A sliver of sunlight sneaks its way under the bedroom door, waking her. Beside her, a tiny, warm body stirs. She’d done it again. What all the judgmental experts say not to do; what the dogmatic breastfeeding activists say to do. She’s torn—she desperately needs sleep, but her heart breaks at the thought of letting her baby cry. She’s not sure how to fix it; it doesn’t matter anyway—she doesn’t have time to think about this issue. They’re up and at ‘em. And today will be a long one, just like the day before.
At noon, her mother arrives bearing lunch. “I never let you ‘cry it out,’” she says, her mouth turning into a grimace.
While her baby naps, she mindlessly scrolls through social media. Contradictory facts—or are they opinions?—are at war:
Train your baby to self-soothe. Babies can’t self-soothe! A baby needs to sleep in his own space. A baby needs to sleep near his mother! After six months, a baby doesn’t need to eat in the middle of the night. If a baby is hungry, nurse him!
Her Instagram timer goes off just as an email comes in. Her boss is asking for that presentation again. When will it be ready?
Guilt gnaws at her; anger chews alongside it. She wants a career. But she also wants to spend every moment snuggling her baby. She can’t have both, she knows.
When she trudges her way to the shower, she looks at her body. Not bad. But not great. She’s supposed to love these rolls, right? Or is she supposed to tone them?
“You really should sleep train,” her co-worker types to her over Slack. “Everybody does it.” The same co-worker brags, “I breastfed all of my kids until they were two. If you work hard enough, you can do it.”
“Where’s that presentation? It’s been seven months. Your brain is still foggy, eh?” Her boss’s email reads.
“Baby,” says her husband, coming up behind her. “I want you.” She tries not to recoil. It’s not that she doesn’t want him, it’s just… well, she doesn’t even know. She wants to be held and hold but wants to be completely left alone. She’s sweating and cold. She wonders why her hormones aren’t regulated yet.
Now, the sun has set. And after rocking him for forty minutes, her baby has finally fallen asleep in her arms. She lays him down in his crib like a stick of dynamite. When she crawls into her own bed next to her husband, he’s scrolling through work emails on his work phone. He sighs. But she sighs louder.
“I don’t know what I want, or what I’m supposed to do. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be. I can’t be everything to everybody,” she says, a cartoon-sized tear plopping onto her pillow. “It’s so hard being a woman.”
He wipes it away. “It’s hard being a human.”
She grits her teeth. Men! But then she finally listens. To all his roles. To all his expectations. To all his feelings he never gets to feel.
“It’s hard being human,” she muses. “But it’s easier for some than others.”
He shrugs. “Easier is not the same as easy.”
She shrugs back. This time, a sliver of moonlight slices through a crack in the blinds. Her baby cries. It will be a long night, she thinks, just like the night before.
Beeping from the heart monitor remains steady. She’s awake, mentally alert. She can see the faces of her loved ones surrounding her. She can feel the tears plop from their eyes onto her blanketed legs. Her children. Her grandchildren. Her sisters. Her husband. They all look upon her—their hands sending warmth to her hands, her arms.
It’s almost time now.
Knowing this day was coming, she’s been saying her goodbyes for days. She’s nearing the end.
They know she loves them. And she knows they love her. She’s told them a million times over the years.
She had always pictured this moment—on her deathbed. Her vision had come true: old, frail, at the end of having lived a long, joyous life. And she had been right.
It didn’t come as a shock to her, because she was often right, although her husband and sisters didn’t like to admit it much. It was true nonetheless.
When she was younger, a young mother, she would often stop her mind from wandering down a path of comparison by asking, “On your deathbed, will you look back and regret this choice or rejoice in this choice?” She knew she’d regret wasting time on the news. Wasting time scrolling. Wasting time flipping channels. She knew she’d regret wasting energy on being angry with others, wasting energy trying to please others. And she was right. She was also right that spending her days doing nothing but watching her young children play was not a waste of time. That she wouldn’t regret it on her deathbed.
“I’ll look back and be glad I stayed up all night rocking him to sleep. I’ll probably miss this time,” her younger self had thought.
Now, as she struggled to breathe, she mustered the strength to laugh. I was right, she thought. I’d give anything to go back to those simple days of holding my babies… playing with my kids.
Sure, she gave up a lucrative career. She missed the opportunity to make loads of money. And she never accomplished those career goals. Never won any awards. Her title remained the same for so long: Stay At Home Mom. She never got much praise from the outside world.
Instead, she spent her days singing silly songs and blowing raspberries. Her hair was never very glamorous, and she was only able to squeeze in a few minutes for herself at the end of a long, tiring day.
But it was worth it.
Because on her deathbed, she didn’t regret a single moment. She wouldn’t have traded a kiss on her baby’s cheek for a big fat check. Money was meaningless. She wouldn’t have traded a day of doing nothing but watching her children play for an arbitrary writing award. It would have only collected dust.
She didn’t need the world to love her. She just wanted her family to.
And as she looked around the bright white, sterile hospital room, just as she was starting to drift away, she knew she’d accomplished the most important dreams she’d ever had.
I’ve gone soft.
You made me this way.
From my breasts to my belly, what once was firm is now pillowy.
But that ice hard heart has melted too.
Because of you.
Eyes that barely flinched before now flutter with tears when
I think of anything that reminds me of helpless you.
When I hear other mothers’ babies cry, my heart breaks.
When I see other mothers’ babies all grown up, I weep.
One day you’ll be too big for my arms too.
And when I hear of other mothers’ babies in pain, I crumble.
How can I help stop the hurt?
Save the world from pain?
I used to be hard. That was before.
Now I’ve gone soft.
And I’ll stay that way as long as I’m a mother... which is to say,
What was it like living through a pandemic? you’ll ask me one day. By then, I’ll probably forget most of this. I won’t remember the little details. I’ll only remember the feeling that stuck to my skin, penetrating my bones, rearranging my DNA to change me (and therefore you) on a cellular level.
I’ll tell you that your dad and I were lucky. We were safe in our cozy, little home with our verdant, little backyard in our friendly, little neighborhood, just minutes away from our loving family members. We were able to work and manage life remotely. I wrote a lot and read a lot, and your father and I created music together (your dad got really good at piano). We argued about your names (but you know who won in the end). We laughed a lot and worried a lot, and reevaluated our beliefs. We chose to remain optimistic, reminding ourselves that our moment in history was still far better than what most humans have endured. We confirmed how much we wanted you in our lives—how much we needed a little bit of chaos and a whole lot of noise, yet we felt lucky we had so much time alone with each other before our lives changed (for the better) forever.
But I hope I’ll tell you that the pandemic changed us and we changed the world for the better, too.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that everyone changed after the pandemic.
That we learned we’re doing too much and not being enough. That we suddenly understood so many of the material possessions and status symbols we’d been chasing our whole lives were worthless. That we realized we blindly follow politicians and corporations and media without thinking critically (so we stopped). That we grew to appreciate a simple hug, a walk around the block, someone delivering homemade dessert to our doorstep.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that companies began saying “thank you” to their employees; not through insincere advertisements showing smiling faces clapping for laborers, but by increasing workers’ salaries, providing health care, offering paid sick leave, allowing the work day to actually end by 5pm.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that the burden of solving the country’s financial issues was taken off the backs of the middle class. That we finally figured out how to fairly tax citizens so that everyone could afford a quality life. That we discovered no one should profit off worldwide death and suffering. And no one should be able to reach “trillionaire” status during a devastating recession.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that I gave and loved as much as I could. That I simplified my life even more than I already had. That I confirmed my own belief that all we need is the little things: family, friends, tasty meals and comforting drinks, good music and interesting books, time in nature, a few sparkly things (not too many), more sunny days than rainy days, a sense of humor. And an ability to see beyond the current situation, a strong faith in a promising tomorrow, and a determination to make it happen ourselves.
I hope I’ll be able to tell you that in the end it was all OK because we had each other, and truly that’s all we ever need.
I must confess a secret: I love that I’ve got you all to myself, my babies. Call me greedy, but I’m glad no one else can feel your kicks and jabs, your ticklish wiggles and stop-me-in-my-tracks rolls. Everywhere I go, all day long, I feel you moving right along with me. I never feel alone.
I rejoice knowing where you are at all times, getting to choose what you’re eating and drinking. I know you’re safe and sound. One day, I won’t be privy to this information. One day, my sweets, I’ll have to let you go.
But for now, you rest (and are restless) safe inside my womb.
I’m twice as blessed because there are two of you. Knowing you’re keeping each other company, nestled snugly beside each other, overflows my heart with love, spilling tears from my eyes. I hope you’ll always be this close to each other. I hope you’ll always be this close to me.
From the moment I knew you twins existed, I’ve loved you deeply. I couldn’t believe I was lucky enough to carry both of you. No matter what, little ones, you’re a part of me. Science says your cells have merged with my cells, so even when you go, you’ll leave behind traces of your DNA.
We still have time together, my babies. And I’ll cherish every moment it’s just us three moving throughout the world as one.
But know that even once you enter this world, you’ll always be part of me.
I refuse to believe what the news articles say.
That my children’s lives will be worse than their parents’ lives.
That I’m bringing children into a world that is crumbling, burning, ruined.
That there is no hope left.
Instead, I believe that my children’s generation will be more compassionate than any generation that’s ever come before them.
Born into a country full of division, they will learn how to unite, how to speak openly and effectively, how to listen.
Born into a country saddled with trillions of dollars in debt, innumerable problems, they will learn grit and resiliency. They will become innovative problem solvers and pioneering doers.
They are not doomed.
They might not be able to afford McMansions like their grandparents’ generation, but they won’t want to anyway, because they’ll learn that meaning is not found in material possessions.
They might not fill churches the way their grandparents’ generation did, but they will still have faith: they’ll believe in spirits in the trees, connecting to the universe through nature, seeing magic where we never looked. Unlike previous generations, they won’t equate God to a fatherly punisher, but a loving mother, who asks us to nurture Earth and each other.
They might not be able to swim in the ocean without thinking of climate change, unlike the thoughtless generations before them, but they’ll learn to appreciate every moment, never taking for granted nature’s beauty or the presence of loved ones.
Unlike the generations that came before them, my children’s generation will learn to reuse and recycle, to do without, to have enough. They won’t greedily ask for more. They won’t believe lies corporations try to sell them. They won’t believe in standard beauty or one-size-fits all masculinity and femininity. They won’t let products decide who they are; they’ll decide for themselves.
They won’t be divided by petty labels. They’ll learn how to voice their opinions and fight for their rights. The fat cats don’t stand a chance. This generation will be less gullible and more critical. It won’t be long before irrelevant kings and queens are dethroned, branded obsolete.
My children’s generation might not be able to afford college, but no matter — they’ll put colleges out of business. Onto the scam of higher education, they’ll find ways to develop lifelong learning skills without ever setting foot in a sterile, florescent-lit classroom. They won’t shackle themselves to debt over a worthless piece of paper, yet they will be brighter than anyone who came before them.
Things will be different for my children’s generation. But I refuse to believe it will be worse.
Because I know the parents of my children’s generation. We won’t give up. We won’t give in. We have stopped believing the lies of consumerism long ago. We’ve begun to connect to the planet in different ways. Some of our parents have too.
We believe in positivity. We believe in our own collective power. And we will teach our children to be strong.
Our children’s future is bright.
Fear does not guide me. I am filled with hope and positivity.
Because I refuse to believe what the news articles say.
I play music to escape.
When I miss my family, I play Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks” album, returning to the safe haven of our 1990’s conversion van, my dad driving, my mom at his side, my sisters and I watching out the windows as we roll through Wisconsin countryside on a family vacation. My dad sings along. My mom passes back snacks. I stare up at clumpy white clouds, like sheep’s wool, imagining unicorns prancing along them. There’s no safer feeling than this. Lying my head against a pillow, I let the sun warm my face, and drift off, Van’s voice lulling me to sleep.
When I’m feeling down, I play Dave Matthews Band’s “Live at the Red Rocks ’95” and O.A.R.’s “Any Time Now” albums, and I am instantly transported to a balmy summer’s day during my early 20’s. Nostalgia washes over my body, waves of bliss. I’m reminded of the lightheartedness of youth: driving in my best friend’s car, windows rolled down, humid air on my bare arms as it ruffles my wild, air-dried hair. We sing so loudly cars driving past stop to stare.
When I need to remember that I have everything I’ve ever prayed for, I play the Once soundtrack, carrying me back to that summer we fell in love. We knew it from the start. A summer thunderstorm, rain pelting against the top of his car, we sit in the driveway and hold hands, listening until robins begin their three a.m. trilling in dark tree branches overhead.
Even when we feel stuck in a moment in time, there are ways to escape. And remember. And realize that right now we are exactly where we’re supposed to be.
One of the hardest lessons humans must learn is to be present. We spend so much of our lives waiting for a moment in time to be over. The school day. The work day. Weeks of heartbreak after a breakup. A winter that has overstayed its welcome. The sleepless night newborn phase. The tantrum-throwing toddler phase. The unemployment phase. The overworked phase.
But every phase makes up what we call our life. This moment is our life.
Simple pleasures allow us to bear temporary, painful moments. Fresh coffee every morning. A sweet treat in the middle of the day. Rays of sunshine sneaking through an angry cloud. Children’s laughter as they play on the sidewalk outside.
Let’s not wish for this moment to be over. Let’s not see our lives only in the future tense. Let’s be here, now. And remember that every moment is temporary.
Pull on the gloves. Zip up the jacket. Wipe down the handles. I’m off to war.
Seven months pregnant with twins, and this grocery store has become my battlefield. A place where an invisible enemy lurks on every surface, inside any throat. All bodies before me must be looked at with suspicion; I have no comrades; it’s every man for himself.
Carrying precious cargo, I can’t take any risks, trip over any traps. And I’ve got to keep my hands away from my face.
Get in and get out. Take only what you need. Memorize every move you make. And don’t touch your face!
When I finally return home, I strip down, leave my jacket to bake in the sun, drop my gloves in the washing machine, and head straight to the sink. I wash my hands.
How lucky am I that the only battlefield I’ve ever stepped onto has been a grocery store, the only prison I’ve ever been locked inside has been my own cozy home?
When I cook dinner tonight I realize I’m not at war. Other people aren’t my adversaries.
There’s no such thing as being stuck at home. I’m safe at home. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Though I worry for my unborn babies, and for all the vulnerable people in the world, I can’t help but realize that if this is the scariest moment of history I’ve ever had to live through, well damn. I’ve been blessed.
Let us all be grateful, for most of us will never have to think, “I’m off to war.”
First, roll up your sleeves, cover your hair, and step into a pair of ratty jeans. This is going to get messy.
Start with your calendar and to-do list. Cross out anything that isn’t essential. Look at all the busy work you scribbled down months ago. Those tasks were always a waste of time, but now you have an excuse to cancel them. And you know what? Those ugly 90’s track lights work just fine. Spending money and time on making your home look Instagram-worthy was never important.
Next, head over to your pantry. Toss out the junk food, all the white sugar and white flour, the chemical-laden snacks. They won’t be helpful when you’re sick. Hold onto the chicken broth, though. Shimmy on down to the cabinet below where all you store your doo-hickeys and thing-a-ma-bobs. If you haven’t used those after two weeks of shelter-in-place with nothing else to do but cook and eat, then you never needed them to begin with.
How many pairs of clothes do you really need? Take a gander at your closet and drawers. Looks like all those times you told yourself you’d be happier if you owned cute jeans and expensive tops you were lying to yourself! They certainly haven’t been comfortable to wear around the house during this uncertain time, now have they?
And now for the good stuff. Pull out your phone, scroll through your text messages and emails and phone calls. Who has reached out to you during this scary time? Keep those names and numbers around. Those are true friends. Those are thoughtful souls. Send them a message right now to let them know you love them. Ask them how they’re doing. Next time you see them, let your hug linger, and thank them for their friendship.
Now the hard part. Time to rid your life of the toxic. Not just the toxic chemicals and sugars and clutter. But the people. Who has shown you they don’t care, they never did care? Who are the true viruses in your life? Who infects you with self-doubt, disappointment? You probably knew all along, but this just sealed the deal. Go ahead, delete those names from your mind. It’s the end of the world, anyway, and who has time for fake friends?
Finally, the crucial step in spring transformation. What thoughts and beliefs are dead and rotten, needing to be cleared away for bright ideas to bloom? What have you learned from this process? Maybe that political policy you thought was crazy isn’t so crazy after all. Maybe it’s not so hard to use rags instead of paper towel or avoid single-use plastic. Maybe it’s time to make your voice heard, to never miss a single election. To put a little bit of money into a campaign you believe in. To save your spring rainy day pennies for those who are less fortunate than you.
Clutter can be toxic. It weighs us down. It wastes our time.
But clutter is more than physical stuff. It’s the busy work that stresses our minds. It’s the over-filled calendar of events that pulls us away from our families. It’s the misinformation that causes us to believe lies. It’s the advertising that tells us we can’t be happy unless we buy products. It’s the people who don’t reciprocate in relationships, who clutter our hearts with sadness. It’s the political ideologies that lure us with promises never meant to be kept, scare tactics that cause us to turn on each other.
There’s no time like the present to clear our lives and minds and hearts from the clutter that’s been obstructing us from living our best lives, being our best selves.
Let’s spring clean the clutter from our lives, so when the sun does shine again, beautiful things have room to blossom.