Today was a bad day.
It was bad from the start, as my alarm went off before the sun and I slipped my frozen, unpainted toes into hole-worn socks. It was bad when I turned on my too-slow computer as the coffee brewed and it was bad as I typed away at my keyboard in a frenzy, trying to get ahead of my workload before you began to stir.
It was bad when you threw your breakfast on the floor, and it was bad when you cried while I clicked you into your car seat. It was bad when you thought we were playing a game in Walmart – a game called “Let’s Scream Louder and Louder The More Mommy Shushes Us,” a game you played to win, a bad game for a bad day that ended with me tearing out of the store like a crazy person, a full and abandoned cart in my wake, with my hand clasped over your mouth as you struggled and kicked and laughed because the fun bad game was still going on.
It was bad when you wouldn’t go to sleep this afternoon even though I had work I needed to get done. It was bad when you followed me to the bathroom and licked the toilet. It was really bad when I told you to stop and you simply looked up at me, smiled your 18-month-old smile, and did it again.
It was bad when I had to put you in time-out in your crib and close the door on your screaming. It was bad for the entire 20 seconds I let it go on before caving and coming back in.
It was bad when I got disappointing news about our health insurance, it was bad when I worried about money and it was bad when I felt like I failed at my work. Those things didn’t have anything to do with you, but I know you could see these bad things haunting my gaze even when it lingered on your face.
On days like today — these bad, bad days — I go to my journal from 2010.
I wasn’t very happy then, and I started keeping the journal to write down all the good things that happened in my life, to see if I couldn’t feel a little better about the world if I had a list of not-bad things written down in one place.
I open this journal on days like today and I turn to the entry dated October 3. It is the page that begins “Dear Baby.”
This, you see, was the first letter I ever wrote to you, five years before you were born.
“Dear Baby,” it begins.
“I dreamt about you last night. You were perfect. When I woke up I missed you, and I was sad it had only been a dream.
“When I am afraid sometimes, I think of you and I feel strength, because nothing matters so much then. You are all I want. Admiration and safety and peace do not seem so important, when I think instead I could have you. When I am afraid, I try to be strong, because you deserve a strong mother. And so you are helping your mother before you even come into existence. You are all my hope.
I am comforted by the knowledge that I carry part of you with me, wherever I go. I hope, I pray, that soon we will be together.”
At the time, I had just turned 21 years old. I was almost finished with an English degree everyone said I couldn’t use. I had quit my part-time job, experienced frequent panic attacks and had lost 40 pounds from stress. I wasn’t a child anymore but wasn’t anyone’s idea of an adult, either — and absolutely no one’s idea of a wife or mother. Most of the dateable boys I knew were at the stage of their lives where a common conversation went something like: “Dude, last night I threw up in my sock.” “Duuuude! For serious?”
And when I had this dream, this dream where I held my baby, I felt safe. I felt powerful, like someone who could do an important thing.
Like someone who was stronger than fear and stronger than failure.
I read this letter because it reminds me of what it feels like to have a truly bad day — a day when you long for something you do not have and may never achieve and think perhaps you don’t even deserve — not a day like today, when I am feeling burdened by the weight of my many blessings.
I read this letter to remember that I live in a world where bad days can become great miracles. After all, 36 bad days after I signed my name at the bottom of this page, I met your father. And when I looked at his face for the first time I recognized it, as if he was a memory from my future. As if I had seen that face in a dream.
And now, as I write this (using my English degree), I can hear him playing with you in the other room. I can hear you laugh. You love him so much.
I read this letter because I have forgotten that I used to be that girl and I used to have those days — those bad, bad days — when I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the one thing I knew would make me truly complete.
I read this letter because, when I do, I am reminded that today was not a bad day. Today was a hard day. It was a complicated day. It was a full day.
But it was not a day without hope, or a day when hope was just a dream that faded to reality. All my days have hope now. You are all my hope, and always have been.
Love now, in the past and in the future,