I thought about this quote while sitting between my boys on a five-hour road trip a few weeks ago. The last time I was squished in between my two kids on a back seat drive was on our way home from the hospital after we adopted our now one-year-old. I was still feeling the rawness and beauty of all that had happened. I was still “sucking the marrow out of life.”
This time around though, the ride didn’t feel quite so full of wonder. Oliver pulled my hair and threw snacks on the floor. My five-year-old, Eli, was grumpy and not at all excited about sharing the back seat with his now very loud baby brother.
We weren’t high on those magical new baby feelings anymore, the ones that a year ago allowed us to just sit and stare at this new precious addition to the family no matter what distance we had to drive. And it got me thinking. Thinking about how quickly we start taking the things we love most for granted.
The vulnerability of life’s defining moments eventually fades, and we sink back into the mundane rhythms of daily life: to-do lists, projects, play-dates, wants, frustrations. It happens. It’s natural. Our brains go into a default mode and we start taking things for granted as they blend into the background. Things like our health, the people we love, the Internet, water coming out of the faucet, electricity, and our cars are so consistent they become a part of the faded wallpaper of everyday life.
But no matter how natural, it is still disconcerting to me how we can go from those intense feelings of gratitude the first time you are handed your baby, to wishing just a few weeks later you could go back to a time when you slept through an entire night.
I am baffled by how easily I can go from being reminded–as I look into my children’s faces who hold no genes of mine–of what someone sacrificed to give me, to looking at those same faces in the throes of a tantrum and wishing they were still sweet babies who just needed to be held again.
I don’t have all the answers. But I have been thinking long and hard about what I can do to live my life a little more fully. I think there are some small measures we can take every day to make sure we are not taking the important things in life for granted.
Number One: Be Present and Deliberate
Bring the things you take for granted in life out of the background. Make them the bright artwork you hang on the faded wallpaper by being conscious of the ordinary. Think about your cold and hot water as it freely spills from the faucet. Be deliberate about how you spend your time. Think about what you are doing with your kids in the exact moment you are doing it. What does their smile look like? How does their laugh sound? How happy and full does your heart feel in this moment? And if it doesn’t, what can you do to change that?
Number Two: Gratitude
When you are aware of your blessings you are at peace. When you WANT what you have, you have what you want. And when you make a conscious effort to be grateful for all you have, it helps the most important people and things in your life rise effortlessly to the top.
Number Three: Perspective
I like to picture our family around the dinner table someday when they’re all grown up. We are laughing and remembering the baby days. We tell stories about how Ollie got into everything and how I had to sweep up piles of Cheerios or put back drawers full of kitchen gadgets. We will talk about all the times I had to glue something back together because Eli broke it during a breakdance move, or how our appliances went years covered in fingerprints before we remembered what they were supposed to look like.
And although it will be all too wonderful to see our kids matured and full of personality, I know it will sting … wanting to go back to that stage for a little while. That kind of perspective gives you something to strive to do better for, it gives you purpose.
Number Four: Be Aware of the Rest of the World
It is often hard to make sense of other people’s suffering, especially when you are in a state of non-suffering. At times I feel guilty when I complain about my hardships in life, especially when they seem so insignificant compared to the hand others have been dealt.
Nothing illuminates gratitude or reveals life’s blessings quite like being aware of someone else’s needs. Being aware of the rest of the world can act as a catalyst for helping others. Just remember that measuring your good fortune against another person’s afflictions can be just as harmful as other comparison games, so play humbly.
Number Five: Balance
We need the unimportant. Once in a while we need to get lost in silly pleasures like shoes and lipstick, movies and books, planning trips, and changing up rooms. Life will carry on with or without us, so why not stir the unimportant and the important together into a rich batter of purpose.
I will kiss the warm skin of my baby’s cheeks when he is sleeping, and in the morning I will butter toast, pour milk, and make grocery lists. Both worlds are good. Both worlds are needful. Together, the less-than-important and our most cherished moments brilliantly combine for a good and full life.
Number Six: Reminders
Having reminders to fall back on in the thick of life’s frustrations helps me keep what is most important on my mind. These reminders usually appear during a sleepless night or a particularly frustrating day.
I say to myself, “Self, while you are wishing that your baby would just fall asleep or that your five year old would slow down for a minute, remember that someone out there just saw the negative on her pregnancy stick and would give anything to be rocking a baby to sleep in the middle of the night right now. Remember that you were that someone once.” That kind of reminder works every time.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” -Mary Oliver
QUESTION: In what ways can you appreciate motherhood in the mundane moments as well as the defining moments?
CHALLENGE: Pick one of these suggestions or think of your own ways in which you can live your life more fully.
Images provided by Kortni Miller.