The Ups and Downs of Motherhood (It’s Okay to Feel All the Feelings.)

Hey mama. This is a true story about the real-life feelings of motherhood. We start the story in disaster. But we end in redemption. So stick with it, yeah?

Tonight, everything crashed on me in the mother of all monsoons. And the funny thing is, if you were looking from the outside in, you probably didn’t even see the moment when it happened. But at 6:13 PM, in the kitchen, after an immensely satisfying dance party to Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats with my 2-year old (as I alternated making extreme silly faces to my 5-month old), I lost it.

I should have known we were in a nose-dive, when my 2-year old, E., commanded, “Mommy, turn music off.” I did. And then N. (the 5-month old) entered the scene with the most ferocious Carrie-from-Homeland ugly cry. I gave E. his Kindle tablet, where he proceeded to pop balloons and put together barnyard puzzles, while I tried every calming technique in my arsenal for the baby.

N. is in that in-between place where his awake times and nap times make no earthly sense, and I’m trying to figure out the mathematic equation that results in the happiest baby. But I’m usually stuck with a crabby — no, that’s too nice — a screaming, furious ticking bomb — by the end of the day.

So I’m trying to dismantle a bomb as E. whines that his Kindle shut off. Did I mention the extremely and ferociously long day that came before all of this?? You know what I mean. You’ve been there, I bet.

I did all the things I could think of to quiet the storm, but every effort seemed to make it worse. This is where I guess I snapped officially. I know my limits, so I marched down the hall with N., put him safely in his crib and closed the door. I was angry, frustrated, impatient, and feeling all the emotions for allllllllllll the reasons.

At this point, I felt like a cartoon. A generic mommy-type person with way too many flyaways, spit-up covered clothes that don’t match, the postpartum boobs and the nursing bra that really doesn’t fit properly at all, and the perpetually annoyed look on her face.

How did I get to this point?

Pre-kids, I exercised. I played music in a band. I drove around the country playing concerts, and I stayed up past midnight. I went to brunch, took impromptu nature hikes, and wandered the aisles of Target without restless toddlers in tow. I had a LOT of free time and said things like, “I just don’t have time to do that,” at which parents everywhere would laugh behind closed doors.

Before I made tiny people with my body, I felt like a person.

Somehow I went to sleep and woke up age-37 with 2 kids. Which is weird because I feel like a child much of the time. Wondering why this small being is asking me if he can have a snack. Can he? Will that spoil dinner? Or is that not a thing? He has a fever. Should I call my mom and ask her what to do? He head-butted me. Whoah, uncool, kid. What do I say to that?!?!

I look like a kid, too (apparently). I had a guy come to my front door the other day and ask me if my parents were home. And I laughed. But I almost didn’t laugh. I wish they were, buddy. I wish they were. But it’s just me. Posing as a grown-up and mother of 2.

But I digress. Back to the snap. When I snapped, it felt like the dam was broken and the flood was coming. Like the movie Titanic, when the water starts rushing down the hallways and you really don’t want Kate Winslet to die because she’s so pretty and she just met Leonardo DiCaprio, and they’re in love because he drew her naked and didn’t even try to sex her up.

It was a slow-motion snap. Waiting for my husband to get home. Wondering how I became the woman who waits for her husband to come home. Wondering how my peak of the day was singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” complete with hand gestures. I cried in waves that resembled a tsunami.

I felt sorry for my husband, coming home into our Shonda Rimes drama. Tears and emotions, and you could almost hear a soft indie-pop ballad in the background.

He calmed N., and I sobbed while cutting E. a slice of pizza and dishing up some roasted kale that I knew he wouldn’t eat. E. looked at me with wonder and confusion, waiting for his silly mom to re-emerge. It almost broke me in two (or three or four) when my husband told him, “Mommy needs a hug. Can you give her a hug?” as I kneeled on the floor beside his booster seat. He leaned over and kissed my head. Hugged me with marinara fingers. I didn’t want him to see me like this. Yet… I did.

I have a memory from when I was around 6 years old. I walked into the kitchen and my mother was sitting on the floor, in front of the refrigerator, putting away lettuce into the crisper drawer at the bottom. And she was crying. Much like I was today. I had never seen her cry like that before. And I’m not sure I ever did again. I didn’t know how to react. In fact, it was like a glitch in a video game. She told me she was fine, to go back to playing. I tapped the console a few times and resumed play, glitch-free. But the memory stuck with me, filed away in the “Not Sure What to Do With This” folder.

I think I get it now.

Life is messy. I say that I wish I grew up knowing that. But do I? If I grew up knowing that adults can be sad too, would I still have been able to enjoy my childhood as I did? Would I be more secure in my own emotions? Or would I be a stone-cold statue of a person?

My feelings got so big today that I almost burst, balloon-style. And then I was rocking N. before bedtime and he cooed at me like I was his sun. The center of his universe. And my feelings were normal-sized again. Soft, gentle, and glowing.

I love being a mother. And I miss being a non-mother. And I can have both of those things. There are some who will never ever understand this. And that’s okay. Today my heart was broken and filled a hundred times over. And the contradiction of it all is Oscar-winning beautiful.

The tough times can be ugly and painful. And the good times, full of sweetness and laughter. But the good doesn’t magically erase the bad. They don’t weigh each other out. They are just both there. Existing next to each other.

I lost the person I once was. But I also found a new version of me that is kind of a badass. She is way more resilient than old me. She gets put to the test a lot more. And sometimes she breaks and shatters into a million pieces. But when she’s ready, she sweeps up the shards and makes art from them.

What do I want to say to other moms who feel this way? I want you to know you don’t have to apologize for your assorted variety of feelings that sometimes contradict. You can feel great big boundless love and also vast emptiness. You can feel overflowing pride and overwhelming sadness.

Growing small humans is more incredible than all the gelato in the world. It’s also harder than anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Instead of questioning our feelings or feeling guilty because we feel them, it’s time we let ourselves know that it’s okay to keep them all. The extreme low and the extreme high. And let them co-exist.

Originally published at on September 25, 2019.




I’m an overthinker who writes about life, motherhood, and getting things done.

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Cyndi Harvell Lee

Cyndi Harvell Lee

I’m an overthinker who writes about life, motherhood, and getting things done.

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