As a parent, do you worry that you're not enjoying or appreciating this stage of your life enough? It's a concern that weighs heavily on me, especially when I'm frustrated and irritated with my children.
I think of it often, but a couple days ago I read a few related blog posts and decided it was time to get these thoughts written down. An article called Don't Carpe Diem has been floating around the internet. I read it and in many ways I thought, "Amen, Sister! Don't expect me to bask in the glory of motherhood while I'm rinsing poop out of my 3-year-old's underwear." I feel like I'm more in a perpetual state of "just make it til bedtime" rather than enjoying this life called motherhood. I know this is normal, especially for mothers of toddlers, but I wonder, am I wasting this time being exhausted and cranky?
Sometimes I feel panicked, like when I realize that Mack is the only one left in the house that uses plastic kid plates and sippy cups. In another year or two, those things will be gone. I see my firstborn morphing into a sassy tween before my eyes and I can hardly remember what it felt like to sit at the table and make crafts with her as a creative 4-year-old. It's times like those that I feel the urgency of needing to appreciate all that is happening in my life as a mother. One day I will wake up and there won't be any little bodies around to snuggle with me or exclaim with bright eyes about the cool thing that happened at school. One day it will just be Dan and I, no discipline problems to discuss, no funny anecdotes to share. And like this post on Memories on Clover Lane, one day I'll be dead and all the tangible objects that seem so essential and significant to life will just be yard sale finds for thrifty shoppers.
The problem is that I don't seem to recognize the urgency often enough. Those moments when I feel so tender about being a mother, about each of my children, are fleeting and I so rarely take the time to record them. I take a lot of pictures, it's my way of remembering and feeling positive about the life that I have, but I usually don't record the feelings that accompany the events or images that I so painstakingly capture on my camera.
So what can I do to appreciate this life more, to live for today and cherish my family more?
What I've noticed about myself lately is that I don't really play with my kids enough. I just want to meet their basic needs, help them with homework, make sure they do their chores, then have them go play with each other or by themselves so I can work on my own projects or just have some solitude. It's like I'm solely driven by the need to feel like I'm raising capable, responsible human beings, but I've forgotten how to have fun with these little people that I love.
I think part of it is the life situation that Dan and I are in right now. I am mostly home alone with the kids and I know that there's no help or relief coming later in the day and I am solely responsible for making sure all the "stuff" gets done everyday that needs to be done. It's exhausting and I'm lacking the emotional energy to be a fun mom right now. I can sit and do puzzles with Mack and Amelia or read books to them for 20 minutes, but I'd rather poke my eye with a fork than pretend I'm a pet store owner and Amelia is an orphan kitten I found (a frequent request). And Lily, well, she's not getting much at all. I arrange for the kids to play with a friend whenever there's time, so it's not like they aren't having any fun at all, but I just can't engage my imagination or my patience enough to do anything active with the kids.
When Dan was home for a short 2 days off this week, he wrestled and rough-housed with the kids for a long time each night and they were so hungry for the attention and the interaction. It's a solid testimony to me why a child needs a mother and a father. I leave the wild tickle-monster Robo Daddy games to Dan and he's happy to delegate the puzzle building and baking to me.
I think one thing that has been to my detriment since Dan started working in the oil field is that I have become selfish with my time. When Dan is gone, I can do what I want, when I want once the kids are taken care of and I think it has gotten me in the habit of being stingy with my personal time. If I have spent a lot of time tending to the children, and decided that now it's "mommy's time", I find myself resenting the many interruptions that are so commonplace in any home with small children. It feels like an offense, like a blatant disregard for my needs, a disrespect for all the time I have already given my children that day. Everyday I wake up thinking of things I'd like to get done for myself once the house and the kids are taken care of. I'd like to write on my blog, work on my digital Project Life album, write in my journal, archive all my photos, transcribe interviews I've done on my digital voice recorder, read a book. I may grab 20 minutes here or there throughout the day, but I always tell myself, "I'll have time tonight after the kids go to bed." Problem is, by that time I no longer feel like writing or doing much of anything other than falling into bed.
The thing is, when you get to the point where parenting is just a series of completed duties, followed by guilt and disappointment about all that you no longer have the energy to do, there seems to be little joy in life. You start asking yourself, "What is there to look forward to? How can I find fulfillment? What can bring joy back into being a mother?" And the ever-present question, "Why in the world do I want a 4th child?"
These thoughts have been churning around in my mind for quite awhile and over the past couple of days I've tried to find some answers about how I can be happier, how I can feel satisfied with the way I am spending my time as a mother. I've been trying a few new things (well, not really new or novel, just making a conscious effort to do something) and my attitude has greatly improved.
First, I've tried to plan at least one activity each day to center around the kids. Something intentional, not an afterthought. On Friday the kids were off school and I made sugar cookies with them. Sounds like nothing monumental, but it's like a four hour ordeal once you make the dough, let it chill, roll it out and cut shapes, bake the cookies, make the frosting, color the frosting and put it in decorating bags, frost all the cookies while suppressing the urge to freak out about the huge mess, then clean up the mess and hand wash all those annoyingly intricate cookie cutter shapes.
I felt pretty good about my effort. And the cookies were dang good.
Today was a little different. I told the kids last night that we weren't doing anything today until their chores were done. Usually I try to work on my chores while delegating and supervising their chores, but today I really helped them and spent almost an hour with each of the girls helping them organize and declutter their rooms. Amelia likes to clean and organize, Lily not so much, but both were so pleased with their clean rooms that I could tell they appreciated the individual attention and help I gave them. We were done with most of our chores by noon so Mack & Amelia played with friends while Lily & I finished her room. Then we went to a roping (a sort of mini-rodeo with several teams doing just one event- team roping) that our friend and neighbor Brian Nate put on in his new indoor arena just outside our backyard. We got to eat burgers and watch the cowboys (and a couple cowgirls) and Mack had fun loudly commenting on the noisy calves "running and running so fast".
I've also been trying to be more cognisant of those quiet little moments that make me think, "Man, I love that kid!" Like tonight when Amelia was in the bath and she gathered a bunch of bubbles in her hands, curled her fingertips together at the top and her palms at the bottom, and said, "Look, it's a heart!" Or when Mack finishes peeing on the potty and asks, "You so poud (proud) of me?" Or when Lily says, "You know what I wish I had? A replicator. Then I could put these rainbow earrings in with a plain t-shirt and it would make me a t-shirt to match my earrings." She's been watching a lot of Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise with her Dad.
Something I started in 2010 and have been sort of sporadic with lately is keeping a book where I write down the funny things the kids say. It is so much fun to go back and read through them. A classic one from Mack last month was when he walked into the living room and I said, "There's a suspicious smell coming from your diaper," and he replied, "That's a big delivery of poop for you!" I could do, I need to do, a post with all of the kids' funny quotes. There are so many things my kids have said that I thought, "I need to go write that down" but I don't do it right away and then it is forgotten. So the key to the quote book is to have it accessible and to just do it right when they say something funny.
What I'm going to start tonight is taking a concept from the Don't Carpe Diem article and not only recognize, but make an effort to write down in my journal each night, the Kairos moments that happen to me each day. Just a brief, half a page description about what was memorable, what had meaning for me. Because those fleeting moments each day where you find joy in your life can be so quickly swallowed up in the chaos that always ensues when you are a parent. And then you get to where I have been lately, feeling like life is just one big struggle with nothing to enjoy. It's just not true. A concerted effort to just pay attention can make a huge difference in our attitude. I know it has mine.