Accepting that parenting will be comprised of the tough and unexpected, day in and day out, is the quickest way to find joy in it. Because it isn't easy to feel joyful at 4 a.m. when you're up for the fourth time in five hours with your newborn. It isn't easy to feel joyful when you're home those first few weeks and incessantly googling, hoping to find what feels like the elusive answer to everything — from how to get that perfect swaddle, to whether or not your baby is sleeping too much or not enough, to how many diapers they should go through in a day. It isn't easy to find the joy when your child is in the NICU or when they're colicky and you'd give anything to make it all better for them, because you keep telling yourself that that's what Mom is supposed to do.
When I was in the midst of all of this, and everything would feel so hard, the unexpected little moments shone brighter than all the others combined and the joy was indescribable. The way my children would wiggle and cuddle their tiny selves on my chest as I sat up with them late at night would literally take my breath away. How they would wrap their tiny little hand around my fingers after a colicky episode would melt my heart. The way I'd unwrap my best attempt at a swaddle as they lay on their changing table and watch their little legs kick out and stretch as their arms reached above their heads. The little sounds they'd make as I'd change them. They'd blink their beautiful, bright eyes and look around, occasionally landing on my face, making eye contact, and my whole world would be looking back at me.
Those early days are hard and exhausting and emotional. They're also beautiful, fleeting, and life-changing. What made the first weeks with my older two children bearable was remembering the joy I would find in the hardest, most exhausting moments. With my third child, I finally I stopped putting pressure on myself to accomplish anything in a day other than attending to and caring for my newborn, and the joyful moments exploded out. Instead of dishes, I sat on the couch with my 5-day-old sleeping on my chest and watched my favorite childhood movie, Beauty and the Beast. I loved the feeling that we were watching it together. I remember humming the same songs my grandmother would sing to me as I walked around looking out the window at the (multiple) snowstorms that greeted us that first week. I remember my sons running through the door after school and only greeting me after they had run over to their sister's bassinet having shrieked over how cute she was, and how little, and how much they had missed her all day. I remember my oldest offering her a little toy car and my newly appointed middle son asking when she was going to play with him. I remember the first time they took turns holding her and when they'd stop in front of her swing to stare at her before taking off to their next adventure.
What I don't remember are the tough moments that proceeded those sweet ones. Like how when two toddlers came to visit their new baby sister in the hospital and ended up being way more interested in opening all of the cupboards and turning on the sink than the shiny new baby! (Ok, maybe I do remember that.) These sweet small moments brought so much joy, even though they were so seemingly mundane. I had always anticipated that the first smile and the first laugh would be what would bring so much happiness, but I wasn't prepared for it to be the day-to-day moments amidst the hard times that would carry the real joy. It's not always going to be easy. There are days that will blend into nights that will turn into day again, when it's going to be really hard and really exhausting, but as the sun comes up and they're one day older and start to cuddle you after you've cared for them through the endless hours, the joy will come, too.