I was crying again. Sitting in the semi-darkness, the only light coming from the muted TV. Rocking her, always rocking her. My little third child, the one who smiled at me first. The one who cries and cries when not in my arms. The one whose body relaxes as I ease her into the Ergo, heart-to-heart once more. My girl baby who spent all eight months of pregnancy curled up, belly to belly with mom. She had just finished crying for nearly an hour, our evening ritual of settling down, of physically expelling the stress of the day from her tired little body.
Atticus was on the couch, holding a sleeping Charlie who had a harder than normal transition to bed. My sweet boy. My strong little one who, even at three days old, only five pounds, was holding his head up and straining against me. The one who needs to face out, to take in his world, just as his sister needs to be huddled close to my heart. They may have shared a womb and a birthday, but they are as different as possible, these twins.
Earlier that evening, big sister Maggie was jumping on her bed when she should have been getting ready to sleep. She lost her footing and hit her head on the wall.
I ran to her room (baby in arms) to find Dad (baby in arms) trying to comfort her as much as he could. When you have two infants and a three year old, there aren’t enough arms for all of the little hearts who want to be held. I set down her sister, which began that tiny infant cry we have grown so used to hearing. The sound of defeat. The sound of You can’t please all the people all the time. The sound of Sometimes someone has to cry. Mary Cate drew the short straw.
I scooped my firstborn, my gingersnap, my Maggie, into my arms. I kissed her head and gently tucked her into bed. She held my hand in hers and said, “I love you, Mommy.” This girl is all heart. She wears her emotions on her sleeve, and in that way, has inherited more than just my eyes. She relishes her role as big sister, and loves “her babies” fiercely. But tonight, she needed to be the baby. She needed me, and only me, and all of me, to soothe her tired head.
We read her favorite stories (this week: Sofia, Frozen, and Everyday Dress Up). We snuggled close, this amazing child who steals my heart and tries my patience. Every day, she does this. My child that I struggled the most to connect with, the most to love. Turns out, she is so much like me. And now my heart swells at the sight of her sleeping soundly.
I walked out of her room, and back to the living room, back to screaming Mary Cate.
Then I cried.
I said to Atticus,
“These children are literally shaving years and years off of my stint in purgatory.” I like to use humor to deflect my emotions.
His response? “They sure are. That’s their job.” He is never particularly wordy.
Then I said, voice shaking, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore.”
This. The relentlessness washing over me, a bed of river rock being worn down by their endless need. There isn’t a moment when I’m awake when someone doesn’t need me, or when I’m not working to keep our family afloat. Even now, I’m only able to write this because of the generous gift of time, given by my mother-in-law.
Atticus, he’s a smart man. I love that about him. But what I love even more, is that he is so wise. He shut down my one-woman pity party with a few short sentences.
“You can do this, because you have done it. Every day for the past nine weeks. You will do it, because you love them. You just want to quit because it’s hard.”
Of course I want to quit because it’s hard; that’s the human condition. So has every person who has ever run a marathon, or written a symphony, gotten a PhD, or fought in a war. Every single thing that’s worth doing in life is hard.
Everybody wants to quit sometimes. Fallen human nature seeks to flee from every kind of suffering, even the kind that is short-lived and comes hand in hand with joy. That is why, even though I wanted these babies with every piece of my heart, I also want to run screaming from the house at least once a day.
But I don’t. I don’t leave. I do the best I can for these little terrorists, knowing that they are capable of giving very little in return.
In a Dar Williams song, she says:
“What do you love more than love? When the giving is all that you ever get back, oh how do I love like that? Can you tell me, oh, how to love?”
And Heaven. Heaven is the place where everything that isn’t love has been burned away. Heaven is to be in the presence of a God who is love, and nothing more. Purgatory is the state of being where everything that isn’t love is burned away.
These little people, they force me to confront my own selfishness. How I greedily hoard my time, like Gollum with an hourglass. They hold up a mirror to my face, and I cannot turn away.
I have to see the lack of patience, the places where my heart is full of anything but love. They overwhelm me, they push me farther than I thought I could go.
And they’re saving me.
Every day that goes by when I put them ahead of myself, when I give up what I want in order to give them what they need, a piece of myself that isn’t love is burned away. Every day that goes by when I love them – imperfectly, but sincerely – is one day closer to Heaven.
I have wondered more than once why he trusted me with these twins and their sister. I’m impatient, selfish, and passionate. I’m not cut out for this motherhood stuff.
But God doesn’t see that when he sees me. He sees the mother I can be, when those damaged parts are burned away. He knows that the purification happens only in the mothering, only in the doing.
He knows what He is about.
Sarah Babbs is a writer, wife, and mother of three children ages 4 and under. She is passionate about the Catholic faith, social justice, coffee, and chocolate every day. You can find her at her blog, on Twitter and on Instagram.