The other night, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror and struggled to make a decision:
Should I go or should I stay?
I was dressed for a run. In my arms, my little boy was wrapped in a towel. Fresh out of the bath, he was giggling as he admired the reflection of his face donned in fuzzy bear ears. As I nestled my nose against the space just above his eyebrows, I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of baby soap. With nothing separating my hand from his bare buns but a layer of towel, I was aware of his tininess and the perfection of that moment.
We’d been together all day. We’d played. We’d laughed. We’d snuggled. All that remained was one last bottle and a few final hugs as he was placed in his crib. His dad could take it from here. Because, to be honest, I was antsy to get moving.
On the other hand, what would 30 more minutes matter?
And isn’t that the tension I constantly face as a mother:
To go or to stay.
Should I go out with friends on a weeknight?
Should I go with my husband on his weekend business trip?
Should I go to work?
Should I go to the bathroom even though momentarily leaving the room may disrupt the serenity of quiet play?
Or should I stay?
Stay because that is what’s expected of me.
Stay because that’s what my mother did.
Stay because I’m scared of what might happen if I’m not here.
Stay because I love my son and want to soak up every precious minute.
Some days, raising a one-year-old is mind-numbing. Many of my stay-at-home mom friends have agreed that sometimes at the end of the day, the desire to hand our kids off to our husbands in exchange for a Target run or a trip to the grocery store is very strong. But introvert that I am, going to a public place and risking human interaction isn’t really my thing. Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t miss a chance to transfer kid duties to my husband so I can run, but the literal—not retail—variety.
As I stood there the other evening, Sauconys laced and sports bra secured (which if you’ve ever wrestled yourself into a garment that’s primary aim is to not provide any wiggle room, you know this was like a warm-up to my impending workout), my husband patiently waited, ready to rock our son to sleep so I could go run. Yet for some reason I hesitated. Maybe it was the fresh-out-of-bath smell. Maybe it was the day’s finish line being within sight. Maybe it was just classic mom guilt.
Whatever it was, I looked at my husband and uttered,
“I don’t need to run. I should stay.”
Sometimes I try to convince myself that staying is the best decision. After all, I’m . . .
The one he wants when he loses his balance and falls against the table leg on his way to the ground.
The one who has perfected the bedtime routine and knows which songs induce sleepy-time magic.
The one whose shoulder he leans against in the store when a stranger walks by.
The one whose name he’s working hard to master, even though he refers to his toy sheep as “mom-mom-mom-mom-mom” more often than he directs it at me.
But as I think about what I want for my son’s future, I know staying isn’t always the right answer. I want him to be brave and confident. I want him to experience community and be surrounded by people who will help him think differently and see the world in new ways. Not only that, but I never want him to feel responsible for . . .
Who I am.
Who I am not.
What I do.
What I don’t do anymore.
Living in the tension of going and staying means finding the balance of being both . . .
After listening to other moms both young and old, I’m not convinced this tension ever goes away. I’ve had grandmothers tell me they’re still not sure if they got it right with their now-grown kids. I think the reality is that everyone who loves another person with everything inside them feels the tug to stay from time to time.
The balance between staying and going is something my little family is learning more about every day. What’s necessary is constantly changing as we watch for the look in one another’s eyes or listen to the tone of one another’s voices when we walk in the door after work or reconnect after time away. Some days, the best thing I can possibly do is to stay. To cuddle a little longer. To build one more block tower. To read one more book.
When he is grown, I want my son to remember me as a mom who stayed. But I also want him to know me as someone who has goals and friends and things she is passionate about. I want him to know I care about him enough to take care of myself. And some days, that means passing my snuggly little bear-eared boy to his dad, walking out the door, and going for a run.4