Right now, my life is narrow.
The narrow walk to school through the snow, one boy behind me, the other ahead. The narrow train tracks that we walk beside, the narrow tunnel we walk through.
The narrow morning hours I spend alone with the two-year-old. His small, hunched body pushing a school bus through the narrow space below the heater. The narrow window where we watch the pigeons waddle through the snow, their narrow beaks pecking hungrily at the bird feeder.
The narrow hallway where I walk him in the baby carrier, his eyes narrowing, drifting off to sleep.
My time is narrow too. The narrow first 45 minutes of his nap, where I try to squeeze in some time on the yoga mat, a few minutes of writing, a couple nibbles of chocolate. And when he invariably calls for me mid-nap to lie with him, I slip narrowly into the room, like thread through a needle. I edge my body into my narrow spot on the bed, narrow streams of winter light coming in through the blinds.
We haven’t left the house in weeks, it seems, the white walls narrowing us in. The viruses, the snow, the ice. The viruses, the snow, the ice. On repeat. The endless loop of winter woes that narrow the muscles in my neck and shoulders. It’s as though our life outside the house—the one with breathable, open air, boys hanging from trees, warm, wide sidewalks, and earthy scents to inhale—just never existed. My memories of it narrowed, cinched shut, devoured.
But then that moment happens. You know the one. The one that reawakens you, adds a spark of warmth and light to the sometimes lonely, thankless life of motherhood.
The two-year-old is playing with a bag of buttons. Different colors, shapes, sizes. He likes to sort them into narrow piles and rows. But now he tells me, “Mama, open up your hand.”
“These buttons are for you,” he says. And as though he knows exactly which buttons I would pick myself, he gives me pearly white, crimson red, abalone blue, royal purple.
And something opens in my narrow throat. Something is let in. Joy, I think. Yes, joy.
Joy that this little person—who I spend hours lifting, wiping, dressing, feeding, nursing, putting to sleep, and back to sleep—could, throughout it all, be somehow absorbing my essence. Could know so effortlessly what I find beautiful. Could know what I long for on these long winter days.
Pearls like the ones I wore on my wedding day. Abalone like my father collected in jars for me. Crimson red and royal purple—my favorite colors, in my favorite shades.
There is relief, too, in the opening. A breath let out. A release. The knowledge that these days with him aren’t for nothing. These narrow days, these narrow hours, minutes, seconds—oh, they are worth it. Endless, but with small miracles scattered along the way.
And yes, five minutes later the buttons are spilled in a pile on the floor, along with the juice he’d begged me for and I’d reluctantly given him. His diaper needs to be changed, and the next endless loop of lunch/nap/after-school-pickup is upon us.
I have learned over the years that it is the briefest, narrowest moments of motherhood that provide the most meaning. They are like intense bands of light blasting through the darkness. And you must embrace them, and seek them out. You must open yourself up.
And even if you don’t, even if you can’t find it in yourself, you will be opened. Your children have an uncanny sense of when you need it most, and they know so well how to pry open your hands, fill them with gifts.