Now I Mother From a Distance

Now I Mother From a Distance

By Dina L. Relles

It is dark and still. The single lamp casts a warm glow on the orange walls. His tiny hand wrapped in mine; his chest rhythmically rises and falls with each breath, nearly lulling me back to sleep. I’m curled up in the rocking chair, my tattered gray t-shirt raised slightly, his warm body cradled around my soft, bare belly. He nurses.

I could hear a lone car drive by on 8th street. Otherwise, it feels as if we are the only ones in the world.

For most of his first year, my son would wake at 4 a.m. and cry out. Weary with the weight of months of sleep deprivation, I nevertheless traipsed into his softly lit room each time with meaningful purpose. To feed, to comfort.

Nothing changed when I went back to work. I would still nurse him before dawn and place him back into his crib for more sleep. Then I would start my day, fitting in a couple billable hours before the world awoke.

How I loved those 4 a.m. feedings. I never wanted to let them go. I savored the time alone with my son and the peaceful possibility of those early mornings. Years later, it’s still when I like to wake, when I write—my sacred, silent start of day.

But when my son was nine months old, I went away on business—a two-day stint to Dayton, Ohio for expert depositions. My mother came in from New York to stay with the baby. I’ll never forget receiving her call to my hotel room to proudly report that my son had slept through the night.

What I heard was that he no longer needed me.

Indeed, even when I returned home, he had weaned himself of that 4 a.m. feeding. Most mothers would be thrilled.

Why couldn’t I let it go?

Because this I knew. This was comfortable. These needs were simple, basic. I could do this. Even in my (light) sleep, my ears knew his cries; my body fed his without effort. I instinctively knew the rhythmic sway of midnight, the cries for company of 4 a.m., the subtle stirring of 6 a.m.

Some long for the sturdy that is One, the mischievous that is Two, or the inquisitive that is Three. For me, the newborn phase couldn’t go slowly enough. That time when you measure in days or weeks, not months or years. When my baby’s whole body fit snugly on my chest, when he was fresh and fragile. When a long walk outside was entertainment enough. When everything was new.

And so those early months of motherhood were filled with comfort and ease, like a favorite sweatshirt. I could have lived in them forever.

Now I’m in uncharted territory. Now we are five, and three, and 18 months—all at once. Now is dirt everywhere, monkey bars, and puddle jumping. Germs and lice. Now is impatience and bullies, bad influences at school, and requests for movies with too much violence.

Now is setting limits and testing them. Now is negotiating. Now is No! Stop! And Don’t Touch! Now is asking five times and still getting ignored. Now is a big boy bed that is too easily escaped. Now is defiant.

Now is discovery and fierce independence. Now is biking too far, too fast away from me. Now is hoping, with bated breath, that he remembers to stop at the corner. Now is skinned knees and gravelly palms.

Now there is a person I can’t wrap in a swaddle blanket and protect from the world.

Now I mother from a distance. My eyes working overtime to catch a fleeting glimpse as he darts fearlessly around the playground. Kisses must be invited. Embraces brief. Legs dangling.

Now is complicated. Now is uncertain. Curiosity about god and death. Now is more questions than answers.

The distance will only grow greater, I know. I recently met a middle-aged woman who told of her grown sons scattered around the globe—the closest lives clear across the country. I tried, hard, to imagine a time when my children wouldn’t be safe in their beds, under my roof. But I couldn’t. I can’t. Especially when it rains.

We want another.

Won’t we always? When will I feel ready to bid a final farewell to the early morning of my motherhood, with all its brilliant possibility, utter dependence, beautiful vulnerability?

But now. Now is “I love you” drawings and racing down the hall to greet me at preschool pickup. Sometimes letting me hold his hand. Now is discovering how his mind works. Learning who he is and seeing glimpses of who he will become.

Now is never still. Now is quickly turning into then. Now we are growing. Now we will figure out. Together.

Dina L. Relles is a lawyer, writer, aspiring doula, and mother of three sons. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, Kveller, Mamalode, and Scary Mommy, and she writes regularly at You can find her on Twitter @DinaLRelles.

Room to Grow

Room to Grow

By Allison Slater Tate
I had a moment yesterday. I was driving my husband to the airport, where he had to depart our family vacation for the very un-vacationlike reason of having to return to work so we can actually pay for this sojourn.

We were talking about the days he had spent here in the mountains of North Carolina with us, and specifically about his tubing excursion with our boys while I stayed home with the napping toddler. They had gone tubing with an outfit on the French Broad River, in rapids ranked less than Class 1 — basically, a very mild river — but the water was high because it has been raining like crazy for the past month. It moved faster than usual and was ten feet deep in some places.

My oldest son fell out of his tube only a quarter of the way into the ride, which is not terribly unusual; but he also lost his grip on his tube, so he was stranded. He made it to the side of the river, where he had to sit for 45 minutes by himself until my husband and the other two boys made it to the end of the course and directed the guide to where my son waited so she could pick him up. My son was typically self-absorbed about the ordeal: miffed that my husband did not swim downstream to get his tube for him, then swim upstream to give it back to him, abandoning the other two boys in the process. We laughed at this, and we wondered about how often riders lose their tubes, and we talked about how my husband’s main goal was not to let the 5-year-old drown in the river, per my explicit instructions. We never anticipated that the 11-year-old might lose his tube or what a parent with three children in the river should do in that situation. It happened fast, and he just did what he could, but our eyes met as we talked about it and it was clear we were both just relieved it turned out okay.

That was my moment, right there. It was the moment I was talking to this man that I have known since I was a senior in college about our children. I thought, we still don’t really know what we are doing. We are still those 21-year-olds, just graduating from college, bumbling around in the world and hoping we do okay when it’s all over. Only now, instead of trying to navigate the entertainment industry and New York City (me) or law school and the Bar Exam (him), we’re trying to pay our bills, own a home successfully, and raise children. Sometimes just as naively.

I think that’s why sometimes, I still feel completely overwhelmed by the whole parenthood thing, even though I have been doing it longer than almost anything else I have done in my life. It’s why discipline can seem so exhausting to me, and why I hate reward charts. It’s why I feel the life leaving my body when my children whine and fight, and why dinner prep can seem like the most daunting task ever on a random night. It’s why I want to cry when I notice my parents’ hair graying and receding.

The truth is, I still feel like a kid myself. I don’t know what to do with three kids on a river if one loses a tube and one (really, all) is too small to leave alone. I don’t know what to do when I take them to the beach and they all want to boogie board in rip currents while I am holding a baby, up to my knees in waves, using my cheerleader voice to order them in over and over, trying not to sound as panicked as I am. I don’t know what to do when I’m solo parenting on vacation and the baby decides to lose her ever-lovin’ mind in the hotel room at midnight for no apparent reason at all and wakes up everyone else. I sometimes find myself looking around for the real grown-up, and, oh yeah, that’s me. I’m the best I’ve got.

I am still growing up, alongside and at the same time as my children. I can be petulant sometimes, I can be cranky, and I can be tired and hungry just as they are — and act like it. Even more often, I find myself just wondering what the right parenting decision is — and needing to act in the moment without being certain that what I am doing is correct. I tend to beat myself up — or I get irritated with my husband — when we show that we still have growing to do. It feels like we should be doing better. We are doing the best we can, and yet we are imperfect people and we are imperfect parents.

We are often winging it, but I think I need to be more comfortable with that. If the kids watch too much TV or have too much screen time this summer, that’s going to be okay. If they eat cereal for dinner, that’s going to be okay. If I stumble on my words when trying to ask my ‘tween if he has any questions about puberty or the George Zimmerman trial verdict, that’s not just okay — it’s normal. These subjects are the graduate-degree level courses in parenting. Even if we don’t make As, we can still pass the class.  Case in point: the 11-year-old did just fine sitting on the side of the river waiting for a ride, and the 5-year-old did not drown.  So, success.

Structure is good, and parenting with purpose is preferable. But I need to show myself — and my husband — grace. There’s still a lot to learn, and it’s okay that I don’t know it all yet or that I don’t always execute every scene in my parenting career smoothly. My children and my peers will not perceive me as weak or dumb for admitting that I am finding my way in a forest that has no trail. They might respect me more, actually, for allowing my vulnerability to be transparent. In that vulnerability is the irrefutable fact that I am human, and I am still learning. Somehow, too, it felt incredibly liberating to just acknowledge to myself in that moment in the car with my husband yesterday that wow, we’re still caught off guard by all of this sometimes, and boy, that did not go as planned. There is comfort in letting down the mask of perfection, even if only to myself.

I’m finding peace in acknowledging that I am a work in progress. Emphasis on progress.

Allison Slater Tate is a writer and mother of four children. She also writes regularly at and Huffington Post Parents as well as Facebook ( and Twitter ( She hopes her writing will make up for a lack of completed baby books when her kids grow up. 

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