This is how Hell Day started: me, my husband, and our two wild banshees attempting the most audacious act ever—taking a family vacation. And here I am, 11 hours, two flights, and 30 layovers later, crawling across the creepiest carpet ever as I follow the crazed path of my delirious toddler who has licked every square inch of this travel pit while we wait for a flight that will 100 percent never come.
No, I am not finishing a novel or training for a 26.2 or drinking kale smoothies or handcrafting something fabulous—I am on my hands and knees with antibacterial products and probiotics and pepper spray while my 1-year-old licks an entire airport and I scurry to offset any disease he might be accumulating—until I convince myself that all this precaution is getting us nowhere. If I just let down my guard, I will actually be hailed as the mom who thought outside the box. I will be the mom who denied popular lore that germs equal sick, and Tommy’s immune system will, in fact, skyrocket. Locker Room MRSA? Not in my house. Mono? Scurvy? Easy breezy. I am SO under control, so imaginative, so unconventional! And that lady we just crawled past? No, she is not giving me the stink eye because I am the world’s worst mother. It is out of mere habit, little Miss Stinky Face, and when you get scurvy, you will remember that mom who braved the road less taken.
I swore, of course, this would not happen. Not the crawling part, oh no. I adore children and it’s all I wanted to just have my own. But the immersion. The full-on sacrifice. The muffin top.
I was set on being the mother who didn’t fall prey to Crocs, to pajama pants at noon, to chaos and frenzy and flab. I was going to stay exceptionally current and keep my husband wildly excited and never miss a cultural beat because how scary is that? How scary to get lost in the world of play dates and mom bobs? How terrifying to lose relevance—disappearing inside the bowels of a home where all you do is scrub and tend and wait—and fall into the world’s peripheral view?
I’ll tell you what is not in peripheral view. Me strolling that same travel-delirious toddler down a lakeside street after those hellish airport hours when I still haven’t changed out of the Crocs and pajama pants that I promised myself looked structured enough to pass for, say, yoga pants. And as I strolled down that street with my grease-stained, 1990s neon orange umbrella stroller, I cross the path of some very current, very childless progressives. I know she drinks kale and has the best Instagram feed ever. I know he just cranked out a web platform and drafted a witty manifesto in one night. I imagine they have no clue what it means to sacrifice and disappear, as I squish my stomach back into my pants.
But just before I bust into the next liquor store, this happens: my little guy reaches his hand into the air. And it is that simple.
We’ve all had moments like this. When that hand in the air or on your cheek takes your breath away. One hand that shows you what you were part of creating, what you dreamed and dreamed to get. Because this is the splendor, mamas. No matter how ugly our fears of becoming irrelevant, no matter how many times we feel overlooked or overspent or overweight, we have this hand. We have this child, this wonder. A child so absolutely worth crawling the creepy carpets for, foregoing endless amounts of sleep for, losing a few worldly achievements for.
Before the hipsters fall out of view, I give them my truest smile. They pause, and the girl leans down and puts her sweet hand on Tommy’s knee, and she tells me how beautiful. How lucky.
Stay bright, sweet mamas. The real treasure is right in front of you.
Liz Bell Young is the author of In the Wide Country of Love, for sale at lizbellyoung.com
Originally published in Baby Guide 2014