This article was originally published on January 22, 2013.
I’ve been thinking about you lately–you moms with little children. Maybe you’re young, and maybe you’re not-so young, but I think having little ones keeps you youthful, right?
I want to say something to you while I’m close enough to that stage to remember what your life is like, but far enough outside to have a bit of perspective to offer.
My youngest child is 5 right now, and my oldest is 13. Life is busy and sweet, and we have lots of messes and mayhem (and frustrating nights where I totally vent into my journal and record all the details that bother me–so I can see them in black and white and realize that things will always get better), but life is not chaotic . . . like it used to be.
When my husband was going to graduate school, we lived in a modest apartment on campus with our three preschoolers.
I love this photo Eric took one evening as I was nursing Ethan and reading nursery rhymes to Alia. Grace couldn’t find any available “lap space,” so she grabbed her bottle of milk and just leaned against my legs.
That was my life.
One afternoon, I thought it would be fun to get everyone out of the apartment for a few hours and go to a special store in Boston called “The Christmas Tree Shop.” They had all kinds of toys, home supplies, and decor items (year round), and I was feeling up for an adventure.
So I bundled everyone up in their coats, hats, and mittens, got all three strapped into their car seats, and drove for 30 minutes to get to the shop.
Ethan was being fussy, so I put him in the front pack, draped a blanket over us, and let him nurse while I pushed the cart. (In hind sight, that seems incredibly awkward, but desperate times. . . .)
After shopping for 20 minutes, my cart was about half full, and I was feeling pretty excited about my purchases: a Dora tent for the girls, some curtains for our windows, a night light for Alia’s bedroom, and a few little knick knacks for decor.
“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom right now.” Alia said.
“Just a few more minutes honey. I’m almost done shopping.”
She started dancing. “Now, Mommy, now! I can’t wait!”
More dancing. More panic in her voice. (Turns out she had contracted a strange virus, and her tummy was totally unsettled.)
I rolled the cart over to the restrooms at the back corner of the store, parked it to the right of the ladies’ room door, lifted one-year-old Grace out of the cart, and proceeded to walk my two girls into a large stall in the restroom (still nursing Ethan).
Alia needed some extra time to take care of things–more than Grace could handle–so Grace slipped under the door and started running around the empty restroom.
Splash . . . Splash . . . SPLASH!
Suddenly I realized that little Grace was running into each of the other stalls and sticking her hands into the toilets (having a grand old time).
I opened the door to Alia’s stall so I could reign Grace back in, and Alia started screaming that someone was going to SEE her. Fortunately, no one else had come in, so I was able to grab Grace and direct her back into the stall, help Alia get cleaned up, get everyone’s hands washed (especially Grace’s), and then calmly exit the restroom (though inside my head I wanted to scream).
I’d spent so long in the restroom, however, that by the time I was ready to head to the check-out, the dutiful employees of The Christmas Tree Shop had re-shelved everything in my cart.
Isn’t that a fun story?
It makes me laugh now. (Didn’t then.)
Motherhood is utterly ridiculous at times, don’t you think?
But here is one idea that I wish I had known back then. (You’ve probably already mastered this.)
Several times, when I was in the midst of the mundane (sweeping, mixing formula, wiping spit-up, picking up toys), I wondered why the young, healthy, vibrant years of a woman’s life are also the prime years for childbearing.
Doesn’t it make sense (I reasoned) for women to have a chance to LIVE before settling down to raise children? (I wasn’t talking about waiting until our 30s or 40s–I was thinking it would be perfect to start around 60.)
I felt like I was spending the “best years” of my life changing diapers and trying to sleep while toddlers were piling My Little Ponies on top of me.
But now I don’t see it that way.
Now I think, “How lucky am I to get to spend the healthiest, strongest, most energetic years of my life as a mother!”
I can bounce on the trampoline–holding their hands in mine, boogie board with them, and jump up in a flash to provide kisses when they bang their foreheads on the edge of the table.
I can hold my babies on my hips (yes, I still hold Spencer sometimes), chase them up the stairs when it’s time for bed, and talk about boys with my teenage daughter–because it wasn’t really that long ago that I was going through her exact same time of life.
The more time I have to move forward on professional projects and travel the world, the more I realize that time spent with children IS living. (What on earth had I been thinking?)
I still have lots of years to pursue other adventures, but this adventure of young motherhood, which is too-quickly shifting to empty-nest-hood is a beautiful, beautiful time.
Just something to think about when your children are splashing in the toilet.
QUESTION: Have you ever had a crazy moment like the one described above? How do you maintain a healthy perspective when your life feels chaotic?
CHALLENGE: If you ever begin to feel like your time with young children is more exhausting than it’s worth, take a moment to step back and acknowledge the wonderful role you are playing in raising your little ones.