My favorite motherhood quote is by Anna Quindlen. It reads like this: “Everything in all the books I once pored over is finished for me now. Penelope Leach. T. Berry Brazelton. Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education, all grown obsolete. Along with ‘Goodnight Moon’ and ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories.” Then she goes on and talks about some of the mistakes she made while raising her babies. “…the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make…I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of [my children] sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”
I remember the moment it became my favorite. I was pregnant and had two young children only 14 months apart. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t keep up. Without fail our two “babies” seemed to need opposite things at exactly the same time. I found that as much as I was in love with these kids, I was chock full of “I can’t wait ‘til…”s. I couldn’t wait ‘til Max could just feed himself or until Elle could sit up and entertain herself for a second. It seemed to me it would be pure Heaven when I could sleep through a night uninterrupted until 7:00 in the morning.
I had been skimming through my Newsweek trying desperately to catch a glimpse into the real world…that world that had become foreign to me in many ways ever since I took on the title of “Mother.” Amongst the articles about politics and world affairs I came across Anna’s article so articulately written about mothers.
As soon as I read the above paragraph tears were pouring down my cheeks. Yes, I’m sure some of my pregnancy hormones were involved in my outburst, but most of it was the pure realization that I wasn’t living in the moment enough. Sure, the trenches of motherhood I was slogging through at that particular time in my life were deep. I couldn’t see out. There was no light whatsoever at the end of the tunnel (at least not on that day). But when I came to that paragraph I was struck with the thought that I needed to find the light in my trench of motherhood. I needed to soak up my babies. Because if that poor Anna Quindlen was wishing she’d cherished the moment a little more, I was sure I’d be right there with her if I didn’t get my act together and enjoy the “now” a little more. Her trenches were gone…nothing but a faded memory. Mine were still deep, and I was going to live it up in there.
So I did an experiment with my two small children. One day I just slowed down. I changed my gears. Instead of trying to fit in a million different errands and social things, I stayed home with my kids for a day. We read books, popped popcorn, sang songs, put together puzzles, and just delighted in being with each other. And I noticed so much more. Elle spilled her drink all over her beloved “blankie” and started to cry when I told her I had to wash it (taking away those blankies for long enough to wash them was always a trick). Max leaned over to her and told her in the sweetest voice that it was ok and that he would share his blankie with her while her’s was in the washing machine. I noticed Elle’s sweet dimple when she smiled is about the cutest thing in the world. I complimented Max on so many things he did well that day and watched him beam. I was so in love with being a mom I could hardly contain myself.
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Well, of course the next day was different. I had to catch up on things I had neglected the day before and life still goes on. Max and Elle were teasing each other constantly and Elle drew all over the couch with a ball-point pen. But for some reason it didn’t really bother me as much. Sure I was frustrated, but I realized even the catastrophes are “moments” that will fade and will most likely bring on a melancholy, missing smile in the future. I still appreciated my children more than I ever had before. My mind had made a shift. Of course I have to keep remembering to keep that shift in focus, but that’s half the battle.
It’s true that as a mother there is always a never-ending list of things to “get done.” Pay the bills. Check. Do the dishes. Check. Make dinner. Check. Do the shopping. Check. But are we successful if we didn’t notice the look on our child’s face as he just learned to “pump” on the swing by himself? Is it success if we get lunch done and the kids asleep for naps in fifteen minutes so we can finish catching up on “important projects” if we forgot to help the kids finish the puzzle we promised we would? Sometimes success is when we don’t get through the “to do” list. Instead, we stop long enough to notice the little things. To savor moments. Not only to notice the delight in our children’s eyes, but to help create that delight.
Another favorite quote I have is one written by Iris Krasnow. It’s in a book called, “Surrendering to Motherhood.” “If I had any advice for mothers it would be to ‘Be There.’ I know I am fortunate to be in a profession and marriage that allows me to spend most of each day near my children. But Being There isn’t about money or even about staying home full-time. It’s about an emotional and spiritual shift, of succumbing to Being Where You Are When You Are, and Being There as much as possible. Its about crouching on the floor and getting delirious over the praying mantis your son just caught instead of perusing a fax or filling the dishwasher while he is yelling for your attention and you distractedly say over your shoulder: “Oh , honey, isn’t that a pretty bug.” It’s about being attuned enough to notice when your kid’s eyes shine so you can make your eyes shine back.”
I want my kids to see my eyes shine when I play with them. I want to enjoy their play as much as they do. I want to “crouch down on the floor and get delirious” over the seemingly simple things that delight them. I want to look at the world through their eyes. I want to be theirs while I can.
I know that no matter how much I write about the funny things I want to remember, no matter how many pictures I take and stash in photo albums, no matter how much I will time to slow down and beg my kids to quit growing so darn fast, this time with young children will still slip away. But the joy that I let myself feel while I’m in the moment with my kids will not fade with the years like the pictures and the memories, it will become part of me. It will become part of my children.
Of course I must realize that no matter how many good intentions I have, I’ll still have days of frustration where I’m too tired to pull out the paints AGAIN and let the kids mess up my freshly cleaned kitchen AGAIN. It will still be frustrating to find Tide laundry detergent spread all over the laundry room floor and filling up the bottom of the dryer. It will always take time to get everyone out the door with hair brushed and shoes on. But before I know it I won’t have those things to make my life crazy anymore. And believe it or not, I’m gonna miss them! The secret is that savoring the crazy day to day moments, whether they be sentimental, sweet moments or moments of pure mayhem, makes motherhood rich and rewarding.