There are many, many difficult, impossible days when you have young children. The days you slog through without sleep. The days when no one stops crying, nothing gets done, you never get to shower or eat, and when you finally get them all to sleep, there’s nothing left to do but cry until you yourself pass out from exhaustion. I am only just beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, my youngest being 4-year-old twins who still creep into our bed at night and have wild tantrums. Every night I read to them until they fall asleep, their beautiful faces at peace at last, buried in their elephant and unicorn. Their cheeks and chins still fit in my palm when I kiss them goodnight and creep out the door. They are growing, growing; each day reminds me “children don’t keep,” but despite how tough the past eight years have been with four kids eight and under, when I watch them sleep I say a small prayer that I won’t forget the bad days.
The days when I clean the kitchen, only to come back around the corner and see the floor littered with 10,000 Goldfish crackers. The marker, paint, Sharpie, chocolate milk, and crayon on the couch, the wall, the desk, their skin. The giant glob of homemade slime I scraped out of my son’s sheets with a fingernail. The pee in the car seat, poop in the bathtub, face-on-the-ground wild tantrums at the grocery store. The booger collection on my boy’s wall. The hysterical fits over a blue cup instead of a green one. The nights singing Christmas carols and dancing around the bedroom until my arms ached while my tiny daughter screamed from silent acid reflux. The walks in the backyard at midnight with my son in a moby wrap to soothe his colic. The dinners that ended up on the walls and floor; the sippy cups full of milk that hardened under the seat of my car in the summer heat, the tantrums and sass, the shirts and towels ruined with blood when my oldest needed stitches for a head gash, the day I turned around to realize my baby girl, who couldn’t swim, had gotten into the deep end of the pool without us noticing until we hauled her out, terrified at what could have happened.
One day soon, I know, as my oldest works her way through middle school and we celebrate our last day of preschool, these baby years will be a blurry memory. Unicorns and board books will grow into uniforms and textbooks. Visits from the tooth fairy turn into visits to the orthodontist. My older two — their sweet faces no longer fit in just my palm when I kiss them goodnight. There are still the books to read, but now they have long chapters and no pictures. There is still the excitement of discovery and learning something new, there is still celebration of the milestones they reach and the achievements they accomplish, but now those things are larger, bigger, and mostly outside our home. They are no longer the sweet small miracles of first steps or the first night of full sleep without a pacifier, first teeth, or first awkward crawl over the rug. Those milestones are no longer tiny steps toward growing up — they are giant leaps. They are school spelling bees and dance recitals, duathlons and 5Ks, baseball games, and golf tournaments. They are iPods and babysitting other people’s babies.
I know I will always remember all the sweetness of a squishy infant tucked under my chin, the hard belly laughs of a toddler, the muted pad-pad-pad of feet zipped in a sleep sack coming down the hall, or the tiny click-click-click sound of a 9-month-old sucking a pacifier to sleep. And though my arms still ache at the thought of all the babies I’ve held through the long nights, I pray to always remember the hard days so my heart doesn’t break completely by their growing up.