I can feel little pieces of myself returning.

It hit me suddenly, this realization that I am no longer a “new mom” zombie shell — a baggy-eyed, wrinkly-clothed shadow of my put-together self.

The little things are the big ones: having the energy and interest to read a novel, even if it takes months. Writing on Sunday afternoons while the kids play with my husband, no longer needed from the moment I wake until they pass out on my shoulder. Buying new clothes because I deserve to feel good, too.

Sleep is the X factor, of course. Sleep allows us to actually, you know, care about things. Though our son Oliver still wakes at night, requesting water or to be re-tucked into his grandmother’s quilt, those moments are brief. Easily solved. Younger daughter Hadley gets up occasionally, but her dad is totally on duty — and those, too, are quick.

This is new for us. Ollie has been a challenging sleeper since we brought him home from the NICU, though we’d reached a passable stage before our daughter was born. After Hadley’s arrival, however, Ollie experienced a massive sleep regression — unsurprising with a new baby in the house.

Still, it was brutal. Two, three or even four of us seemed to be awake at any given moment for the first several months of Hadley’s life. We eventually settled into new routines and the baby snoozed, too, but there were many nights when my husband Spencer and I would succeed in getting one child down only to be roused by a scream from the other.

Those were challenging days. With the smugness of a woman who now gets at least four hours of consecutive rest, I’m proud of how I managed. Especially adding that I started a new job just a few months after Hadley was born, quadrupling my commute and needing to tackle a new position with enthusiasm.

And coffee. So much coffee.

Now that the kids are achieving some independence, content to play a bit on their own and binge-watch a few episodes of “Sesame Street,” I am no longer scrambling along a path from the living room to kitchen for bottles and crackers from dawn to dusk.

The requests haven’t stopped, but Ollie and Hadley are starting to understand concepts like “Mom just sat down for the first time in three hours, so please wait three minutes.”

We’re getting better at setting those boundaries, too. Once we sit down to dinner, Spence and I try not to get back up until we’ve finished our meals. That means all those urgent requests for chocolate milk, the iPad (!) or second helpings will have to wait a few minutes more.

That’s a work in progress, of course. But we’re trying.

I’ve been challenging myself, too, in ways that I haven’t before. Like taking the kids shopping with me. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s true: I managed to go two years without needing to make a Target run on my own with two toddlers. Spencer and I were able to time our errands so I could go solo or he could handle the logistics.

I worried someone would have a meltdown (me?) with no one to intervene. I worried about dirty diapers and needing to get someone changed while another kid ran amok in a public restroom. I worried about being “that parent” with two screaming kids. Even a whiff of that embarrassment sent me straight to my laptop. Free two-day shipping, here I come!

I had another breakthrough on Sunday, too: The kids and I played outside while Spencer was out. Though we live on a quiet street, I haven’t felt comfortable taking two wild kiddos outdoors on my own for fear that someone would get away from me. But Ollie is old enough to understand danger and boundaries, and Hadley is more interested in bubbles than jailbreaking.

We decorated the driveway with pastel chalk, played kickball, walked in the muddy earth. I did not cringe when they got filthy, nor did I discourage their play based on how gross they were going to get. With my obsessive-compulsive tendencies? This was major. Huge.

These little breaths of independence have lifted my mood so much. Feeling like we can go out in public without tantrums has gone a long way toward cooling my anxious brain. Having a few moments to myself, even infrequently, has helped me feel like I’m not a shadow person.

Plus, it’s spring. Trees are blooming. The sun is shining. My living room carpet is only half covered in crushed Cheez-Its — and I’m learning to let go of that, too.

Sweet progress.

Follow Megan Johnson on Twitter @rightmeg.

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