Motherhood & Words

I’ve been thinking a lot about the moments that I don’t want to forget—moments with my children and other family members, especially my grandpa, who defies the odds at 102, but who won’t be able to forever. (He would give a disgusted grunt at my lack of faith, I know.)

Working from home is tricky—I have more work than work hours—which means that I’m often at my computer even when my children are home. I don’t “clock out” ever. I wake in the night thinking of writing or editing or teaching; yesterday I ended up getting up at 4 a.m. because I had an idea and I didn’t want to forget it. (I know; I could have written it down and gone back to sleep. Instead I got up and logged in.)

I know I’m missing precious moments with my family because I lack strict work/home boundaries. I also know that years from now I will wish I had spent less time at my computer.

Over the last weeks and months, I’ve been reading my students’ wonderful writing about moments with their children, and their scenes, full of rich detail and nuance, make me understand just how much I’ve forgotten, just how little I sometimes pay attention.

Zoë has fully embraced being three—she is defiant and stubborn, changes her clothes twelve times a day, says “I HATE you!” when she’s scolded. She wants to do everything herself, insists that Stella’s size 6 and 7 dresses fit her because, “I’m growing up!”

She is absolutely, unequivocally, three. And most of the time I love this fact. Because she’s also a snuggler. She gives tight, almost painful hugs. She says, “I love you!” and “You’re the best mommy in the world!” She lines up her babies and stuffed dogs and protects them from the “bad guys.”

Yesterday after we had visited my grandpa (our Thursday ritual), she was beside herself, screaming and crying, trying to wrestle free of her car seat restraints because she was “uncomptable!” (And I’m sure she was uncomfortable; she was wearing Stella’s fancy Christmas dress—black velvet on top, stiff white skirt with sparkles on the bottom—and it was all bunched up around her waist.) She wailed as we drove down the River Road. I knew she needed a nap, so I told her we’d go see if we could find some geese, which congregate on the flat plains along the Mississippi River, across from the University of Minnesota. She didn’t care, she said. She saw them yesterday, she said.

But by the time we had reached their gathering area, she was craning her neck, trying to catch sight of them. We found three. They were napping—“in the mud!” she exclaimed, thrilled that any creature would sleep in a muddy field. And the uncomfortable dress was forgotten. By the time we reached our house, she was sound asleep.

Often I read in the car while she sleeps because she doesn’t transfer well, but I had a desire to hold her sleeping body. D has been home on break this week, so he carried her in and passed her into my arms, and I held her there, like a huge baby, her legs draped across my body, her white patent leather “tap shoes” still on. And I stared down are her closed eyes, her chubby cheeks, her parted lips.

“Remember how many hours we spent with her like this?” I asked.

D nodded.

And I just sat there, feeling the weight of her in my lap. I leaned down and kissed her forehead, brushed an eyelash from her cheek. I took her in, my arm quickly growing tired.

I’m not sure if I “captured” that moment. Is that ever really possible? But I’ve written it down, and years from now—when she is a sassy tween—I can scroll through this blog and remember holding her, remember how heavy her thirty pounds felt in my arms that one day when she was three and I didn’t read or turn to my computer—when instead I just held my daughter.

What are the moments with your children that you don’t want to forget?

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Elizabeth on April 1, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I think I have these moments every day, despite the computer and my time at it — noting them is what's important, dwelling inside them. I don't feel like my computer time makes me "miss them" at all — if anything, it might be my mood itself that distracts me — particularly if I'm tired or irritable.

    This was a beautiful moment that you described. I felt it, and it made me remember my own children when they were three!

  2. Rhena on April 1, 2011 at 11:05 am

    When we're sitting on the couch or lying in bed and Ada goes back and forth between her dad and me, tilting her head so she can look us square in the face and then leaning in for a kiss. She loves kisses (and hugs from Zoe!).

    Lovely entry, Kate.

  3. kristenspina on April 1, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    This is beautiful, Kate. Something I struggle with too. Creating the boundaries between work and being in the moment with my son. I am trying to do it more now, as he gets older, but I have regrets for things I missed or did not appreciate when he was a very little guy.

  4. Sara on April 1, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    I work at home and have no dedicated work time and find I'm always trying to squeeze in another moment at the computer. I'm trying to figure out balance too.

    "I'm not sure if I “captured” that moment. Is that ever really possible? But I’ve written it down, and years from now—when she is a sassy tween—I can scroll through this blog and remember holding her, remember how heavy her thirty pounds felt in my arms that one day when she was three and I didn’t read or turn to my computer—when instead I just held my daughter."
    I wrote something similar in my journal a few weeks ago, noting how perfectly my baby fit in my lap, head tucked in to nurse, legs curled around with feet just reaching my other side. It was warm and cozy and such a fit and I tried to soak it up, knowing that some day soon (now!) she wouldn't quite fit that way, that we'd have a different type of snuggle. I noted to myself that I wouldn't be able to quite capture that feeling again, but I'd remember how much I loved it.

  5. Andrea on April 1, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    I know just what you mean (though my 4 am risings, lately, are because I NEED to write a letter to the Legislature…I'd much rather have a creative writing idea than a hopeless tirade)…I think you did capture the experience wonderfully (and I miss the sleeping baby in my arms…hasn't happened in a long time!).

    Last week, my husband walked the boys down the driveway to the catch bus shortly before I left for work. When I drove out, the bus still hadn't come, and all three of them were partway out in a field, trying to break the ice in a puddle with sticks. It was such a wonderful image, and seemed like a magical moment, somehow, but I haven't written about it, just held it in my mind's eye.

  6. Mary on April 1, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I struggle with the same — so much time on the computer, saying "mama's working". I love your description of holding zoe and I know you will come back and read this one day! For me, I hope always remember kissing the chubby cheeks and neck of my sweaty Ruby long after she's gone to sleep, covers kicked off, belly and legs exposed. She's so peaceful and quiet then(stark contrast to her daytime personality!), and every night I stop in her room and drink her in.

  7. Kells on April 2, 2011 at 7:11 am

    You so captured that moment.

    I don't know how I found your blog, but so glad I did. I'm a writer too, who works from home. And I so related this post.

    Thank you.

  8. kate hopper on April 2, 2011 at 11:05 am

    So interesting, Elizabeth. I love the way you put that: to dwell inside the moments. And maybe you're right; maybe my computer isn't the problem. Maybe more often than not it's my mood. I'll have to think about that.

    Rhena, I can totally see Ada doing that with her eyes wide. I need some more kisses from that darling!

    Kristen, that's exactly what I don't want to do: regret missing those moments. But I would say (from the outside) it looks like to have so many wonderful moments dedicated to your lovely son.

    Sara and Andrea, I love those moments you describe. I remember those nursing moments with Zoe just before I weaned her. And Andrea, I can imagine my Stella out there stopping on ice with your boys.

    Mary, I love that image of Ruby asleep versus Ruby awake. I think she and Zoe would get on very well, indeed!

    Kells, thanks so much for visiting. I look forward to checking out your blog, as well!

  9. Sarah on April 2, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    This is so beautiful, Kate. A lot of time I want to capture exact little turns of phrase, perfect malapropisms like "soupcase" for suitcase. I try to write down as many as I can in my journal (either paper-and-pen or online).

  10. Dawn Elliott on April 3, 2011 at 10:47 am

    I don't any have children of my own…yet I can't tell you how much I loved reading your heartfelt post…vicariously appreciating the angst as well as the triumphant tenderness of motherhood. Very sweet, thank you!

  11. Kristin Nilsen on April 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    Even though my son is now 8 years old, I still suffer from what I call "frantic nap syndrome;" I tap faster and faster on the keys of my computer anticipating the cry of a baby at any moment. How much can I fit in before someone needs me?
    But I do savor the moments you speak of – my current favorite is watching my son walk down our long driveway to the bus stop. He looks so small with his big backpack and I can't look away until he's out of sight.

    Thanks for this post – so glad to find a place where there are other mothers who write!