding me.
"Excuse me? I think that milk has a hole in it...?" I say to the checkout woman as milk literally drips onto the scanner.
I hear her tell me to take my time as I dash off to the opposite side of the football-sized market with Jamesie safely secured to my hip. I grab another milk, make sure it isn't damaged, and get back to the line as quick as I can.
I apologize (like it's my fault they stocked damaged milk cartons) and take out my wallet to pay. The checkout woman smiles and says, "no problem dear."
There is another woman to my right who is bagging. She ignores my sigh of relief and nervous smile, and says to the customer in line behind me, "I'm sorry ma'am. Apparently some people don't understand the meaning of express checkout."
You passive aggressive shrew.
Because I don't know what else to do, I snuggle my now calm son and take comfort in his warm little body. I fill my lungs with the sweet honeysuckle scent of his hair, hide there for a moment, and then I walk away.
I stop right before exiting the store and feel the heat rise in my cheeks. I think about turning around, marching up to that rude woman, and telling her off. But I don't.
Instead I walk back to the car and throw the groceries in the trunk. I give Jamesie Curious George to watch on my iPad, and eat an entire bar of Cadbury dark chocolate - completely guilt free.
While I sit in the drivers seat I think about what I would have said to the bagging lady. I even contemplate calling Hannaford's Rutland store manager and complaining, but I know that wouldn't make me feel any better. The woman looked like she probably had a pretty tough life, so I decided to pray for her instead of hurt her. Let it go.
Today, I experienced the dark side of motherhood - the feelings of guilt, inadequacy and anger. I hold them inside of me and cling to them like a drug, but only for a moment. Then I take a deep breath and let go of that poison.
Motherhood has taught me many lessons over the year and a half since my son was born. Have patience, keep a flexible schedule, offer some protein in the afternoon, say I love you all day long.
Today, I learned to carry on, even in the most desperate moments of this life. Motherhood is being the perfect combination of soft and strong - tenderness towards an upset, tired child, and vigor against the callous remarks of an unkind stranger. Being able to bring kindness and security to a child's world in the face of guilt and fear - that makes a mother.
Today, I learned that guilt and fear are all a part of the territory. Feelings of incompetence and frailty come with motherhood, but so does compassion, courage, and love.
Carry on, Mommas.
Full Disclosure: These events did not actually occur today, but they did happen.