It is 4:42 a.m. and my eyes pop open. I bring my wrist to my face and squint up at the green numbers on my Fitbit, then slide awkwardly towards the foot of my bed to exit, grabbing my phone from the charger as I go. There’s a child sleeping beside me that had not been there when I went to sleep, and I don’t want to risk waking her. This is as much for my sake as her own- maybe more for my sake, honestly. These little hours of the morning are the only ones that are truly mine, and I am not willing to share them with anyone.
Camryn, though, is not the child that sleeps lightly. Aisley was the one I had to tiptoe around to keep from waking, the one who would always wake simply because the warmth of my body was missing beside her. From the moment she was born, she lived her life perched in the crook of my arm, balanced on the side of my hip. She slept pressed against my side, curled herself into my lap as we watched TV. Camryn was different- she wanted to sleep near me, but not too near. She wanted down, she wanted to explore, she wanted to do it herself. I told myself it was a good thing, her independence. It meant she felt safe, that I was doing something right. The truth is, I missed all the cuddling, and it probably had nothing to do with me. Children, in many ways, are born with personalities intact.
Last night was a rough night. Though there is nothing I love more than my daughters, and having them both home, under the same roof, brings a peace to my heart like nothing else, my girls are…polar opposites. Like two ends of a battery, they go together, but they are not the same. Positive and Negative. Cam is happy and hyper, kind and silly. At the far end of those things, she is obnoxious, relentless, impulsive and incapable of pumping the brakes. Aisley is…quiet, calm, practical and sensitive to her environment. The darker side of her is moody, agitated, intolerant and…unhappy in a way that you can feel, even when she is silent.
Her sister gets on her nerves. I can feel the tension building, and it affects me, too. Cam is bouncing off the walls. Aisley is stewing. I am in the middle, trying to warn them both “She’s only eight, be patient.” and “Camryn, you need to settle down.” “Settle down.” “Camryn, THAT IS ENOUGH!” Poor Cam, thinking she can crack just one more joke, and everyone will laugh and be happy, not realizing that every time she opens her mouth, she’s pushing both her sister and I closer to the edge. It ended with me losing my cool, Aisley jumping in, and Camryn in tears, feeling (rightly) that she’d been ganged up on. My poor little peanut.
I apologized, but was not granted permission to hug for several hours. I explained to Aisley that, though it isn’t her intention to do it, her moods are contagious for me. They always have been. I’ve always been pretty empathetic, but with her it’s next level. I’m like a little sponge, soaking up her vibe. All I really want is to be happy with my kids, to treat them kindly, to feel good about our time together. I didn’t feel that way last night. I felt terrible, actually, and ashamed at losing my cool. I went to bed early just to be done with it.
Today is a new day, though. I ran to the store at 6 to buy sugar, and the streets were deserted, the sky still dark as night. At the stop sign down the road, the twinkling lights of Monterey spread out across the bay, and the heaviness in my chest leftover from last night lifted. It’s still early. The possibilities are endless.
It is 7:17 now, and my daughters are still sleeping- the big one in the little one’s bed, and the little one in my bed. I wonder if they know, if they will ever really know…how much I love them? Exactly as they are, whoever they should become, no matter what they do. My love for them is…profound. It is the definition of unconditional. No hormonal “I hate you!” or “You’re a TERRIBLE mother!” could penetrate or even disturb the fortress wall that is my love for them. As a matter of fact, the cruel things said, the unintentional slights, the outright insults? They slide right off that wall, forgotten almost immediately. Ironically, Aisley cries to me sometimes about terrible things she said to me when she was younger that I don’t even remember. It means nothing, I tell her. I forgave you before the words left your mouth.
I am proud of them. I am proud of them, and in awe of them, and amazed by the people they are, knowing it has nothing to do with me. They are their own little souls, forging their own paths in life, separate from me, but entwined also. Most of all, I just feel so incredibly lucky to know them. To get to have a hand in any of this. To have had my life so enriched by loving them, and getting to be part of it all. I mean, I feel so privileged.
Later today, when Aisley is complaining for the fifteenth time about how much she “just HATES people, I mean, they are EVERYWHERE!”, or Camryn asks me what she can eat for the seventh time in two hours, I will forget all of this. I will roll my eyes, I will sigh heavily, I will probably snap “You can’t possibly be hungry again already! You’re just bored! Go find something to do!” If I’m lucky, I’ll go to bed tonight feeling like I handled things okay, that I did an okay job. If I’m not, I’ll go to bed beating myself up and wishing I’d done better. In short, whichever way it goes, I’ll go to bed feeling the same feelings that mothers everywhere feel- the good days could have been a little better, the bad days are the end of the world. You can’t really win.
But at the heart of it all is this vast and unchangeable love. Perfect, but heavier than the world. It fulfills me in a way that I never expected, and that nothing else ever has. Yet it is also terrifying, the depths of it, the way it matters- I could survive many things, but I cannot contemplate a life without them. Anything but that. Given the choice to live my life over, I know I would painstakingly recreate every moment, every poor choice, every failure, just to wind up with these two girls. It’s not even a question. It’s just a given.
I am many things, but none of them matters more to me than being a mother to them. Nothing else even comes close. I wonder if they know?