Looking back

Fourteen years ago, when Sage was just one year old, we wrangled him into Pete's old leather jacket on the day after his birthday. We propped him up on our vintage purple couch and took a few photos (on film, of course), the mid-day light streaming in the western windows of our little hillside home.

I remember laughing as we tried in vain to stuff his little arms into the massive sleeves. There was no point even trying, so we wrapped the coat around his shoulders instead. He smiled away happily – no teeth yet, but lots of gums. 


Looking back at that face, it's easy to remember our life then. What was hard, what was good, and all that had yet to come.

Each year the jacket photo tradition was repeated.

I remember details of our life in each picture: which house we lived in; if they were pre- or post-seizures; before or after our move to town; when our family of three became four. 

And like a metronome, this somewhat silly, somewhat sentimental tradition marks the rhythm of my motherhood, reminding me of the constant flow of time. That nothing lasts forever. 

What is hard in our life ever shifts, what is good continues to ebb and flow, and what had yet to come arrives slowly with each passing year. 





When Sage was small I would sing "Sweet Baby James" to him while he drifted off to sleep. Do you remember that line "with ten miles behind me, and ten thousand more to go"? (I always sang it with "us" instead of "me".) That line always hung in my mind. 

Because then it was true.

Today it is not. 

And this year (as if to prove the point) quite suddenly and surprising us all, the jacket fits.

Fifteen years have flown by, and that baby – the one who turned my life upside down and made me into a mother – is nearly grown.



I went to the basement this morning and pulled out the pictures from the first five years (pre-digital) and loaded the rest onto my screen. And as I look through those piles of dusty jacket photos, one per year for the past fifteen, the flood of memories come rushing in.

I'll be the first to admit that the baby years can be unreasonably, incomprehensibly hard. No, perhaps not for all parents or for all babies, but for many of us they are. For us it certainly was. 

No one warned us that it would be so hard, and we were thrown into it blind. Disoriented and exhausted I remember wondering, "Why?! Why did we do this?"

And why did no one tell us it would be so hard? 

Perhaps the why is this: they grow. They grow and they change and they amaze you and inspire you and fill your heart with the most indescribable mix of hope and fear all in one go.

And suddenly the person who stands before you has taught you more about yourself, about life, about love and trust and courage and patience than anyone else you have ever known.

And those gray, foggy, tear-streaked baby days? They fade. They stop hurting. They become nothing more than stories.

Maybe that's why no one warns you. Because everything that comes after shifts your perspective forever.

Or perhaps it's because they think that if you knew you might not have the courage to do it anyway. 

And the cost is worth the reward, a thousand fold.

What is hard in our life ever shifts, what is good continues to ebb and flow, and what had yet to come arrives slowly with each passing year.


And it's not just my teen who's growing up before my eyes. My daughter is doing it, too. Nearly 11 now, she knows who she is better than I did at twice her age. Confident, bright, a shining light in the darkness.

And before we know it, this jacket, too, (made a lifetime ago for her mother's mother's mother) will fit.

And all too soon October will cease to bring with it our annual ice cream bribe and an afternoon spent marking time out in the yard.



So what can I say, mamas of little ones, except this: if the chapter you stand in is unbelievably hard, know that you do not stand in that pain alone. Do what you can to simply survive this day. Remember to eat, to drink water, and sleep when and if you possibly can. Find forgiveness and grace wherever you're able, and just make it through today if that's the best that you've got.

The dishes can wait. The laundry can wait. Everything but you and this baby can wait. 

You're not doing it wrong. It's just that sometimes it is unbelievably hard.

(And no, despite the constant questions you must field, babies aren't designed to sleep through the night. Tell them to stop asking.)

Find help where you can – in a neighbor, a partner, or a friend. You weren't meant to do this alone.


If it's not so hard for you right now then simply savor. Savor the taste of your coffee in the morning, the sun on the October hills, the respite of a hot bath, a long walk, or a good sleep.

But most of all savor these amazing people who picked you (flawed, imperfect, human you) to lead them along this path. 

And know that each day brings with it another chance for you to be amazed.  


Parenting wasn't meant to be easy. But it was meant to change you in ways that you never imagined. 


8 thoughts on “Looking back

  1. Kim says:

    Those are great photos! What a lovely tradition. Your soap helped me make it through the hard times when I felt like I was losing myself tending to my wee one’s needs. Gitchigumee soap in the morning and a little bit of good dark chocolate later in the day were my little luxuries that helped me stay grounded.

  2. Meredith says:

    This was just what I needed to read right now. ❤ Eight years after our first child was born, we decided to have another baby, and these first few months of caring for the new baby have been so hard, in ways we never imagined. It’s getting easier, and we choose to focus on love, but it is hard!

  3. Katie Stefanski says:

    Rachel- Thank you for this perspective. Your mom passed along this post to me and what a gift! I’m nine months into being a momma to a beautifully joyful baby girl and learning by the moment. I’m indeed in the heart of the challenges and joys of raising a little one. Thank you for your wisdom.

  4. Morgan says:

    “You’re not doing it wrong. It’s just that sometimes it is unbelievably hard.”
    And YES! They chose me. And I chose them.
    I needed this today. Thank you.

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