After 9pm, a mysterious presence is found at your local Target. If you find yourself wandering over the red and white tiles, you may notice a strange and specific creature emerge from the depths of the cosmetic section or take slow, mindless steps between walls of throw pillows.
It is the Hour of Kidless Moms: a species which feels supremely comfortable in the Red Spot – evidenced by their apparent lack of aesthetic concern in their attire and the day-old mascara which they don under hastily arranged hair. A breed known for brain fog and lowered inhibitions, Kidless Moms are the gold mine demographic for Target. These are the women who spend a minimum of $75 on any given “run,” but after 9pm, they go nuts for hand soap and dry erase calendars and BOGO kid clothes (there is always a deal on kid clothes) as they fall headfirst into a time vortex which happens any moment spent away from their young.
It was into this space I took my three-week-old baby to get some Christmas shopping taken care of. As we wandered leisurely through the aisles, I took my time in the dollar spot without having to whisper-yell at my older children for putting $1 and $3 pieces of plastic crap into my cart. Rather than bouncing around in desperate attempts to keep the kids near me, I picked out gifts with focused attention. I went through the candy aisle without begging my son to stop telling me what he wants “for his birthday” every five seconds.
My baby slept for a while, but he started getting fussy as I searched for the last few things on my list. I bobbed as I walked as swiftly as I could and by the time we got to the checkout I was in full Mom Mode, narrating to him and patting his back to keep him pacified while we wrapped up our trip.
“Can I help you put your stuff up?” came the kind voice of the woman behind me in line. I looked up and smiled, “Sure!” As she started moving stuff from my cart she said with a chuckle, “I know what it’s like to have to do things one-handed.”
“Thank you so much,” I said, “Do you have little ones at home?”
“Two – a one-year-old and a three-year-old. How old is this guy?”
“Three weeks,” I said to the usual exclamations of how tiny he is and how cute. I told her I had three more at home and she said she had just recently been feeling the baby bug to try for another, but she was nervous about adding more to the chaos. I told her that when we were considering a fourth I was nervous, too, but when I thought about what I wanted in 20 years, it made the work now seem worth it.
“Yeah, that’s where I’m at, too… But does that first year get any easier?”
I could have lied. I could have said Yeah, girl! Piece of cake! I could have told her that like most things, doing it several times makes you better at it. I could have played it cool and pretended that the extra needs and noises have no effect on my levels of anxiety or overwhelm. I could have soothed her nerves with reassurances that it wouldn’t be as rough the next time around.
Instead, I thought for a second and said with as much gentle humor as I could, “Uh…. well, in some ways, sure – you don’t worry about some of the things you did with the first baby. But that year is just hard,” we both smile-sighed in knowing. “When I find out I’m pregnant I just decide that for the next year-plus-nine-months I’m going to give myself lots of grace.”
I mumbled something about Netflix. She nodded and we both laughed. We exchanged a few jokes and enlightened the male cashier about why so many women take their sweet time at Target in the evenings. It was a nice moment of connection.
But immediately after I walked away I thought about what I should have said when she asked me that question. Is the first year always hard? Yeah. But there are some other things that also don’t change.
When I first held my daughter I was sure that I was encountering divinity. She was perfect and she smelled like Holy. I felt humbled by my proximity to something so pure and full of light and I felt empowered at the same time. I had brought her here. I got to bear the burden and sacrifice on her behalf. I suffered to deliver her safely into the world and I got to be the person whose smell comforted her, whose voice she turned her head toward, whose face she would recognize first. It was too much; too good.
Four times now.
Every baby I’ve brought into the world has given me the tremendous gift of this awe. Sure, the first year is full of diapers, spit up, cluster feeding, inconsistent naps, hormonal shifts, and emotional breakdowns. It’s hard, that’s true. But the first year – and the years that follow – also bring first smiles and first words and first time he hides behind your leg because you are his safe place in a big world (and then the first time he goes into that world without you and you’re a little terrified and a lot proud). It brings a million unspeakable brushes with sacred, a thousand reasons daily to revel in beauty impossible to anticipate.
As I write this my fresh-to-the-world baby is molded to my chest in a peaceful rest that only those too young to be afraid can achieve and my oldest son has his arm around my stomach while he snores just slightly in an impromptu cuddle-nap. My children are safe and loved and they know it. What sort of cosmic mix up occurred to allow me to have so much in one moment?
I am often tired or cranky or wishing I could be alone. I shuffle around Target like a zombie when I get the chance to be there without kids. The demands on my energy, time, patience, budget are great and I feel it. But when I pay attention, along with the hard stuff is the Good Stuff – maybe even sometimes because of what challenges me. My moments are full.
I wish I had thought to include in my answer to this sweet stranger that it’s just as full the third (and fourth) time around; that it’s not just 20 years from now that makes this worth it. It’s right now, too. Sometimes I think about how much simpler things were when I had two kids, but the two more are just as much my heart as the first. I can’t wish for any reality but the one I have – with four kids in a tiny house and unplanned snuggles on the couch.
Maybe I’ll run into her again when some of the overwhelmed, grateful moms like me sneak away after bedtime and wander the aisles slow. Maybe I’ll get the chance to say more to her, but maybe she doesn’t need me to tell her that while it doesn’t get easier, it doesn’t get old, either.