Letters to Mothers

The baby will wake, often, up and down, eyes popping wide and fading shut, and it will be a running joke in your family that you, the mother, will be physically unable to lull him to sleep. The baby will have figured you out, he will have found the loophole. When he cries out and reaches up from his crib in the dark, he will learn to put his tiny hands on the face of the one who comes to him. If he feels the prickly stubble of a father’s chin, he knows it’s back to bed.

But if he feels the softness of your own cheek, the softness of a head-over-heels pushover, he’ll know what’s to come. There will be babbling, cuddles, a bit of milk. Shh, you will say. You will pat him on the back, rock him gently. Shh, shh, shh. He will play along for a bit, head on your chest, until his finger will find its way into your eardrum and he will laugh like a midnight manic.

You’ll know then he’ll be awake for another hour or so, at least.

It will be the worst.
It will be the best.

It will be your mother mind begging/pleading/willing him to sleep – there is work to be done, a project to finish – while your mother body will hold him tight, arms an envelope, in full awareness that this is a moment to be missed. That there is something to pay attention to here, to learn from, to be mesmerized by – a swirly patch of hair on his forehead, the rise and fall of a lung, the reflex of a curled toe.

It will be your mother heart, ready to comfort and rock and help and soothe, but maybe a little less, or maybe on her own terms, or maybe not at 4am.

You will need to be wanted, but you will not want to be needed quite so much.

Until you do. Until his eyes are finally closed and his door is finally closed and your hands will be free to type and make coffee and scratch your elbow and you’ll find that, for a moment, you already miss the weight of his body.

You’ll smile, shake your head. Laugh at the humdrum voodoo of it all.

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  • Ahhh! Your words are always so perfect and beautifully constructed! Thank you for giving this online space such much love. It’s one where I come to pause and remember what is most important. I sometime forget but you so eloquently always know how to remind me. Thank you!

  • It’s funny how, when it was happening, it seemed like those nights just dragged on and on. But now, with my daughter turning seventeen and my son thirteen, I find myself wistful sometimes for those nights. I wouldn’t trade the relationship I have right now with either of them for anything, but there are times I miss “being needed” for everything. Funny how that works. As always, Erin, this was beautiful.

    • oh i’m so encouraged by your perspective, sabrina — i know we have much to look forward to over here (including today!)! :)

    • Oh, Sabrina- I’m right there with you. My kids are 18, 16, and 14. Reading Erin’s words makes me long for a few more nights of rocking and nursing and pleading the sandman to come. Special times, for sure…but not to be traded for where we are today.

      Thanks, Erin for capturing it all so wonderfully…and sharing it here.

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  • I hold on to my sleeping babies way longer than I need to for that reason. So beautifully written. Your posts always give me so much inspiration, as a mother and a writer. thank you

  • Ohhhh! I couldn’t agree with Cathy more! Erin – you always just know the right things to say at the right moment – hitting the nail directly on the head for sure! My son is 14 and daughter 10 and as I read this post I think about how the mother – child connection is different now that the kids are older, but still so strong. Thank you so much!!

  • It never ceases to amaze me how you perfectly describe these things. How I say “yes! That’s exactly how it is!” And I go from feeling crazy (why can’t my emotions pick a lane?!) to feeling content: This is how it goes, this is what motherhood is like, I’m not the only one.

  • Aaaaaaah, this made my teary-eyed. My daughter is 3 months old, and we have a lot of nights “fighting sleep.” Trying to be better at basking in those fleeting moments instead of always thinking that I have so much to do and “why can’t she just go to sleep?” I know that one day (too soon) I will wish for those moments where I can hold her and rock her and nurse her back to sleep. Where she’ll still need me in that way.

  • Thank you. This is beautiful and so true. Thank you for capturing that strange space between wanting to sleep and wanting to snuggle that baby all night long.

  • Truth. Pure beautiful truth. I always had to remind myself, awake in those deep dark moments when I know the alarm is going to ring for the start of my day before I’m ready, that I was living, am living, the life I chose to create. Somehow that always took the edge off the desperation.

  • I’m smiling at your beautiful words with the perspective of a 60-year-old Gramma of eight Little’s (aged 5 and under.). That old saying about motherhood is true; the days may be long but the years go by so fast! Thank you for putting into words exactly how I was feeling two days ago with my youngest grandson (1 1/2) asleep on my chest. We rocked and rocked, me intentionally turning off my brain from all other (busy) thoughts and just savoring the sweet smell of his auburn hair and feel of his solid (usually wiggly!) little body against me.
    There is so much joy in every stage of mothhood. How blessed we all are! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

  • Exactly this and beautifully stated. My nine-month-old cannot fall asleep without me (and usually not without nursing) because I did everything “wrong” with him: I snuggled and cooed him to sleep as an infant, then held him as he slept more often than not. When he got a little older, I never put him in the bassinet awake because I couldn’t stop staring at that sweet face slipping into slumber.

    Now, he wakes every 1-2 hours all through the night and I can’t make myself sleep train. Am I exhausted? Oh my goodness, yes. Do I plead with him to stay asleep? Every. Night. But somehow, when it comes down to scooping him up out of the crib, nothing feels as essential as my baby in my arms right at this moment.

    • i can so, so, so very relate to this, joanna! :) thank you for sharing! this was our reality for over a year, and you know, i wouldn’t change a thing. :)

  • I was inundated with babies for about 3 years… 2 babies, 14 months apart. I was EXHAUSTED, & didn’t have time to breathe, much less think. I get to experience that longing to hold my babies longer now that they’re a bit older. When they wake up in the middle of the night, I find myself stopping & thinking: This is the time to snuggle them.

  • So so true. I need space when I’m with him all day, but after bedtime I miss him.

  • My baby just turned one. He´s so big! He sleeps through the night almost every night now, but last night he cried for me. Said “mama”. And I held him and cuddled him and told him I love him while trying to hold on to that precious moment forever. I even asked him how to make it last longer… Today I´ll need coffee to do any task, but it was totally worth it.

    Thank you for sharing. This was so lovely.

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