Don’t get me wrong- I love my days with my son. I love seeing how his sweet smile lights up his bedroom when I walk in to get him every morning. I love the way he snuggles against me as he drinks his morning bottle and watches TV. I love his squeals of delight as he topples over yet another stack of blocks while we play. I love his infectious joy as he swings back and forth at the park. I love the sense of accomplishment visible on his face when he does something for the first time- standing up on his own, pushing his little walker from room to room, lunging from one piece of furniture to the next as he travels around our living room. I love my days with my son. I love the routine, the nearly-reliable schedule of activities, where the only difference from one day to the next is the flavor of vegetable served for lunch and dinner and the location of our walk- indoors or out. I love the days that I get to stay home with John.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t regularly look forward to bedtime, and the hours of peace and quiet that follow. It doesn’t mean that I have not often reached my wit’s end by the last hour of the day. I often find that God gives me the exact amount of energy that I need for one day with John, an amount that differs from day to day according to John’s behavior. There are the good days, where John eats his meals with minimal fighting, takes decently long naps, and spends his waking hours playing contentedly on his own while I work beside him. And then there are bad days, where John sits with pursed lips in his highchair refusing to open his mouth, only catnaps, and demands to be carried or held whenever he’s not sleeping or in his highchair. Some days are a breeze; others are a real struggle. And yet I find that at the end of the day, regardless of what kind of day it has been, I am ready for the day to be over. I am ready for John to go to bed.
Motherhood has given me a whole new perspective on the idea that God does not give us anything that we cannot handle. It would also seem that He will give us the strength necessary to handle whatever trials we might face in a given day, but no more. The hour before bedtime is a daily reminder that I have limits, that I am not God, that I need God if I am to have the strength and grace to survive another day. That last hour is a testament to the power of God, to His grace and mercy. He is my rock, the surest support to carry me through a day and its challenges. That last hour, those moments of weakness, are a reminder of this.
When I look back on the bad days, the days where John refuses to eat, drink, and sleep for me, it’s easy to see where God has supported me. The countless moments where I do not lose my patience, the ease with which I might change my plans when John decides to wake up before I’ve even begun cleaning the bathroom, the sense of calm that I cling to as I try to get him to swallow just one more spoonful of dinner. On those nights, I can understand why I am so tired, why I want bedtime so badly. On those nights, I marvel at what I have accomplished despite all the challenges that have been thrown my way. On those nights, I give thanks to God that He has given me the strength to endure the various challenges that I have endured.
The good days are different. When I look back on the good days, the days where taking care of John is a dream, it can be easy to overlook God’s grace in my life. During those days, when I feel like I really have my act together, it’s easy to be tempted by pride. It’s easy to tell myself that I am an unstoppable, unbeatable mothering machine. During those days, the time just flies by as we move lazily from nap time, to play time, to dinner time without even the smallest of hiccups. The days might seem so easy, but inevitably, in the moment that I turn to face the dirty dinner dishes sitting in the sink, everything changes. In that last hour, as we clean up from the day, washing dishes and bathing a very rambunctious baby, I find myself tired and looking forward to bedtime. Even on the easy days, that last hour can be so incredibly hard.
On those nights that follow a good day, I am reminded that I am not God, that I am not limitless, that I cannot do this on my own. At the end of a good day, I am faced with the truth that I am exhausted despite the fact that John has behaved so incredibly well. It leaves me in awe of those bad days, where I am left equally exhausted, but after having dealt with so much more. That last hour, whether it has followed a good day or a bad one, is consistently a reminder that I am in need of God’s grace. On a daily basis, God gives us the strength to endure whatever challenges we might face, but in a manner that keeps us humble. That last hour is a daily practice in humility, a chance to rely on God when we no longer feel as if we have the strength to stand on our own. It is not only a reminder of our weakness, but also a reminder of the God-given strength that we possess as mothers and fathers. That last hour is a gift, even in its challenge. And as a gift, we are invited to thank God for it, but as a challenge, we are also invited to look forward to bedtime. No mother will ever judge you for it.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!