Deep In It

The relentless creaking of the rocking chair joints adds a layer of texture to my words, sung low and breathy.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the song…”

I sing it Elvis style, then add a Leann Rimes lilt, and finally attempt a gospel version.

This infidel sings Amazing Grace to her tiniest girl almost every day during naptime.  It is the song little Indigo chose long ago as her favorite.   Believer or not, no mama can argue with that.

The day has been rough with howling fights, broken up with my grunts and pleas.    Remnants of breakfast remain glued to the table, bowls upside down on the floor and sticky with almond milk.   Twice I have sopped up puddles of pee with a towel, on hands and knees.  My shoulders ache and my belly is tight.   I remain on the floor longer than normal, willing the strength of my knees to lift the extra 15 pounds on my frame.  Under the sofa and entertainment center I spy hair balls, lonely Lego pieces, a sippy cup of old sleepytime tea, and a half-chewed binky, and loose change.  I wonder why we ever chose furniture with open, raised legs.

Tantrums have been fierce and most always lead to self-inflicted injury of some sort; the “Don’t hold me! HOLD ME!” screams echo through the house and lead to a comedy of arms outstretched, drawn in, and outstretched again.  Over and over.

A grossly overpriced week-old Sigg water bottle already has a broken cap.   Kaia comes running to me, an uncapped Sharpie in hand, and leads me to the artwork Indigo has penned on the hallway wall.   There is only one diaper left in the house and about three wipes.   Fruit molds on the counter, awaiting the spinning blades of the juicer for days.  Kaia has already busted into the room twice while attempting to rock Indigo to sleep, whining for more treats and saying she spilled her juice for the second time.

My shoes, jewelry, magazines, chocolate, and sleep have been commandeered.  My time has been commandeered.  My life has been commandeered.


The creaking chair brings me back to the tousled head of hair in my arms.   She is wrapped up to her nostrils in her blanket and her eyelids and limbs grow heavy.  My toes push harder, moving the rocker steadily.   I plant my nose firmly on the crown of her head and inhale.  Over and over I am intoxicated by her smell; a musk of earthy and ancient fragrance.   I kiss her cheek, her nose, her forehead; lips forging a trail across her face.

“Motherhood is such an honor.  Thank you for choosing me.  I am humbled in this very moment.”

This mantra is repeated softly for the next 10 minutes.  It embeds deeper in my bones with every breath.  It is real and sacred work, motherhood.   As I hold my youngest child – only the youngest for another quarter – I think “Someday I will yearn for this moment back.”

I chose this:  Motherhood.  I choose to be humbled in the commandeering.

She sleeps in the comfort of my arms, the ones that drew her to me in the first moments of her life outside the womb.  She must remember.

I must always remember.


When we mother to the past or present, we drive ourselves mad.  There is too much at stake, too much we see as permanent and irreplaceable when we know in our center that Love is the only of those.   And so I am in the practice – alternately flailing and succeeding – of mothering in single moments.

The catch is that I don’t mother in EVERY moment.   The email calls, the $1 bargain book begs for three pages to be read, the water of the bathtub asks for five more minutes of soaking.   After all, it is Sunday and I haven’t yet read all the secrets on   It’s 11 in the morning and I’ve barely eaten and haven’t taken my supplements and my energy is already waning.  For christsakes, let me just finish my yogurt and Reader’s Digest article.

But are we wired to mother in EVERY moment?

If they are playing together, pretending the barstools laid end-to-end are a train and feeding a row of crackers to the dog, must I intervene to mother them?  Is it negligence to lay my head back on the pillow when I know the sound I’m hearing on the other sound of the wall is colored-chalk hieroglyphics being scrawled?

When they scamper into the office, both naked and covered in marker, can’t I chalk it up to creativity running wild?  Is it irresponsible when I notice their smiles have bits of crusty donut icing flaking off?  If I step over bits of eggshells more than once (remembering the hard-boiled eggs in the fridge) am I the laziest mother ever?

What about when I look outside of the window and see them holding hands and touching the creosote leaves and lavender blossoms?  And how about those moments I peer over the cereal box and watch Indigo rocking Kaia in the chair and hear Kaia whisper “Indigo…I love you” and a sweet voice return “I love you too”? There are those times I catch Indigo pretending to nurse a baby doll, and Kaia singing a lullaby to her stuffed animals.   Glitter blankets the kitchen floor and sticks to their butt-cracks but atop the table are hand crafted valentine’s cards.

And so I come back, again and again, to the practice of encasing their bodies in my arms after they fall asleep.   Their rose-petal cheeks are soft and plump.   Their faces are slack and peaceful.  Their breathing is a steady, sleeping river.   Their toes are warm and their fingers curl around mine.  I capture the image of them next to each other.

My girls.  My girls.



How much longer will I be able to say that?

If I birth a boy this summer, what phrase will I use in lieu of that one I yell – every day – “GIRRRRRLS!!!!!….”?

I am deep in mourning the “loss” of MY TWO GIRLS.    It’s OK.   It feels normal and right and healthy.   More than the shock of adding another child, I am processing that I will never have THIS again.  These two girls, just us.   The semi-normalcy of our un-normal days.  This sisterhood, over two years in the making.

It’s hard to imagine and yet I know it:  all will unfold perfectly.  This new baby, this magical sweet one that awakens me every morning with renewed gratitude, will carve their own place here.

Another rose-petal cheek and applesauce-slathered belly and intoxicating giggle.

And I will write:  “What ever was life like with just TWO?”


How do you find the balance of motherhood?

How do you select the times to mother in the moment?


17 Comments Add yours

  1. mb says:

    oh i so go over this all the time!!! but i have come up with this for myself: mothering is living. living is mothering. they aren’t divided, separated, or part of different wholes. so as you live, you mother. even in the emails, the books the daydreams, the phone calls. are we meant to mother in every moment? we are always mothers, in every mothers in every moment, not matter what we are doing. as we live our lives…they observe, learn, sense….and they know. just as the little ones followed their tribal mamas around learning the work and life, our children do the same in our modern world.

    you are always a whole mother. no matter what you do, where you are. remaining present not only to them, but to you and what you are absorbed in. honoring it all.

    i love you and that BELLY! holiness!!! sexiness!!! you are amazing, perfect and i wish i could just give you a big hug.


  2. erin says:

    oh god.. i love every bit of this
    and knowing that i will, one day soon… have moments identical. of sweet bliss and lost patience and pure.. heart breaking love.

  3. Sarah says:

    I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet. But, maybe that’s what motherhood is all about. The constant journey, not the destination. The many, many, MANY sleepless nights all blurring into one. Knowing that they are watching, learning, listening to every move you make (even when you screw up). Trying to remember that they are babies; they will always be our babies no matter how old they are. The sacredness of being entrusted as their mother. Wishing I could change the past some days while striving to move forward in the moment. Oh, the self-discovery we go through as mothers. Far more than one could ever anticipate. Whispering and singing softly to help them feel your love in every cell of their little bodies. Knowing that all of you other mothers are out there going through these same things every day and because of that, knowing that I will be ok.

  4. Wendy says:

    This is the first time I have read your blog… AMAZING. The way you can word things that would normally be “the untalked about” makes me feel normal about my life with Leland. You are an awesome writter and I am looking forward to reading more in the future.
    Having a boy does have it’s challenges as do girls but WOW are they ever worth it.

  5. Cristina says:

    I do love reading you posts and blogs. It lets me know, especially on days like today, that there is so much coming. That motherhood is worth this fight. The way you see your babies is so amazing. And the way you capture it makes me want to read it over and over again. 🙂

  6. Becca says:

    I sing Amazing Grace to my babies too. Actually it’s really the only one I’ve ever sang for them. That song is so powerful.

    This post so sums up the essence of life with young children. The mess, the chaos, the pure joy, and unconditional love that stitches all the rest together.

    The balance of motherhood? Does that really exist? It seems like I live every moment in an attempt to answer the question, “What must I do now?” Some times the answer is demanding… like feed the starving children lunch. Or sometimes the answer is a whispered I must stop and take five minutes for me. Or a whole hour…

  7. janistan says:

    Your girls are beautiful, so are you, sweet mama.
    I love every word you write.

  8. Marie says:

    You speak to my heart as a mother of two finding her way and wondering if three would be insanity. Sending you love and energy in both senses of the word!

  9. Totally overwhelmed with this. It’s so beautiful and so true, beautiful you. xo

  10. God you make me want to curl up with my laptop and a mug of Shell’s magic tea. Had no idea you had a blog???

  11. Chelsea says:

    Oh this motherhood thing is a struggle today, after being up all night with a coughing girl, a boy with an earache, a mommy also feeling sick and crampy, and in the midst of another house-bound snow day on only 3 hours of sleep….
    I must remember that I chose this sacred honor, and look deep within to find that extra burst of energy and creativity to get me through the day….
    And I hope you have a boy, just for variety so you can see the different little wonderful creatures they are…
    much love

  12. leighsteele says:

    Thank you. Each of you has given me new insight into motherhood; how to exhale those worries about nitpicking every moment.
    I am so humbled to have this online community of open arms and love.

  13. luannemacy says:

    Balance of motherhood… I hold on to the things that were mine before I was a mother. Something as simple as putting makeup on in the morning even though the baby is pleading to be picked up. Motherhood is all consuming, but my pre-motherhood self is not completely gone (I hope).

  14. ……………………………………..sigh…………………………………….
    Just at the moment when I feel like I must be the only mother that shakes her head with a smile when finding the latest evidence of “creativity”, knowing that the little creatures that have invaded my home and heart can’t do anything but be who they are, and the best thing I can do is to allow it, and guide them without stifling the beautiful imaginations that are unfolding, and let just a few more things slide than I feel like I should, and be okay with mystery crusty things found later, broken things that I thought were important to me, and realizing that I really need to spend some time to take care of me….. I find, that I am not alone.
    …and I relate to all of the things you write about, and it makes me feel like, maybe… this is what it is supposed to look like after all…
    and in this time, after they are asleep, and it’s quiet, and I am able to catch up on electronic connections to other people without a tiny person on my lap, I realize that now… is the time to have some time for me.
    on that note, I’m going to end my evening with a cup of tea, and a book.
    Much love to all of the mothers out there, may you take a few moments for you, soon… ❤

  15. Michelle says:

    My dear Leigh,

    I choose not to sing so as not to offend the public, except loudly in the car when I’m alone and softly into my babies’ ears when they are small and sweet. Amazing Grace is the only song I’ve sung to all three, without fear of embarrassment. There is magic in the words and the tune that relieves all self-consciousness.

    “Girls!” I still call them this way — as a pair of sisters this is how mine will always be known and know themselves. The brother is separate, their sibling close in heart but not in age. I don’t have a collective name for the three of them yet. Maybe I won’t. They are changing, growing up and exploring new paths. Yours will be much closer in age than mine, so you’ll find a new name for the trio, one that fits their dynamic.

    Maybe “Pixies!” or “Sprites?”

    I love you, and I love your words. xoxoxoxo

  16. Oh my, I loved this. I think you should sing Amazing Grace Billie Holiday style!

    And damn! Your girls are looking grown up!

  17. Rebekah says:

    I know EXACTLY what you mean about mourning the loss of “two girls”. I had to do the same with our two boys. There is a very real grief when a chapter in your life — one that has been precious and special and sweet — is coming to an end. A chapter you’ll never get back, but will certainly love looking back at every once in a while. Thank goodness we know the next chapter will be even MORE sweet!

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