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Then & Now (And the Great Mess Between)

Once upon a lifetime ago, I received an acceptance letter to an MFA program and a positive pregnancy test in the same week.

I was overwhelmed in the moment, not with anxiety, but with excitement. How cool, to one day be able to tell my children that I made the choice to be their mother AND pursue my personal goals all at the same time.

You can do whatever you want! You can do it all!

Fast forward a decade, a master’s degree, a small business and four kids…and, I’m laughing in young Melanie’s face.

Certainly, you can try to have it all and do it all and be it all.

You can.

You just have to step on warm wet poop that your three year old smeared on the floor while trying to clean up her own underwear accident, help construct a poster board on the Inventions of China at seven in the morning, hold back hair while your daughter vomits, lose 11789999999 hours of sleep that you’ll never get back, do tick checks, live at the grocery store (or at least pay approximately a month’s rent there each month,) juggle a calendar of activities that you could probably care less about (but are good for the social/physical/educational development of your child,) do more tick checks, laundry (times a million billion trillion), and perhaps maybe say a passing “Hey there!” to your partner…all before you even begin.

And let’s be honest, by that point, you’re more likely going to choose to down a glass or wine or take a long hot shower, and then stay awake at night, considering all of the life plans that are slipping through the cracks and into the abyss with the rest of the sands of time. (And why, oh, why, didn’t you make exercises a priority today, isn’t looking incredible and staying fit part of the whole having/doing/being it all package?)

But the plain, I’m-too-tired-to-sugar-coat-it-truth is this: Twenty-something Melanie, you had no idea what you were in for, or how your wants/aspirations/needs would change.

Change happens.

Sure, it happens fast, like jumping off an airplane, if you’re a parent. But it also just happens because of the blunt truth that life is forward momentum and life is change.

At twenty-something, you thought: marriage (check), master’s degree (check), baby (check), dream job/book publication (                ), dream house (              ), spend hours drinking coffee and penning subsequent literary masterpieces on porch of dream house (              ).

Um. Yeah, no.

At thirty-something, sitting in your teeny mobile park estate, you’re thinking: shower today? (          ), hmmm, okay, shower yesterday? (check, oh good), kids fed (check), house clean (          ), oookay, how about is the house clean enough to function at a close-to-normal level? (check…?), client emails (half-check), editing (check), sufficiently shove mommy-guilt to back of brain to dwell on at three in the morning, rather than now? (check), considered dinner possibilities? (          ),  quiet time to yourself? (          ), prayer? (check), prayer that didn’t involve the phrases “Dear Lord, give me patience…”, “Lord, so help me, I’m going to lose my mind…” or “God, if this car nap could just for once peacefully transfer to the house, I will move to a dirt hut and be a missionary in the jungle tomorrow.” (        )

So. Yeah. Change, it happens.

And, truly, I don’t even want it all anymore. Or,  more specifically, the all that I thought I wanted at twenty, is just so different than what I want and/or need now.

I sat in a running car last week, with a mix of my children and their friends, waiting for Vinnie to come out of the store. In the seat behind me, a two month old began crying, the very familiar there is nothing you can do to make this stop, short of picking me up and walking cry of infanthood.

I turned around and bounced his seat, trying to simulate movement. I shushed. I hummed. The cries slowed to whimpers, then rose again. My arm hurt.

I texted Vinnie: I am all set with babies.

I remember aunts and other older women who held Alex when he was newborn. They’d smile sweetly, breath in his sweet brandnewness, rock him so close that his soft hair absorbed whatever perfume they were wearing and I’d smell them the whole ride home, or when I lifted him from his seat to change him before bed.

They’d also give me, what I recognize now, at this stage of four children and mental exhaustion, a knowing smile. Better you than me, they’d say, and hand him back.

I remember thinking, it couldn’t possibly be the case.

But it is.

As I type this,  Evaline is bumping up against my arm and muttering in disgruntled three-year-old, something about how I won’t let her watch (My Little) Ponies.

In the kitchen, the older kids are making mashed banana and brown sugar pancakes. It’s smokey and messy and they’re asking to use raspberry syrup and it’s only just after eight in the morning.

I’m tired.

I guess, all this is to say, I wish there were things I had known before I had children. I wish someone had more fully prepared me for the  personal losses that would happen, for the changes that would accelerate, for the control that would be begrudgingly surrendered, daily, moment-by-messy-sticky-unpredictable-moment.

And I also wish I had realized, as I was in those infant moments of motherhood, that every minute I spent watching Celebrity Fit Club on VH1 and reruns of 90’s sitcoms on TBS with newborn Alex on my chest, and getting weepy over Johnson & Johnson commercials, or begging my newborn to just give me SOME sign that he appreciated what I was doing for him, all the while wondering if this was depression or just the slowness of winter  — I wish I had realized just how quickly life would push me forward.

Because, somehow, I’m here.

Photo credit: RachelLiz Photography

Photo credit: RachelLiz Photography

I’m not the same girl, by a long shot, who first received that pregnancy test and that MFA acceptance in the same week.

But, I think I’m actually happier than I realized was possible. I did get my MFA. I have been published (stories that mostly revolve around the theme of motherhood.) I’ve also done things I hadn’t expected, that wouldn’t have even been possible without my children (ahem, starting my whole photography business, all began by snapping pictures of my children and their antics.)

I’m also messier, slower, later (to EVERY thing), softer around the middle, well versed in knock-knock jokes and Disney movies, and far less concerned with things that once seemed so important.

And it’s all okay.

Twenty-something-Melanie, it’s all going to be okay.

You’ll get here.

And eventually, you’ll leave here too.

So, Thirty-something-Melanie, try and do what those same aunts and older women told you to do, all those years ago, handing you back your newborn: enjoy it while it lasts.

(Which, Twenty-something-Melanie, gets easier to do, once you’re sleeping through the night and all of the kids are potty trained. I promise.)

Photo credit: RachelLiz Photography

Photo credit: RachelLiz Photography

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About the Author

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Writer, Photographer, Wife, Mother to four rambunctious and amazing children.

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