Challenging. Exhausting. Demoralizing. Tedious. Laborious. I breathed a sigh of relief as I finished my first year of graduate studies. My intellectual stratosphere had expanded, certainly, but my body and my psyche bore the scars of countless hours of unflinching focus and engagement that had defined the contours of my life over the past year. What I could not know then was that all of these terms, all of these feelings that exposed and pushed at the limits of my fortitude and resolve, possessed superlatives that extended toward emotional realms that were hitherto unfathomable to me.

Impossible. Debilitating. Soul-crushing. Mind-numbing. I was only six weeks through the first year of my second daughter’s life, but I had no idea how I was going to make it even an inch or an hour longer. My first daughter had been a relative breeze, advancing through all of the “milestones” at her own pace with minimal fuss or dramatic flair. We were tired, of course, but it felt as if every time things advanced toward a “limit,” we blinked, and another two months had flown by.

Our second daughter brought us to our edge from the moment I birthed her. She did not sleep for days on end (nor did I), she cried inconsolably, she nursed for 23 hours of every day. Her very existence reflected a state of acute misery and, in a word, suffering. Her agony seemed to mock and deride us for expecting that the first year of her life would parallel, or at least not supercede in difficulty, that of her sister’s. I did little but cry, also inconsolably, for those first few months. I recalled the reservoir of strength, grit, and flexibility that I had drawn upon in my difficult years of adolescence, graduate study, and first years of teaching. They were of no use to me now; I was adrift in a sea of regret, paralyzed by blinding insomnia and myopia, and advancing towards a decrepitude that seemed irredeemable. I was broken.

The months passed. I fumbled my way through them. My second daughter exhibited clear signs of an exceptional force of will, learning to crawl at four months, and walk at eight. She threw tantrums the likes of which we’d not imagined possible and raged uncontrollably, with such velocity that she passed out several times under the sheer weight of her insufficient breath. I cried some more. As we reached her first birthday, I hoped for some radical shift. I prayed that the 12-month milestone would present us with a temperament ticker tape that we could cross over and not look back. In finishing the “race,” we would now possess a relatively docile, relatively contented, mildly expressive 1 year old who would sleep more than a few hours at a stretch and fit more comfortably into the folds of our (previously happy, previously simple) family.

But I am still running. As my second daughter advances toward her third birthday, I no longer wish for any astonishing results or reversal of fortune to greet us as we reach the finish line. In the span of 31 months, she has illuminated, probed, and scratched at all of the cracks in my splintered self. Our children reveal the extent of those imperfections and challenge us to acknowledge and confront them, humbly accepting our own limitations even as we are daily pushed to transcend them. It is an impossible task. The first year is just the beginning.

© Rachel Rosekind, PhD, MLIS