Grain by Grain

Summer was already thick in May when my last baby was born.  She’d come two weeks early and looked too small to be on this side of life, this side of the womb. Her back arched just like the shape of my stomach in those last months, the shape I’d run my swollen hands over a thousand times, feeling for legs and head and hands. Now those legs were tucked tight against her chest. It took time for her to unfurl.

Two boys were at my feet, climbing up my legs, begging for juice, Mama. A dog barked to be let outside. The phone rang, the juice was spilled, cheerios dotted the floors.

And I cried. It was mostly a happy cry, tired from all this new love. I cried while she nuzzled in for milk. Again? And again, and again. I cried when my boys just wanted to go outside and I couldn’t cope with outside. I was terrified of managing the three of them alone. So I kept them all inside our air-conditioned cocoon.

It was sand that saved me that summer. The boys constantly whined to go to the playground at our park. We live on the edge of this park and can easily walk there, but it was too, too much for me in my baby blues haze. The playground is laid on a bed of sand. Often wet sand. Always dirty sand. Sand that gets inside your shoes and your two year old’s pull up and your six year old’s hair. That sand was out of the question.

I felt like a failure. How hard was it to walk to the playground, really? It seems easy now, but then it overwhelmed me. For weeks, it seemed, we were trapped by all those things that I couldn’t do.

Thankfully it occurred to me to focus instead on what I could do.
I could sit in the shade of my backyard, my tiny baby attached to my breast.
I could fill our water table with sand- clean, dry, hardware store sand- and let the boys run their matchbox cars and supermen through the grains.
I could prop up my feet on a planter and listen to my daughter gulp and swallow and breathe the way only the tiniest babies do.
I could watch my dog sniff and explore our yard and bark when the mailman came.

I could do sand. Eventually that summer I could even do playground sand. And because I did, I learned slowly, grain by grain that summer that I could cope with being a mother of one, two and three.



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  1. Kathy says:

    I love your writing! And, I love this post! Happy Monday!

  2. No. 7 says:

    Love, love, love this. Mostly because you have once again carried me away to a place that I remember so well. I remember so well the paranoid feeling I had, the dread, at the thought of leaving the house with Kate. The world suddenly seemed so overwhelming when our third entered the world.
    Fantastic piece!

  3. Jane@flightplatformliving says:

    ooo i too have been there! your writing is beautiful, i love the idea of learning grain by grain! thankyou so much for sharing this…stop by if you can and see my take on the sand prompt, it really spoke to me but in a very different way. xxx

  4. Dwija {House Unseen} says:

    What a sweet, precious memory. I was there with you, Mary Lauren. Love this!

  5. Katie @ Chicken Noodle Gravy says:

    Oh, Mary Lauren, I think this may be one of your best posts yet. I love the way you described the baby as "unfurling." Reminded me of the fern on my front porch, which also happens to be the safe, soft nest for a family of house finches. And I love the symbolism with the sand. Gorgeous, gorgeous writing, girl!

  6. Pretty says:

    Great post. Funny how even as adults we need to take baby steps … to reach something just a few feet away, or a just little into the future!


  7. Lucy The Valiant says:

    This is beautiful! And I feel it. Those first few weeks/months postpartum, everything thing seems so incredibly overwhelming.

  8. Kim says:

    This was me last year this time. But I have only two and I was still terrified. You described it so well and I had to do the exact same thing – focus on what I could do. Three seems like a mountain compared to my two.

  9. melissa says:

    this was beautiful. i felt it. i saw it!! wonderfully done!

  10. NC Narrator says:

    I loved reading this post! Vivid images of summer and the demand of children and a new infant. I particularly appreciated the exhaustion and sense of being overwhelmed by even simple things.

  11. Cheryl says:

    This is so beautiful. I totally relate, as I also have three little kids and remember feeling overwhelmed at times. You transported me right to your backyard. So lovely.

  12. From Tracie says:

    Enchanting. This is really beautiful.

    I remember when my daughter was little, not being sure that I could do ANYthing with her, because everything felt overwhelming.

  13. Elaine A. says:

    I so glad you made that discovery. Being saved by something so "small" yet so BIG all that the same time!

    Three is a tad overwhelming at first! I have about the same crew as you and also, two boys and baby girl! :-)

  14. Bernie says:

    Awwwwww. *sappy grin*

  15. Slidecutter says:

    Beautiful, beautiful post!

    Stopped by to let you know there's an award waiting for you on my blog. Just my way of saying "thanks" for some wonderful reading!


  16. Jackie says:

    I loved this memory, especially as you listed the things you could do.

  17. Meri says:

    What a nice post- I love that you took on the challenge in a viewpoint of positivity instead of just giving in to the stress. Cheers!

  18. Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog says:

    I LOVED this. Motherhood is often about those grains of what we can and cannot do at one time, isn't it?

  19. Galit Breen says:

    Yes, this. I *so* remember these feelings of "can't" and "too much."

    I was so overwhelmed by all that everyone needed and couldn't imagine it all ever settling down. You really captured that here.

    I love the peaceful shade that you described; a reprieve.

  20. Writerly Wanna Be says:

    An exquisite picture of motherhood painted in words, absolutely beautiful!

  21. Mandyland says:

    What a beautiful, beautiful post. I remember when my daughter was brand new and the feelings that overwhelmed me at the very thought of walking outside. Your words speak to so many mothers. I'm forwarding this to two friends who just had babies. I think they'll get a little hope out of it. :)

  22. Christine says:

    Your writing just flows so fluidly and freely. I can definitely relate to all your posts.

  23. MamaRobinJ says:

    Oh, I might cry. I know those feelings, and I only have 1! This is so beautiful – I love your writing.

  24. OH!! Thank you for this beautiful post! You took me back to days that passed by a long time ago…how precious!

  25. Wow, beautiful! I love this story and love that you linked it up to the Storytellers Hop! Thanks for taking part this time around and hope you had a great Friday!

  26. Eden E says:

    Wow. You are an exceptional writer. Must. Read. More!!!

  27. vifltcz says:

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  28. So well-written. I really felt it!

  29. Aww great post! I often feel overwhelmed by one and wonder how on earth I would cope witha toddler and a newborn! Only time will tell I suppose.

  30. Kelley says:

    I love this. Just having my 3rd child in September i understand everything you are saying. Slowly but surely I got my groove back and I could do it on my own. Now onto my new journey of returning to work, taking care of 3 kids, a household and a husband who travels A LOT. Beautiful
    Kelley recently posted..Never too Old to Learn Something NewMy Profile

  31. Sarah says:

    Really beautiful.
    Sarah recently posted..Christmas without Consuming: The Wrap-up and ResolutionsMy Profile

  32. Jamie says:

    This post is SO true! Though I am the mother of only two girls I felt the same way when my second was born. How was I going to cope with two (especially when the second was not planned)?!? Eventually things get better and you can’t imagine how you coped with only one!
    Jamie recently posted..Coloring WITH Your KidsMy Profile

  33. Kerri says:

    Beautiful post. You are a wonderful writer!
    Kerri recently posted..Holy Snow Batman!My Profile

  34. Marie Cole says:

    Beautifully said and I bet the boys were happy too. :) ))
    Marie Cole recently posted..Where is Marie?My Profile

  35. Charlotte says:

    Beautiful, beautiful writing in this piece :) So glad I stepped into your archives for this treat. You have a gift… And I’m glad that the sand that summer put things into perspective. Again, happy SITS day to you!
    Charlotte recently posted..2011 wrap-upMy Profile

  36. Nancy says:

    Motherhood is full of stepping stones, sometimes as small as a grain of sand. Thanks for sharing.
    Nancy recently posted..The Things That Once WereMy Profile

  37. Lisa says:

    Hitting the #3 mark was overwhelming, thankfully I could send #1 to school and #2 wasn’t far behind.
    Lisa recently posted..Mele Kalikimaka from IdahoMy Profile

  38. Tricia Oakes says:

    Just gorgeous. Adding you to my reader now, which I don’t often do. Thanks for sharing, and happy SITS Day!
    Tricia Oakes recently posted..More birthdays and less hairMy Profile

  39. I know that overwhelmed feeling all too well. Having a second baby when my first was just 18 months old brought back the new mom anxiety again because I didn’t know how to get out of the house and do things with an active toddler and a crying newborn. I love your portrayal of the feeling – dead on. recently posted..The Secret to Keeping New Year’s ResolutionsMy Profile

  40. I am visiting for the first time from SITS girls. Love your imagery and emotion. I felt the frustration, fear and the love. Much like my life as mom of three! so happy to read your blog. xo
    wendy @ mama one to three recently posted..The History of SleepMy Profile

  41. Kristin says:

    This is a lovely post. I too remember the transition from one to two and it was very overwhelming. Eventually the confidence returns, but it takes time to learn that you CAN. Congrats on your SITS day and I look forward to reading more of your lovely writing.
    Kristin recently posted..Great Etsy Finds for Getting OrganizedMy Profile

  42. Eva Gallant says:

    What a lovely post! It was so well written! I just dropped by to congratulate you on your SITS day! Enjoy the love.
    Eva Gallant recently posted..New Word Wednesday #53My Profile

  43. Venus says:

    Oh – this is lovely! I’m so glad you thought to make your own sandbox – very imaginative and I know it must have felt good to be taking action in the midst of those baby blues.
    Venus recently posted..I’m not writing a novel but…My Profile

  44. Tricia says:

    So beautiful. Love that you focused on what you could do instead of what you couldn’t. So hard to do but so good.

  45. From one writer to another: Bravo! I love your narration, and your skill for storytelling through your words. Your litany of “I could” resonates so much with me, as I’ve resolved myself to be braver this year.
    Martine | Work at Home Mom Writer recently posted..Be the best work-at-home mom you can be this year!My Profile

  46. Visiting from SITS and enjoying your writing. Good for you for making a little oasis of your own yard; sometimes the park IS too much!
    Louise Ducote recently posted..The ChallengeMy Profile

  47. Laura says:

    You describe the process of learning how to do things with three so well. Step by step. I just recently learned that baby powder takes off sand. It will be in my beach bag next time! Happy SITS day.

  48. Joanne says:

    I love your writing style. Happy SITS day!
    Joanne recently posted..The Fate of the 2 year old Handprint CookieMy Profile

    • ML@My3LittleBirds says:

      Thank you…I appreciate you checking out my posts and taking the time to comment. My SITS day was really fun!

  49. misssrobin says:

    It can be so difficult to focus on what we can do when we are so frustrated by what we can’t. You captured this beautifully. I am glad you found your way through.
    misssrobin recently posted..What Will This Year Be?My Profile


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  2. [...] Birds. I’ve created a space called MOMents where the stories will live. The stories about how a simple grain of sand pulled me from a post-partum haze. Or how a little boy tried to hold onto the fantasies of [...]

  3. [...] I settled into life with three, life with the baby daughter I’d seen in my dreams. I have seen her through hair bows and pigtails, frilly girl things that are trimmed in lace. I have counted the fingernails that we’ve painted pink, drawn hearts and daisy chains on the page where she’s told me to. [...]

  4. [...] story of how a single grain of sand pulled me from a post-partum haze. Or how a little boy tried to hold onto the fantasies of [...]

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