I used to eat peanut butter on waffles at 2 am. I have fuzzy, cozy, warm memories of strolling into our little town home in heels or flip flops (always only heels or flip flops, always), turning on the fluorescent lighting in our pink-ish kitchen and spreading Jif on Eggos. It was my thing after a night of drinking, and at some point I stopped having hangovers, which I attributed partly to learning my perfect alcohol limit and partially to the waffles. I’d eat them while recapping whatever had happened that night with my boyfriend, we might watch a little TV, might have sex on the stairs, would definitely sleep in until however late we wanted the next morning. Peanut butter waffle time was the epitome of young and carefree.
Tonight I was in desperate need for some comfort food. I rifled through the pantry in search of something carby and filling and came up with peanut butter toast, which I haven’t had in at least a couple years. I cut my crust off, a reflex I guess, from doing my daughters that way. I let the peanut butter melt on the warm toast as I stood at our kitchen counter, surrounded by bottles of Tylenol, Motrin, Amoxicillin, a thermometer I am utterly sick of seeing, various droppers, spoons, and medication cups air drying on paper towels, a piece of paper with both children’s names and times they’ve had their doses. The couch is covered in towels and an Elsa pillow, a makeshift sick bed. A little plastic art easel has become a tray for cups of water and juice and plates of crackers and bowls with half melted Popsicles.
I sit amongst this all and dream a little about the peanut butter on Eggos days, feeling a bittersweet little ache of nostalgia. If you could only see me know, Eggo Ashley. Today I told your boyfriend, who is now our husband and father of our babies, that I’m about one incident away from a full on nervous breakdown, after dogs dying and pipes freezing and this brutal, bitter winter and our son’s emergency surgery and worrying about our health coverage under a the new government and now this round of super sick kids at the same time. We laughed. But in a “you have to laugh or else you’ll cry” kind of way.
But for the first time, I notice something else, here in this pit of exhaustion and never ending fevers and sore throats and coughs and vomit and bad sleep and cranky kids and financial stress, emotional stress, basically every kind of stress, and, I hate to tell you, Eggo Ashley, but pretty close to zero sex on the stairs times. I notice a little ember of peace in the deepest part of my tired heart, a little pulse of contentment. I might be losing my mind a little, my cabin fever at this point feels more like cabin psychosis, but I feel like I’m happy to be here, in this moment. I’m happy to eat my peanut butter toast surrounded by all this mess and stress. Yes, I’d give pretty much anything for a clean family bill of health for the rest of the year and to never have to pick up that damn thermometer or pour another 5ml dose of syrupy drug, but despite that, I’d still pick being here.
I’d still pick this hard and brutal because the payoff, though sometimes it feels painfully few and far between, is the closest thing to transcending I’ve ever experienced. Raising babies and toddlers is not my particular skill set – honestly it’s a little startling how much more naturally things like academia come to me than mothering tiny ones. It’s amazing how quickly one of the kids skipping their nap can unravel me, how taxing and exhausting I find motherhood. Writing about the hard parts rolls right off my fingertips, but I find it close to impossible to explain the parts that make it all worth it, that would make me willfully choose peanut butter toast amongst a wall of medication over peanut butter waffles and sex on the stairs.
Once when I was 26, I was sitting in my car in the Target parking lot, grumpy as hell for who knows what reason. I was really having a good pity party when I noticed a mother pushing her two children in a cart towards her car. I was seized with a sudden realization that someday, I was going to have bad days that I couldn’t run away from, that I couldn’t linger for hours at Target spending all my extra money on. Someday I was going to have to be that mom who was having a fucking awful day and yet still had to go to Target with two kids for paper towels or shampoo or whatever. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that the emotion I felt at that moment and that followed me around for days afterwards was best described as terror. I couldn’t see how I could do that. I couldn’t see how my anxiety, my deep need for being totally alone, my selfishness, my easily irritated self could ever have that life and survive with my sanity.
But here we are. I’m surviving. And not only that, I am deeply grateful to myself for taking a chance on this life that I knew I wanted but that scared the ever loving shit out of me. I am proud of myself for doing it even though it scared me, even though becoming a mom took me far, far away from any comfort zone I had, even though it’s still damn hard on 90% of the days.
I’m eating peanut butter on toast and dreaming about what my babies faces will look like when I get them up in the morning. And let me tell you, it beats the hell out of peanut butter Eggos.