It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

He must have taken this from a letter his wife wrote him while he was at work where she described the motherly struggle of potty training toddlers.

There are some days, most days actually, of motherhood that feel like a slow but steady suffocation to me. Like my two little ones are so eager and hungry and breathless for life that they take mine. My breath, my days, my body, my mind. I don’t know if I’m just that type of woman peculiarly unfit for day to day motherhood; or if all motherhood is sometimes like this.

Ted and I just got back from our first couple-only vacation since our honeymoon 6 (maybe 7) years ago. I liked Ted so much more than usual leading up to the trip. And then we got there, and it was absolutely unBelizable. Not a romantic, sex-cation (though we saw a couple having sex on the beach at 830am, and realized it’s worse than the cocktail that bears its name). We swam with sharks and stingrays, turtles and columns of fish schools in clear turquoise waters. Drank Mambo Mojitos and slept and read and ate delicious food. I puked the Crown Royal I chugged from a white pillowed pod over the surf. The bottle of duty-free we snuck into our not-all-inclusive resort was what I chugged in the sun before the waiter could come and scold us. I decided that was my last puke of my life, satisfying and horrifying as it was to dirty such clear waters. “You fed the fish” Ted offered, Kindly.

Regardless, we came home refreshed, relaxed, and just sunburned enough to look like we’d vacationed. Then Ted woke up, kissed the boys and went to work while I crash landed back into mommydom.

I’d anticipated that the boys would be mad and scared we’d left them. I knew they’d be on good behavior and in excellent hands with Yianna and Papou, and then I’d have to pay for it. I knew. So I tried to preempt the fury with extra affection and no plans but snuggles and cars. I crawled into bed with Gus as he was waking up that first morning. I kissed him silly. After breakfast I twirled him around the kitchen and sang love songs I’d changed into mommy songs. “oh won’t you stay with me/ cause you’re all I need/ this is love, it’s clear to me/ darlin’ staaaay with me.” Gus giggled and let me snuggle that 3 year old body that’s already too old for my heart to handle.

We moved on with our day, and he made sure to express just how furious he was that his father and I had just taken our longest trip without him or his brother. Every request was met with “no.” The meltdowns brought out a Gollum impression I was sure only Andy Serkis could do with such perfection. “Snuggle me in your lap but DO NOT TOUCH ME with your arms.” Uhm. What?

It is true that their little hearts can be Caribbean breezes that come to relieve the heat of the moment, that come when your delirium is about to tip your mind and kindness into unretrievable territory. Gus was my bossiest self in his strongest three-nanger years. (there’s no denying I gave him his fluid ability to control–or need to control–everything; just ask my mom’s lifelong friends what karma looks like and they will say “Augustine.”)

In this vein, Gus likes to tell me exactly where to stand while he pees on the potty, and I dutifully obey because I’m just that desperate for this poop in the potty phase to happen. (note: call your mama right now and thank her for the soul pieces you took from her while you faced your fear to poop in the porcelain.)

Gus dictates our ritual: Mommy, pwease turn on the light. I pulls down my pants. Mommy give me privacies but DON’T LEAVE! Stand dere, outside the door but face da otha way. No, I can’t see you. No! Don’t turn awound.

Sometimes I stand wrong just to vex him. I know he wants to see the back of one shoulder but not my other. I know this ritual, and it sometimes drives me insane, especially because he won’t poop on the potty, yet. He pretends to make fart noises his daddy taught him and then pees and says he’s all done. He flushes and washes all by himself, so I can only guess his bullshit and not see his lack of actual shit.

And today while we did this potty dictator ritual, I fuming and deep breathing and texting Ted to talk me off the edge, Gus was looking at just the right amount of the back of my should and he sang to me. He sang my song, Sam Smith’s song, back to me. “Oh Dawling staaay wit me. Oh Darling staaaaaah wit me.

I melted and was emptied and filled, like Communion. I did not move from my post until instructed to, but I dabbed at my soul on my face and scooped him up as soon as I could to face the next meltdown with a tenderized heart bleeding a crime scene of bloody mother love all over the house.