More often than I want to admit, I’m counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until my kids go to bed. I love them, but I’m tired. Why do kids so emphatically resist basic life functions like eating, sleeping, and pooping? Why do toys explode into every corner of the house? Why are repetition and volume the most powerful tools children have?
Finally, they’re in bed. Their breathing slows and their muscles slacken. Their mischief and squabbling evaporate into thin air. Their round cheeks push against their pillows and their fringe of eyelashes point down to their tiny noses and flower bud lips. Suddenly, shimmering over their tousled hair is a golden halo of innocence that erases the exhaustion caused by their incessant needs.
Knowing they are safely nestled and asleep and that there will (most likely) be a couple of hours where no one says my name, suddenly my heart wakes up hungry for love, so I feed it. My heart feasts on picture after picture and video after video. It nibbles on that photo of Flora wearing a swimsuit at the table with her pudgy feet resting on either side of her cereal bowl. It indulges in the video of Millie passionately singing her made up songs with charming tunes (or lack thereof). It finishes with a quick scroll back a few years to see what overachiever Georgia was doing at her sisters’ ages.
Why is it that I was so ready for them to be asleep, but now I can’t get enough of them?
During the day, there isn’t a lot of time or energy to relish beautiful moments when those moments are tucked between bills, brawling, bum-wiping, endless chores, and requests for snacks. But at night, those beautiful moments are frozen in time and magnified because there are no more distractions or demands on my energy. I can savor them; roll them around in my mind. They aren’t tucked between other less joyful moments—they’re the summary of the day.
It takes a lot of schlepping to get out the door. There’s the million trips up and down the stairs to make sure everyone has what they need. There’s the, “Get your shoes on. Now. NO. NOW. Go get your shoes on. No, you can’t wear that. Fine, wear whatever you want. Wait, why are YOU naked? I just got you dressed! No. Just get in the car. Okay, buckle. The bathroom? I asked you to go and you said you didn’t need to go! Hurry!”
There’s also the mental energy spent in making the plans—It’ll take this long to get there and we have this much time to do the thing and still get home for naptime/bedtime/mealtime. A mental inventory of everyone’s sleep the night before (emotional disposition), most recent meal and bathroom trip, and location of their precious items. Then there’s the complaining and the fighting. It’s all just…a lot.
No matter how prepared you are, it’s still a gamble whether an outing will go well. You could not have anticipated that her eye would swell shut out of nowhere while camping. Neither could you have planned for that beautiful bluebird that we stopped to watch build a nest. You could not have prepared for that spectacular tantrum. Neither could you have foreseen that moment when tiny hands pulled your face close for an Eskimo kiss.
All of the joy, all of the really good stuff comes at a price. And a lot of it is really easy to miss.
The cost of joy is work. So much work. The cost of joy is vulnerability, willingness, consistency, sacrifice, forgiveness, gratitude… all of that on top of the physical reality of life: jobs, chores, illness, finances, etc.
And yet joy itself is so accessible, so very simple.
Disneyland is awesome. But so is sharing a bowl of ice cream on the porch. A day free of worry is phenomenal. But so is a day of sticky floors and lost tempers and getting the pink race-car grocery cart and drawing her first family portrait and naming the squirrel that lives in the backyard.
Joy is the sound of the smoke detector going off every Saturday morning indicating that dad is making breakfast, and the one-year-old trying to fan the alarm with a towel, just like she’s seen her sisters and parents do since she was born. Joy is a worn-out mom tickling a pile of kids to distract them from their fight over whose identical toy is the one that is broken. Joy is the empathy of a toddler when you stub your toe.
Really, the cost of joy is just the effort it takes to sift out the good stuff and remember it at the end of the day. Because it’s always there. Every day. No matter what.
QUESTION: How do you capture the small moments of joy in your days?
CHALLENGE: Think of a way to relish the small joys of life with children—whether it is writing them down each night, talking with them over dinner as a family, or taking and viewing pictures of everyday events—and choose one to make a habit today.
This article originally appeared on Christy’s blog here.
Edited for Power of Moms by Sharon Brown and Nollie Haws.
Images provided by the author.