I check my phone. It's 3 am. I wrench myself from bed and zombie-walk into my screaming son's room. Please just let him go back to sleep quickly. I'm so exhausted. I see my 9-month-old son crying and reaching out for me. I immediately pick him up and plop down in the rocking chair feeling discouraged and depleted.
I stare exhaustedly at the wall, contemplating what I should be doing right now.
Should I let him cry it out? Should I give him his stuffed bunny so that he can comfort himself? He should know how to self soothe, right?
I definitely should not be picking him up out of his crib.
I definitely should not be nursing him back to sleep. That is definitely NOT what I am supposed to be doing. (*I know this because I've read about 8,000 articles and a dozen or so books saying just that).
But it's what he wants, and I'm tired. It's what my heart wants, regardless of what the "experts" say I should do. I feel like a failure for giving in. The books say to be firm—he's fine; he's just crying; he's being lazy because he knows I'll swoop in and comfort him back to sleep.
I should be able to treat him like an appliance—follow the instructions without input from my heart. Right? Maybe I can redeem myself by putting him back "drowsy but awake." Yeah, right.
I'll just have to start this whole process over again when he goes from "drowsy but awake" to "wide-eyed and screeching."
In the midst of the mental ping-pong between my head and my heart, a thought suddenly and forcefully rushes in—you're missing it.
I look down into the face of my infant son. His big teary eyes are locked on mine. He smiles, letting a little dribble of milk out of the corner of his smirk. This is what I'm missing. These moments—loving and being loved despite the crippling exhaustion of nursing throughout the night for the last nine months, these moments of real connection, of being a mother.
I'm missing the joy in motherhood under a dark cloud of shoulds. I can't see the good because I'm so focused on the bad.
And just as I am reveling in this epiphany, a chubby little hand reaches up. I watch his hand coming and think, This can't get any better! This sweet child is going to lovingly stroke my cheek! But, it turns out to be so much better than that. He literally slaps me in the face and giggles, delivering humor and lightness as only a child can.
Life is not as serious as I make it out to be most of the time. I've learned this from my children. I prayed that night that my child would go back to bed. I prayed that he would do what he was supposed to, or that I could do what I was supposed to (according to whichever expert I was abiding that week). But all I'm really supposed to do is show up and trust my heart without trying to fix it all, ALL the time.
Life isn't perfect. Otherwise, we wouldn't have moments like these at 3 am that crack us open and lay bare what really matters.
My mantra now is radical acceptance.
It's radical because, for me, it means defiantly and unequivocally accepting what my anxious mind tells me is unacceptable—the messy, the imperfect, the difficult.
It is a radical act of rebellion against the mind and its need to control and fix.
It is choosing to trust my heart and seeing through that lens rather than the broken lens of my mind.
It is seeing the good, the joy, the love, the humor, rather than what is broken and what is wrong.
It is radical for me to look at my life in all its messy splendor and not try to fix, change, or be perfect.
That is a radical act, I assure you, and my mind coils up in a panic every time.
But the moment I overcome that initial coiling and clinching and embrace simple acceptance, the fear and doubt are vacuumed up, and the joy inevitably rushes in. Little miracles, every time. Radical acceptance.