Last month, our little family of four embarked on a magical trip to Mammoth that was full of giggles and snowflakes and cookie-baking. Ha! Of course this is only partially true. Have you traveled to the snow with small children?! We’ll call it one-third magic and two-thirds LORD-have-mercy-on-our-sweet-sweet-souls, because, well, it was hard, if not bordering on the impossible. Even with my incredible parents and brother, David, along to assist us. The gear! The road trip! The altitude! Throw in daylight savings and plenty of teething. A + B = Yikes.
But, as is the rosy hindsight of parenting, we repaint the “whoa” into “wonderful” in the misty blink of an eye. We barely survive a tough moment with the two kids we have, and then we’re all, “THIS IS THE BEST! We’re so strong. We should have seven.” It’s part of the deal, this parenting gig, and it happens time and again. God lets us sink to new lows before lifting us to uncharted peaks, where we find ourselves stronger and better and a little more humble. We’ll fall again, but we know: It’s not going to kill us. So we plan next year’s trip involving a six-hour road trip and dubious weather because parenthood is nothing if not momentary insanity.
Anyway! I’m going to take you back to one of my own dark MOMents showered in light, because this is frankly how I survive sometimes. I look back and see, “Jesus was in that,” and fresh faith streams through my veins.
Also, this feeling is universal, I’m finding—the mom-feeling of desperation, rock-bottom, reaching the end for a sec, when you let out a prayer or regrettable choice phrase. No one glides through unscathed. The hard moments pass, quickly enough, but in the present they can feel insurmountable. For me, they usually come when the noise, the stress and the mayhem reaches a head. Maybe I’m on a work call and Emerson exclaims loudly that she has to poop. Maybe both girls are crying for mom at the top of their lungs and can’t you people see there is only one of me! Maybe my newly potty-trained three-year-old pees all over the Chick-fil-A play area, I mean, you know, maybe, I suppose that could happen. Or maybe it’s just 5–7 p.m. on a weekday because this window of time was created explicitly to test the limits of nice mothers everywhere. My worst motherhood moments can look like rage, frustration, sadness, self-doubt or surrender. I’m telling you, they are not fun, but I’m also telling you, the sun shines brightest after the storm.
So, Mammoth! We love Mammoth dearly. I’ve spent at least a week in this lovely mountain town every year since I was born. Doug and I snowboarded together all over its slopes back in college when we were just friends, and he still claims my skills are a chief reason he married me. The memories are rich and the new fun, inevitable. It’s always been a given we’d take our kids someday.
Truthfully, even amid the physical exertion and various stress factors, all went pretty fantastically in our first few days of vacation. We survived the long drive with our 9-month-old and aforementioned toddler. We found ourselves fully unpacked after only 58 hours. We rejoiced in the fact that our cabin held the largest VHS and DVD collection amassed on this earth. We played in the snow and ate pizza at the best local joint. We negotiated the smartest way to trade off babysitting for snowboarding so everyone would get plenty of mountain time. Overall, we felt great!
Then came the storm.
Oh, what a storm it was! On our third day, the weather became utter blizzardry, as in can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face. Doug braved the slopes with David and both of my parents, all of them superstar snow shredders. They went, they saw, they conquered.
On kiddo duty, I stayed back in the cabin with both of our girls. We watched Disney classics on repeat while the harsh white winds swirled outside. This was fun for about three hours, after which I started to lose my mind. Cabin fever isn’t a myth, you guys! It’s a special name for the resulting mental state of remaining indoors all day alone with a toddler and baby. Oh wait, that’s stay-at-home mom life on a not-too-irregular basis. *See my blog name.* I rest my case.
So after the longest day in the galaxies, when my family members returned and suggested we go out to dinner, you better believe I jumped on it. Blizzard? What blizzard! I’m in. “This will be BOLD!” I said. And cold. And deadly. And cold.
Infinite pounds of clothing and a last-minute reservation later, we pulled into the restaurant parking lot at which point regret folded into me like a bad hug. The already-bleak snowstorm was intensifying and ahead of us stretched a five-minute walk. Bold. Cold. Deadly. Cold. UGH. But families need to eat dinner, every day, I keep learning, and it was too late to turn back.
So as moms do, even more than they know, I exhaled and sprang into action. Make sure babies are bundled, every inch of them. Ain’t nobody got time for frostbite. Set up the all-terrain stroller. Load with the bounty of stuff that follows us everywhere. Keep from freezing myself. And go—just keep going, one step at a time. Also a mom’s only answer sometimes.
As we strolled in the cold with our fussy children, I felt my inner-mommy-resolve begin to crumble a bit, turning (freezing?) to frustration and stress. So I breathed quietly into the snowflakes, “God, I’m not doing so great—help this to be a good night.”
Warmth washed over us as we entered the lodge-like restaurant smelling of fresh bread and smoky lumber. My spirits buoyed as we filled the table, ordered some drinks, started to thaw. Surely we had arrived at salvation. God, you’re so good! All the time! Doug took Emerson to the bathroom for me, a real gift with all those layers. Things were gonna be fine.
That’s when I watched the answer to one of mankind’s great questions unfold in front of me, right before my two incredulous eyes.
Just how much projectile vomit can emit from a cute little baby?
Turns out gallons, on gallons, ON GALLONS.
Perched sweetly in her small wooden highchair, Hadley opened her mouth and made the The Exorcist look like a lighthearted matinee. Tinged with the green of her earlier Spinach, Peas and Pear Plums Organic food pouch (TMI, YES, BUT I KNOW YOU CAN HANG), that milky white fluid spewed repeatedly and immensely until I could no longer look. My mom is rarely horrified but the shock on her face smacked me colder than the ice on my boots. I kept trying to inject my finger into Hadley’s mouth—was she gagging?! choking?! dying?!—but, alas, there was no criminal object. My efforts only covered me to my elbows in puke.
It wouldn’t stop.
IT WOULD NOT.
Until it finally did.
My little brother, David, is many things. Compassionate soul, genius mind, current attendant of Harvard Law School. And now, he is a Master of Cleaning Up Kid Vomit and Knowing the Truth about Parenting. What a saint you are, little bro! I had already begun to lose it between the never-ending day in the cabin, cruel weather and cranky kids. The barf threw me over the edge. Helpless, a little angry, near tears, robotically I changed Hadley’s outfit. I sat there, quiet, and stared. If my resolve had been weakening earlier, now it had turned to dust.
But you know when you’re out of fumes and your people show up with the fuel and fire? That’s what my sweet brother did for me, with the help of my remarkable parents. David tracked down every towel at the restaurant, plus water and cleaning solution. He climbed under the table, on his own hands and knees, and sopped up every trace of Mammoth Mountain’s latest flash flood. My mom wiped the table. My dad found a bag for the filthy rags and made endearing jokes about the ordeal which endeared us to the alarmed gathering restaurant staff. My family: You want them in a disaster.
By the time Doug returned, I still had a little catch in my throat but the tears had remained at bay. I told him the story and laughed a little. Appetizers were on the way. We finished our meal with plenty of peace, but I could feel it—I was going to have to cry this one out later. I could be wrong, but somehow I doubt I’m the only mommy who does this. Holds it together, swallows the lump, saves the tears for another time. I don’t know why the day’s particular events had spiraled me into such an emotional gale. Sometimes it’s your babe at the hospital, and others, it’s simply the perfect storm.
My angelic parents and brother offered to stay inside with the girls while Doug and I went to pick up the car. We ambled through the snowfall in silence while Doug held my gloved hand tightly. He knows me; he knows me so well.
“Do you want to talk?”
“Babe, why is being a mom so hard for me sometimes?! I can’t even handle vacation and a little barf!!!!”
“Well, to be fair, it doesn’t sound like it was exactly a little barf.”
We climbed in the car only to see that our windshield was iced over, opaque. Doug started the engine so I could warm up while he worked on scraping the glass. Finally alone, I let the tears drip, stream, fall. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. So tired. I knew I needed to pray again; it’s all I could do. “God, please help me handle life better. Give me everything that I need. Remind me that you’re always with me.”
Tap tap tap.
I lifted my eyes from my lap. Into the frosty windshield, Doug had carved a few words:
I <3 U
The Lord speaks to me in many ways—through scripture, strangers, the sky. Then every once in a while, He paints me a message so loudly and clearly that I can’t help but whisper, “Wow. Thank you.”
For reals this time, it was going to be OK.
The glass cleared. The snow stopped. My sweet husband hopped in the car.
“Douglas!” I managed. “I love you! You have no idea how much I needed that. I really hit a low point tonight.”
“We have to remember, babe,” he said, kissing my cheek. “This is only a season.”
Even though Hadley ended up having the flu, and suddenly sprouted two new teeth, all of this smack after the “spring forward” time change, the rest of our vacation was awesome. Totally two-thirds magic. Or did I say one-third? Math was never my strength. The important thing is that God met me right when I needed Him and did, indeed, have mercy on my little soul.
Several days after Barf Night, Doug, David and I were snowboarding all the best slopes at the very top of the mountain while my parents babysat. In a total fluke, David’s in-laws—his wife Wendy’s mom and dad—happened to be in Mammoth, so we met up with them and took a few runs together. (Side note: Wendy’s law school spring break at Boston College was different from Harvard’s, otherwise she obvs would have been there, too.) Wendy’s parents are absolutely beautiful, high-speed snow skiers, a genuine pleasure to watch and to race. Apparently they were pretty impressed that Doug and I could still ride the big stuff.
“Look at you parents!” said Wendy’s dad. “Shredding the top. Can’t hold you guys down!”
“That’s what parenthood does to you, though!” said Wendy’s mom, mother of four. “After you have kids, you feel like you can do anything. Because you can! So you charge down the mountain faster and harder than ever before.”
TRUTH. “I couldn’t agree more,” I affirmed.
David laughed. He thought we were joking. We weren’t.
“Oh, David!” said Wendy’s dad, smiling, poking his pole at his son-in-law. “There is so much life ahead of you! So many things you don’t know yet.”
I looked at my baby brother, a truly exceptional human, boundless great life ahead of him there on the mountaintop. Wendy’s dad was so right. Married a year and a half, not even close to fatherhood, there was so much he hadn’t experienced, so much he didn’t know yet. But something tells me he’s going to be just fine. I take full credit for his course in Parenting 101: Crap Gets Real. Take. That. Harvard.
Plus, this is interesting. Multiple times that week, I told Doug, “POOR DAVID! They’re never going to have kids now. Not after this week. Now he knows. We can’t even try to pretend anymore that parenting’s all fun and Santa Claus.”
But you know what David told me at the end of the week? “Steph, you and Doug have this parenting thing DOWN! You guys make it look so easy. To be honest, you’re kinda making me want to push up our timeline.”
Really? Really. I could’ve fainted from shock. Other people often see things in us that we can’t see in ourselves.
So moms. My home girls. My soul sisters. This is for you. Your heart. Your bad day. The dark moments no one else sees.
Hang your head. Say your prayers. Let your mom tears flow when you need them to.
Because just when you need it most, the Lord will lift your head toward the light, and He will remind you:
I love you.