The girls were playing outside after an intense 45 minutes running their spelling, working through their math, and gleefully reciting poetry. I should say that it was intense for me, juggling their desire to each be my main focus and the reality that when it comes to NY Common Core 4th Grade math assignments, I cannot multitask. Snacked up and amped up, they’d bolted outside before I said there was more studying to be done.

Watching out the window I couldn’t help but think how choppy these passages are for me. Just when I feel as if I’ve mastered the rhythm of something, I look up and it’s as if the music has changed, my body swaying to a ballad as the sounds of techno smack my ears. Bad metaphor, I’m not a great dancer, but I am a good mom. I know that and it’s what gets me through these times when I feel like I am flailing.

I looked down at my hands as I typed, in the early days I’d have a mug of coffee to one side of the keyboard, a manual breast pump to the other. I would get up at dawn, it was the best time for pumping and writing, one sustaining my girls, the other me. Some mornings I’d have a baby in my arms, the stories would come slower, punctuated with kisses and coos.

I feel so tender toward that younger me. She was exhausted and constantly questing to get it right. Counting the minutes between feedings, making sure they slept on their tummies, researching appropriate milestones, deciding what was best for our family and defending it as necessary. There is so much guesswork when they’re babies, interpreting their cries and demands as best you can, but with no real confirmation other than your instinct, which everyone from family to strangers will challenge.

I realize that where I am now is not much different. I was thirty when I became pregnant with Briar, I’m now forty. Briar is approaching tweendom and I am weighing whether I’m too old for certain styles or if I need to get more serious about eye cream. The exhaustion is different; the uncomplicated cure-all of breastfeeding no longer an option, the impulse to treat away hurts or frustrations a constant foe. I have every bit as much optimism and ambition as I did then, but they are tempered by the way life peels the onion. The way you learn that good people will die and people will let you down. The weight of one week sharing a beautiful love story and having it be met with incredible support, to the next week hearing that there are still people filled with hate.

My hands are older, in many ways more capable for the years they’ve spent caressing brows and clicking keys, but still my own. My heart is every bit as filled with love and wonder for these girls as they were at those first flutters I felt. Writing has gotten me through; the stories of our days filling up the screen, sometimes going on to light up other screens, other times staying private, titleless narratives that live in a private library. As I dive headlong into this new decade filled with top 40 songs and closed doors, I hope that I can trust myself. The instinct that I followed as a new mom was never challenged by my daughters, when it was challenged by others I held my ground. This quest to raise my girls with love and to equip them with the tools they need to move farther from my babies and towards the women they’ll be, it is the most important thing that I’ll do.

That, and teach them not to hit the damn button on the iPhone that turns the camera around.