1, 310 days.
That’s the number of days between January 6th, 2010 and August 3rd, 2013. That’s the number of nights I’ve slept with a small, warm body snuggled up against me, nursing and pawing or rolling around and kicking me. One thousand three hundred and ten is the number of nights I have woken anywhere between three and thirteen times, depending on variables like feeding, fever, vomit and night terrors. Five is the number of the longest stretch of hours of sleep I’ve gotten until now.
Contemplating these numbers makes me wonder how I made it through. I’m strong. And I’m ordinary.
It’s August in Texas. If you live here then you know that this is the longest time of year. It’s the time of year when everything is brown and baked hard and at risk of crumbling to dust that blows away and leaves only the bones of whatever it was.
In most places spring is when things are born, but in Texas, for me, it’s fall. When the relentless heat finally gives way to temperatures that allow you to think rational thoughts and consider doing anything that is more than just hydration and survival.
It’s been a hard year at my house. Financially, it’s been a rough year. That means that for my husband, it’s been a trial. For my special needs kiddo, Lucy, it has been a challenging year with lots of changes and therapy. And for my teenaged daughter Eden, it’s been a defining year in which she barely squeaked out of her sophomore term.
Overriding all of that, we’ve lost loved ones. Grief on top of stress is a terrible thing. One just bleeds into the other. August of the soul, if you will.
A few months ago I was starting to go kind of crazy. The exhaustion was really wearing me down. My husband went to California to see his mother in the hospital and I made the decision to wean Lucy. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Nursing at night was making me angry, and I thought, “It shouldn’t feel like this. Anger doesn’t have any place in feeding a child.” It was time to quit. We survived, and when it was clear that Lucy and my husband were capable of navigating nighttime together, I made a plan to go away for a night.
I booked a room at a Holiday Inn Express 15 minutes away. I was really apprehensive about leaving. I was afraid it would be hard on my husband, and that if my husband felt bad, Lucy would feel bad. I thought she’d feel I’d abandoned her. I felt guilty. Conversely, I felt that if my husband and I were to ever have a shot at going away together, the first step was me going away alone.
Check-in was at 3 pm. I sat in the dark, air-conditioned room for an hour or so just reading my book.
I hadn’t made much of a plan for the night. The clerk at the front desk had given me a few menus for places nearby and a coupon for $5 off a foot massage at the strip mall next door. One of the restaurants was in the same strip center as the massage place, so I figured I’d have a meal, then get a foot rub. Instant strip mall vacation.
After my meal, I made my way to the foot-massage place, and I found myself in a startling waiting room the color of egg yolk. A young man came out and brusquely commanded I wait twenty minutes, then disappeared into the back.
There were noises. Groans and laughter and loud squeaking. I started to wonder if I should leave. Just then, a young woman came out and asked me to follow her. She led me to a dimly-lit room with Chinese screens everywhere and huge reclining chairs behind the screens. She pointed to my shoes. I took them off and sat down.
The woman stood behind me and started rubbing my head and neck. She worked her way down my arms and hands and then sat on a stool and rubbed my feet and legs. Finally, she reclined the chair until it was flat and had me turn onto my stomach. She pounded on my back, using her entire body weight. My chair started squeaking. Then it was over. I was dismissed. I made my way blearily back to the eggy lobby and then out into the night.
When the lady made it to my feet I was really in an altered state. My mind drifted–I thought of my ex-husband’s grandmother, Alice. Alice was interested in reflexology. One afternoon I sat on my father-in-law’s porch with my feet in her generous lap while she pointed at different spots, explaining to me that this spot affected my kidneys and this one my heart and so on.
She loved me even though I was a stoned high-school dropout, just because her grandson loved me. She died a couple of years later. I talked to her in that moment in the big chair, saying “Alice, thank you for looking after my kid.” Because I’ve asked her in prayer many times to watch over Eden.
I started thinking of all of the mothers I’ve had in my life who have passed on. Patricia. Alice. Cleona. Harriet. Betty. Ann. That’s not a full accounting of my dead, but those are the mothers, and they’re who I’m thinking of lately when I’m trying so hard to make it as a mother myself.
It pretty much took a village to raise me. I was a hard kid. Now I’m an okay adult, I think, but thank God I still have mothers left. Diane and Kathy and Stephanie and Marcia and Gloria and Sue. When we lost Betty and Ann this year I selfishly thought, “Man, my team is getting smaller.”
Every one of those women knows what it’s like for a child to tear you down and break your heart and ruin your body. And every one of them knows what it’s like to not think twice about giving up your sleep and your health and your own desires for your kid. I’ve been lucky. At some point each of those women have shed tears for me, lost sleep over me, fought for me, defended me, educated me or just held me. And fed me. They have all fed me.
Young women, I tell you this: It’s impossible to have too many mothers. If you meet a woman who inspires you and wants to care for you, let her. It takes a village to raise a mother.
I went back to my hotel room and read my book. Then I slept for eight solid hours comforted by the cold hum of the air conditioner.
The next day I felt as if I had crossed a bridge into a new part of my life and motherhood, one where my kid doesn’t need me as much and one where maybe I get to remember a little bit of who I am apart from arms and milk and a soft voice. It doesn’t feel great. It feels weird.
I will just have to seek guidance from those who have gone before me. I know we are all connected, the way I remain connected to my children with love that’s timeless. And maybe even at the beginning of August, I can feel the promise of a new season … a whisper of September.
Meredith McGee is an Austin native and the proud mother of two outstanding girls, age 16 and 4. When she’s not cooking, cleaning or driving, she can be found in her garden or writing the occasional blog post.
Photo credit: Paul