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The Biggest Mistake We Mothers Will Make

05/09/2014 03:02 pm ET | Updated Jul 09, 2014

It is the Friday morning before Mother's Day. I sit here in my kitchen blinking into a screen. I wear pajamas and glasses and my hair is badly tangled from sleep and dreams. My mind is swaddled in an all-too-familiar fog; I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to try to write my book. I've already had two cups of coffee from my I Love You More mug and will probably have at least three more before noon. In a few moments, I will rise and welcome the day, cuddle my three little girls who are seeming not so little all of a sudden. We stair-stepped them and they are now 7, 5 and 3. My husband and I joke that we are just beginning to feel normal again because sleep and sanity are again part of the equation. My littlest, with her big blue eyes and long blonde hair, suddenly chafes at the word baby. "I am not a baby!" she croons with defiance. "I a big gurl!"

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But they are my babies. And they were indeed babies. I remember bits of their births, the taxicab rides to the hospital, the contractions, even the faces of the nurses who orbited my bed and readjusted the monitors that were strapped to my big belly. I remember each of their arrivals, those first slippery moments, their bluish slimy skin, their squinting eyes, their exquisite first screams. I remember the sting of joy and the sting of fear, the realization again and again and then again that they were mine, and I was theirs.

Motherhood. It's something I think about often, tracing my fingers around its fuzzy edges, trying to make sense of it with with words, trying to get it right. But I fail and fail again. We all do for this is the dance, for there is no "getting it right," there is no A+ to earn. There are, instead, tickles and tears, breakfasts and bedtimes, and all the magic and misery that comes between.

Time. It marches on at a ruthless clip, without our permission. Our babies who were wrapped like burritos in hospital blankets are suddenly 7 and 5 and 3. And then we blink and they are teens. We blink again and they are out of the house and the sink is no longer full of their dishes and the DVR is no longer jammed with their shows and there is a quiet, an edifying and alarming aftermath of sorts. I don't yet know this aftermath and yet I find myself anticipating it. The thoughts and memories and regrets.

In her beautiful essay Goodbye Dr. Spock, Anna Quindlen reflects on mothering her three children and writes,

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages ten, four and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. Even today I'm not sure what worked and what didn't, what was me and what was simply life.

Hours later now. I sit in a coffee shop around the corner from my littlest girl's preschool and Anna's words haunt me and humble me. My kids are still small. The moment is not yet gone. I'm trying so hard to hold on to it. To be perfectly here. But I can't, can I? No matter how much and deeply I love, I will miss things, perhaps most of them, and I will be left like Anna, like all of us, looking back, clutching photographs, piecing clues, aching for the details that time took.

I look at my own mother with a new kind of respect. Because here I am in the world, muddling through, feeling my way, and she created me. I was once her baby. And I look at my girls, their cheeks still chubby for now, their blue eyes ablaze with innocence and youth, and my whole body smiles. So far, so good, I think. All I can vow to do is to keep trying and keep failing and keep trusting and keep forgiving.

Anna's mistake will be all of ours, won't it? We will miss things. I think the biggest and best gift we can give ourselves this Mother's Day is forgiveness. Forgiveness for moments we have already lost in the tempest of time. Forgiveness for the moments that will flee us because that's just what they do. Forgiveness for the sugar donuts we will devour in Sunday's sunshine because this motherhood thing is a hard and beautiful business and oh do we deserve it.

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Happy Mother's Day to my fellow mistake-makers.

To read more of Aidan's words, visit her blog.

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