Monday, September 28, 2009

Can I Make It Until Naptime?

Life with small children is exhausting. Virtually every day I spend with them as a stay-at-home mom I ask myself, “Can I make it until naptime?” Mostly I measure time in hourly increments, from the time both kids are awake in the morning to the time they nap in the afternoon, and then the clock resets itself for the long afternoon hours until the children go to bed and the evening is once again free for me to spend however I choose.

When I held my first newborn baby in my arms, this is not how I imagined my new life to be. When my one year maternity leave ended and I made the decision to stay home with our beautiful, sweet and engaging daughter, I thought the days would be full and rich and satisfying. I expected some measure of frustration and tedium, but I believed that the chance to teach and shape the mind and soul of my daughter would bring a sense of fulfillment in a way I had never known before. When I look back over the last six years I’ve been home with her and with my three year old son, I am happy to say that I do feel pride at what I have accomplished as a parent. But when I look at my day today, in this minute I’m in, I’m desperate for quiet in the house – for no fighting, whining, crying, playing, screeching or talking – and I feel certain I’ll never make it until their naptime.

I think I feel like a starving person who smells pizza wafting up from the box or someone who has been gravely ill and suddenly recovers and finds their energy again. I’ve lost my strong sense of myself, and I ache for personal time; for space to be who I am apart from the mom that I am for my children and the wife for my husband and the committee member for the church and the crosswalk helper for the community. I miss myself – my needs, my desires, my dreams, my purpose. I long to strip away the layers of what I am to others and simply enjoy being who I am the way I once did.

I believe this to be the most difficult part of motherhood. The anonymity and invisibility – the very real sacrifice and near death of my own self for the sake of my family. And no one is forcing me to do it. I offer it willingly, which in some ways stings even more. I know it is a noble sacrifice, and a necessary one for my young children at this tender stage of their lives. If I keep a small flame of my independence alive during this time period; if I shelter it from wind and rain and blow on it periodically to keep it burning, I am certain I can eventually become reacquainted with myself. At least, I’m fairly certain.

So there is the challenge. To continue to sacrifice my time and desires for the good of my family, but to fight to keep myself alive. It is only noble to sacrifice for our kids provided we do not lose ourselves. We must search for and cling to activities that give us life and connect us to who we really are. It will not hurt our kids to watch a movie or play outside while we scrapbook, write, exercise, sew, read, garden or daydream. Anytime we catch a glimpse of our identity apart from mothering we must grab hold. Take the cup and drink it. Lose the guilt. Our kids will survive, and eventually thrive. We all have the dream of being connected and involved with our adult children. Let’s give them mothers who are truly themselves – engaged, involved and full of life. Let’s be people worth knowing.

I hear my son stirring in his room as he wakes up from his nap, and my daughter’s quiet time is over and she’ll emerge from her bedroom and want a snack. Now it’s only four hours until bedtime…and I’m reasonably sure I can make it until then.

Moments to Memories

Each moment that we have is precious, made more significant by the fact that time is fleeting. We are all given the same twenty-four hours in every day, and it’s up to us to spend those hours wisely. The concept of “being present” in your life has gained popularity in the last few years, and rightly so, for it’s an idea we cannot afford to ignore. To me, being present means engaging in each moment as fully as I can, using all five senses, and turning the present moment into a memory that I can access at any time in vivid technicolour.

This year I’m determined to give my six year old and my three year old as many experience gifts as I can – tickets to a play, rides on trains, walks on the beach or an out-of-town trip instead of more toys and plastic items eventually destined for the landfill. I want them to look back in their minds and draw from a rich trove of experiences.

The older I get the more sharply I realize that I cannot recall ninety-eight percent of the birthday and Christmas gifts I received as a child, but I can clearly remember the gingerbread houses I made, the snowball fights I engaged in, and the hotels I slept in. The feelings I experienced around these holidays and events have turned into the memories I possess, and for as long as I’m alive I’ll be able to open these gifts, again and again, and enjoy them. In order to form these memories, it was imperative that I be fully present in the moment, as a child, and I’m working on building that awareness in my own children.

When we bake together, I ask them what they smell, how the cookie dough feels in their palms, and ask them to watch the pie as it cooks so they can tell me when it’s golden brown and ready to come out of the oven. In engaging their senses, I’m hoping to train them to be aware of each moment they are in, and hold onto those moments for the future. Only time will tell if I’ve been successful, but in becoming more aware of each moment I’m in, I know for sure that I am benefiting from the gift of turning moments into lasting memories.