Starting my family (albeit not exactly on purpose. ahem) at the ripe old age of twenty one, I’ve heard all the popular lamentations of the benefits of young motherhood:
“Oh, you’ll never regret having kids so young,” my co-worker crooned, “Just think of all the fun you’ll have when you’re my age!”
Or, “You have so much more energy in your twenties, it’s the best time to have kids!”
And my personal favorite, “You just couldn’t wait, could you? Well, at least you’re getting it over with early!”
In the midst of a dinner-time meltdown, with the three year old whining because she doesn’t like her food, and the 11-month old crying out of exhaustion because she missed her nap today, my husband and I will exchange looks and smile a secret, distant smile that says “Yes. Someday, this too shall pass. Someday we will be forty and retired, our kids will be grown, and our sanity restored.”
Yup, someday it will be my turn to grow up. To find out what I want to do with my life, that doesn’t involve whipping my boob out every two seconds, exploding diapers, and endless rounds of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” (bet you didn’t know he had a zebra! Or a T-rex!)
Someday I will have time to myself. It’s a goal all mothers, all parents, in some way or form, dream about.
But is it the dream we should be focused on?
Should the “me time” be so important?
Well, for one, of course, it makes us better mothers. It’s important to rest and rejuvenate, to understand what our triggers are as moms when we-just-can’t-take-it-another-second and need that break so we don’t scream at a toddler who really doesn’t get it yet.
But sometimes, I worry all my focusing on the “me time” actually reveals a weakness about myself. A selfishness, a lack of realization about what makes life worth living.
The truth is, life is never free of obligation and demands that sap our time, energy, and mental capacities. At any minute, we could lose a loved one or get diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. I will more than likely be that mother who, at the age of forty-five, feels she has finally survived raising her family, only to look down at a positive pregnancy test one last time. The task of aging parents and health problems is one many of us will eventually have to deal with.
These things are not the anomalies in life; they are life.
My biggest hope is to face my responsibilities in life not with dread, not with the attitude of “when will it all be over?”, but with joy. Real, actual, palpable joy.
Life is so so short. Why do we focus our energies on complaining about our children and the demands they bring into our lives? Why do I sigh when Ada wakes up in the middle of this posting and interrupts my blissful, early morning coffee and writing time? Why can’t I be happy to see her beautiful, sleepy face and princess-pink pajama arms reaching out for me to hug her?
I definitely don’t want be preachy, or unrealistic about how downright hard it is to be a mom. We sacrifice everything, we really do. Our bodies, our time, our mental energies drained into planning the next meal-up, trying to fit in cleaning while entertaining kids, fighting a desire to just have a minute of silence with the constant babbling and bickering of sisters.
I want to realize that those things are the things that make life, life. The things that are little by little, breaking down a selfish, stony exterior to reveal a more loving, more joyful soul.
I don’t want to live in the attitude of “someday, my life will start….”
I want to live in the here and now.
I want to embrace all of it, whatever that may bring me.
Last night at the hospital, my patient’s daughter tucked her mom in and said good-night. She pulled me aside in the hallway, explaining “We are really trying to help her learn to get through the night by herself…that’s ok, isn’t it?”
This woman’s family had been by her side almost 24/7. Happily. Cheerfully. I had never seen anything like it, and I told her that.
She blushed and started stammering, “Well, it’s, you see…”
I realized she thought I was reprimanding her and rushed to explain myself, “No, no, I think that’s wonderful. It’s so nice to see a family taking care of each other.”
She beamed. “Oh, well, yes, I can do it, so why not?”
Why not indeed?
Taking care of our loved ones. Sacrificing. A constant back-and-forth from caring for ourselves and for others. It never really ends.
It’s my turn to find the joy in that.