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Last night I wrote a letter to myself and tucked it away for my future self to read. I wrote it after a thoroughly typical day in motherhood. My kids and I shared some laughs. I snapped at them a few times. I served some meals and read some books. There was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary about the events of the day, which is why it was a perfect night to write this letter.
I sat down with pen and paper after I'd put the kids to bed, which, at our house, is a hour-long ordeal. Long ago, we got into the habit of laying down with the kids until they fell asleep. And it's not a habit that any of us have been inclined to break.
So there I was watching my daughter's chest rise and fall in those first few moments of sleep. My son was still flipping his pillow, sighing and theatrically trying to find a comfortable position. I could see both their faces in the beams of the closet light shining through the slats in the door. Like so many moments in parenting, I endeavored to savor it just like everyone tells me to.
The day is coming when I accuse myself of not enjoying my kids while they were young.
My mind flashed forward to five years, when my son would be 10 and my daughter almost 12. By then, they may not want to snuggle with me. They may kick me out of their bedrooms as soon as they've brushed their teeth. We've heard it all from parents who have older kids: "Just wait! You're going to blink, and they'll be surly, uncommunicative and secretive."
My heart contracted with anticipatory grief. One day, this sweetness will be nothing but a memory. And knowing me, I'll look back and accuse myself of not savoring the moment, of missing it all because I was buried in my phone or worried about money or fretting over something stupid like how many carbs I ate.
Because like so many mothers, I'm extraordinarily hard on myself. I put impossible expectations on myself at work, in marriage and most painfully, in my motherhood. It's another habit I can't seem to break: slipping into the well-worn groove of self-criticism and succumbing to the voice that says, "You didn't do it right. You failed those precious children. You should have done something more/different/better."
Because the day is coming when I accuse myself of not enjoying my kids while they were young, there were two things that I wanted my future self to know.
First, that on at least one random night in the spring of 2016, I was fully present with my children. My phone was in another room, my worries were quiet, my mind was still. On that night, I watched both of my children drift to sleep with my own two eyes without any distractions. I wasn't a worker, a wife, a friend or a daughter. I was fully focused on my role as a mother.
Second, I appreciated every single second of it. I didn't lie and say I totally enjoyed it, because it can be trying to get a stubborn 5-year-old to sleep. But for at least one night, I didn't waste time nagging them to "go to sleep already!" I didn't resent every single word of the bedtime story that we've read dozens of times. On that night, I listened to my kids' stories, humored their numerous requests for "one more drink of water," and tolerated their stalling techniques. I understood that the moments were a gift to me that I was grateful to receive.
In some future day, when I'm filled with regret over all the ways I failed to savor each moment, I hope I run across this letter tucked behind my favorite book. It's proof that I have loved, not perfectly, but very well, for at least one night.