The Witching Years

It’s staying light a bit longer each day, but we still have a long way to go until spring. I can tell because I still have to switch my car headlights on driving the kids home from the karate studio or the soccer fields, still have to flip the porch light before calling them in from the neighborhood streets. In another lifetime (which wasn’t too long ago), I’d sit out these winter evenings indoors, the kids too young for unsupervised neighborhood roaming, my own motherhood too new to risk a public toddler meltdown or unscheduled nap after nightfall. From my kitchen window, I’d watch the sun disappear behind the city long before dinner was served, and something heavy and panicky would rise in my chest and sink in my belly as the outside darkness closed over me like a blanket, locking me into a fate of 5 pm until 7 pm with only my babies for company.

It would have been so easy to switch on Backyardigans and switch off myself, but most days, I resisted the lure of the TV. Instead, I’d play cars on the  mat in the boys’ yellow-walled room, listening to the vrooom-vroooom vibrating against their lips, then to the bubbles blown in the bath, the run of the water from the faucet as they brushed their tiny, pearly teeth. I’d find Hidden Pictures, change diapers, press playdough between my hands. I’d pause to find blankies and binkies before scraping the dinner dishes and setting them on the sideboard to dry.

I was on my own most evenings back then, Charlie working late. Every weeknight. Every weekend. (I still can’t believe we ever got used to that, but we did.) As I waited for 7 pm, I’d finish the forgotten loads of laundry on the bed, each t-shirt and burp cloth and OshKosh overall cooled and wrinkled in the heap. I’d stare out the blackened windows and wonder how I’d make it another hour. Another twenty minutes. Another ten.

This was my Witching Hour, but what people forget to tell you is how the hours add up, strung together end-to-end, day-to-day to become Witching Years. They commence in those first black nights of nursing a newborn, and they roll on and on until all your children are old enough to take the bus to school. Or at least old enough to wish they could.

And some mothers are great at it–love it, even–but not me. I floundered. I immersed myself in my boys: their needs and their wants, their meals and their clothes and their toys. I waved the white flag and gave myself over to them completely, and this was how it had to be. On the surface, I even looked good at it. Underneath, I was drowning. (Needing. Wanting.) I spent my days sinking and my nights kicking my way back to the top, to where at least the waves slapped me in the face instead of swallowing me whole, arms stroking upward through the dark. I stopped writing. I stopped exercising. I stopped thinking, truth be told. I think maybe, there wasn’t enough oxygen to my brain.

It’s clearer here, on the other side. In the light. With kids who brush their own teeth and do their own homework and get their own snacks. I know now that being a mom of young children, staying in the house day after day, parenting solo 80% of the time…well, it is what it is. (Oh, is it ever.) I know that I did my best.

I also know I’ll never get those years back, as much as they often make me shudder: those years that passed so slowly as to nearly grind backward. Those years so long I measured my children’s ages in months instead. And that’s a travesty, because I left a piece of myself there. Something raw, and unmeasured, and instinctively maternal. Something sacrificial.

It was that something in me that gave way, that moved to the rhythm of my children’s sleep cycles, to the sunrise and the twilight, to the stirring of the oatmeal and the snapping of the car seats and the hefting to the hip, to the breast, to the mouth to kiss the lips.

It was that something that laid down arms. Set aside dreams. And that something was…there’s no other word for itbewitching.

50 thoughts on “The Witching Years

  1. I think most mothers, myself included, can empathize with this. You describe eloquently what we all experience, at one time or another, losing yourself to your children. It happens, and it is a lush experience with both pros & cons, one that I would never trade. It’s eye-opening, to say the least, how motherhood can teach you to both lose yourself & find yourself, even if those events are years apart.

    • Yes, years apart. And I think we lack that perspective until we’ve come out on the other side…or at least I did. And you’re right: I’d never trade it. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Amy, this is beautiful. And poignant. And gut-wrenching. I know the witching hours too well, except I don’t stay home with my daughter. I pick her up from daycare/preschool and we have two hours together everyday. As much as I’m thankful for anytime I get to spend with her, I just wish it wasn’t the time where we’re both the most exhausted, hungry, and therefore easily annoyed. I’ve often pondered, if I only have two hours with her, why couldn’t I get the best two hours instead of the worst?

    But like you, I know I will look back upon these hours that will add up to months or years and just be grateful that we were afforded these moments together at all. Despite all that I’ve said, they’re still magical.

    Thank you for this – it helps to know that we all struggle during these moments.

    • Thank you for bringing the perspective of the working parent! I’m working now, so I know what you mean about ‘quality’ time and ‘quantity’ time, but back then, I was home all day and felt isolated. Sometimes, I’d rather have been working, even though I gave up my job voluntarily. I don’t think I knew what I wanted!

  3. And exhausting! LOL Funny how so many men suddenly get so wrapped up in work 24/7 when our babies are tiny. Mine was gone a lot too, and I was working part time as well. No family near by to help, unplanned pregnancy with kids 23 months apart, etc, etc… I’m glad you can see the positive. I wouldn’t trade it, and certainly miss some of those baby / toddler moments, but am all too glad that my kids are older now!! I love the age they’re at (“tweens”), and trying to enjoy it before the teen years hit!!

    • Yes, I think you may be enjoying the ‘best’ years right now! They’re not babies, but not yet teens. I’m loving where we are now, too. I feel nostalgic about some of the baby things, but mostly, I’m so grateful I’m past it!

  4. This is amazingly, achingly beautiful. I am smack in the middle of the witching years and happen to be having a day where I wish someone could see the white flag I’m waving. I think you just did.
    Thank you, this was very powerful.

  5. I’m in the middle of them, and it’s so nice to hear that it ends. I’m drowning and fighting right now. I hope I look back on it fondly, but right now, it’s just nice to know that it will end.

    • It will end! And when it does, you’ll wish you remembered more of it (at least I did). I think I blocked a lot out! 🙂 Glad you stopped by!

  6. I’m still in those witching years, boys 4 and almost 2. And to be frank, and as you know, I did reach the point of drowning. Try to swim as I might, I couldn’t do it. In the short time I’ve been a mother I lost so much of myself, I got lost in myself too, if that makes any sense at all. I couldn’t think for so long. I gave him as much as I could, until I couldn’t any longer. Now, I feel better, but I give less. I can’t force myself to give more. I lost a piece of myself too that I can’t seem to dig back up. It’s painful really. This post Amy, it hits right deep down in the core. I mean, really really deep. Thank you for writing it.

    • Yes, you understand this well, and I think you’re more self aware during these ‘witching years’ than I was (for better or for worse). I could only see how difficult they were for me in hindsight. At the time, I lost myself and didn’t even realize it…you see it clearly. Again, don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I understand where you are.

  7. I just came over from Twitter–Christine, above, RT’d your post. I’m so immeasurably glad I did. I held my breath as I read your poetic words, capturing the very essence of those years when my children were that young. Wishing away moments, and then, in retrospect, smacking myself a bit for the wishing away. Your words are powerful and restorative–thank you for this post.

    • Thank you for taking the time to stop by from Twitter! I know exactly what you’re saying about wishing away moments and then wishing them back. Such a ebb and flow, motherhood. Hope you’ll be back!

  8. This brought tears to my eyes, Amy. So eloquent, probing, and wise. But, for me, also full of wistfulness for something I couldn’t do. I just never could put it all down and lose myself in my children. I tried the first time and literally felt like I was drowning by 6 months. I ran back to work. I tried again the second time and struck more of a balance, but it came fast at the 4-month mark.

    Work, volunteering, girls’ nights, girls’ weekends away — all of it and all of it so desperately welcomed. I waver between wanting to be the mother who sets it all aside (because don’t their children love them more?) and feeling so glad that I’m the mother who doesn’t (and never did).

    • I understand wavering over that. I do too, to this day. I was never good at setting it all aside either (always had something else I was trying to do simultaneously, as if my kids wouldn’t notice!) But I do think children benefit from seeing that their mothers have other passions and other purposes. That said, I wish I could be more of a single-minded mom some days.

  9. I have been a stay-at-home mom since my oldest daughter was born. And I gave myself over to those early years . . . completely. I was me, but I was me as Mom, spending my days in total service to my children. My friends revolved around my children. My activities revolved around my children. My life revolved around my children.

    I do not regret that time in my life, but I was not fully me.

    Lately? I have tried to be more fully me.

    It is lovely to reach for the parts of me that I had set aside and find that they are still there.

    Beyond lovely.

    I do not regret giving myself to my children.

    And now? I do not regret giving myself more fully to me.

    • I love this post, because it lays claim to the duality of ourselves as mothers. I think we’re often afraid to admit that yes, we gave ourselves fully, and it was a good thing. How wonderful that all you’d set aside was still there. Thanks for reading.

  10. Holy Cow this was good! I posted just after you on the red dress club weekend link up.

    I feel like I’m in between where you are now & where you once were. My kids are 10, 7, & 4. I’ll be back for sure!

  11. I’m in the throes of this, Amy. I watch the clock and the calendar every day, willing the time to pass, knowing I need to savor it, begging for some time to rediscover who I am. Thank you for the hope that there is clarity on the other side and for the reminder to somehow enjoy the fog I’m in.

    • Glad you stopped by, Stacia! I know the feeling of watching the clock all too well. Soon, you (and your kids) will be so busy you’ll feel the opposite: you’ll look at the clock and wonder how you lost track of time!

  12. I’m reading this through tears. Oh, how I know this feeling, this ache, this regret, this gratitude, all wrapped up. I certainly left a piece of myself there, too.

  13. Some days I can see the light better then others. My babies are still pretty little (5 and nearly 2). I think this phase of mothering was always meant to be shared. I wish my sister was around the block. Or dear friends I’ve known forever. Or even that my husband didn’t have travel and work long hours. But, I don’t, and it’s easy to feel consumed by mothering. Alone. Afraid. Lost. There are other moments. The purity of connection with a baby. The magic and alchemy of learning to speak, to see the world afresh in a child’s eyes, to know you are the surest form of comfort for someone else.

    I joyfully gave myself to my first, revolved around her. My second gets a bit less of me, but she still feels like a vital part of me. I know as she grows that feeling will fade. Her world and mine will expand.

    I have always had faith that I will find myself on the other side. Different, certainly. I know I have lost bits and pieces here in the thick forest of early childhood, but I also have gained so much.

    • It IS different, it’s true, but as you say, not in a bad way. And you’re right that early childhood parenting is meant to be shared…it’s probably why I’m still close to the mom-friends I made when our kids were babies in play groups together!

  14. Lovely writing here, Amy. I came to you from TKW’s tweet of today’s post, and then got to looking around. Your reflections on these years when your kids were young (mine is 2 now) ring true to me. And I really appreciate your candor and honesty. Thank you.

  15. Yes. Excellent post. I remember those days so well. The days are long, but the years are short.

    Visiting from SITS girls, and now, I’m following you, as well. It’s so nice to find such excellent content!

  16. I couldn’t think for so long. This post Amy, it hits right deep down in the core. No family near by to help, unplanned pregnancy with kids 23 months apart, etc, etc… I’m glad you can see the positive.

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