This was originally posted on Coffee + Crumbs.

Consciousness breathes in and out as often as my chest inflates with air. Sounds of the baby crying out for me to nurse her find my ears, muffled. I oblige because I am too tired to do anything else. Even this early in the morning my maternal guilt shouts louder than the melatonin. I think this is the third time since midnight that she has needed me to pacify her back to sleep, but I stopped counting. I can’t make sense of anything … I am a sleep deprived drunkard. I am stumbling – except I am sitting still; I am back in my bed, with Olive in my arms, and we are both sleeping before I even register that I have woken up in the first place. I look at my husband still and sleeping and resent the fact that he doesn’t wear the mammary glands. And then I feel important. My baby’s body is slowly getting heavier in sequence with my body filling her with comfort and milk. Her flour sack weight, and dimpled chub reminds me of this. Her belly is full, and she feels safe because I exist for her. In the middle of the night, and always.

I forget this warmth in the three seconds of sleep I get before Ana, the two and a half-year-old, is awake and ready for her cold cereal. She slept like a rock for 11 hours through the night, oblivious to the breastfeeding carousal her sister and I were riding. I get out of bed because I don’t have a choice. She requires so. much. energy, and is irritated when she can tell it is another day that I don’t have enough for her. She doesn’t understand that today I am Uranus. I was plowed over in the night by a 17-pound human and three hours of interrupted sleep.

I will be spinning on my side today.

I begrudgingly turn on a morning show for Ana while I get the baby down for her morning nap that’s never long enough. I break my stupid “no TV in the morning” rule. Any guilt I feel for this is swallowed whole by exhaustion. I am jealous that Olive gets to close her eyes, even if only for 45 minutes. I can’t think of anything but sleep. Like an addiction to a hard narcotic, the deprivation haunts me.

It is 11 a.m., and I have visited every emotion on the map. My culinary degree laughs at the ramen I am boiling as I reflect on the places we have traveled in less than six hours. Just this morning, I was standing on mountaintops, intoxicated with joy as I watched my daughters laugh with each other over nonsense. Heaving with pride when my big girl taught me about the icy rings around Saturn, or my little one rolled around the shag living room rug like she was born to do it. Gravel roads turned into canyons of angst and rage as Ana argued with me over cleaning up or tried to bite the baby. Then there were the deep oceans where waves were washing over me and I was in over my head with all of the things I had to handle between lunch and naptime, all the while the baby is fussing. Sometimes, I feel like I am running through a deep sanded desert, dehydrated and trying to find water, but instead of water, it is energy that I am lacking. Always rushing, ever so slowly, to check all the boxes. As you do with small children.

We orbit through the rest of our day. Puzzles, books, play dough, spilled apple juice, cashews all over the couch, baby belly laughs, a stubbed toddler toe, and then a loud tantrum, four nursing sessions, unparalleled naps. So much touching, climbing, and carrying. It is dinner time, and I am awake, but the night before has still affected every part of my day. It took nearly everything in me not to lay on the floor at 5 p.m. and wave my white flag. I feel embarrassed at the amount of times I lost my patience with Ana. And I should probably put my phone down more.

Then, there is the chaos of two separate bedtime routines. I go through the motions, like a well-choreographed dance. Bath, pajamas, brushed teeth, nurse, pray, kiss, and hold my breath until they’re sleeping.

By the end of the day my kids have knocked me over, and stretched me out. I have felt over stimulated and claustrophobic. My skin feels electric. There is so much noise, sometimes, it is mind numbing, but add the lack of sleep and everything is amplified.

But at last I am granted a stretch of time in front of me that is only designated to satisfy my fatigue. I limp toward my bed, which is begging to devour me. I’m covered in the soot and debris (equal parts spit up, sweet potatoes, and bath water) of a full day with children while my husband worked a 13-hour shift. Somehow by the end of it, I feel both beaten down and built up. I struggle to understand it, even as I write it out.

Now, I’m laying in the dark, and the silence is deafening. My mind runs relays. I give myself a pep talk straight from the mouth of an old woman in the supermarket. I remind myself of everything I already know.

You don’t miss sleep. Not in the way that you will miss these babies that rob hours of shut eye from you, at least. Full nights of rest and ease and quiet will only one day replace the elbow dimples, toothless smiles, and knock knees. One day, you will beg for just one more moment of Olive’s soft skin (gosh, that third forearm roll) and Ana’s small fingers in yours. The doughy thigh loaves and endearing toddler-isms are going to disappear. It won’t always be so simple. In a blink, they will be teenagers with giant egos and broken hearts. The ache will be too deep, someday, for a boob full of milk or a kiss on a scraped knee to fix. They won’t always want you the most when their worlds are dissolving. They will be too busy riding in cars, and learning algebra, and falling in and out of love.

Your arms are so full and unimaginably tired right now, but there will be a day you put those girls down, and never pick them up again. So, pay attention to how good this feels.”

And then all of the sudden it is midnight and I hear her crying for me.

“Pay. Attention.” 

N’tima Preusser is a mama to two wild grown daughters born on the same August day, two years apart. She’s is married to and obnoxiously in love with the boy who gave her butterflies as a freshman in high school. Together they live near the mountains of beautiful Tokyo City. She is never punctual, and always anxious. Writing is her medicine. Writing makes her pay attention. Writing makes her live better.