A few years ago, in the midst of my gray-skied, messy-haired, smudgy mascara, exhausted hot mess of a winter with three kids three and under, I found myself reading a powerful little book called Loving the Little Years. I recall turning on two consecutive episodes of Sesame Street to finish it as I sat on our couch (which was devoid of cushions) and kids squirmed all over me and bounced on the bare springs. I couldn't put it down. There were so many gems of wisdom, but one that stopped me in my tracks was a moment where she said something to the effect of, "If things get crazy, just look at the clock and in ten minutes it will be over. Just put your head down and power through."
I thought to myself, "Oh, hell, no. That can't be true. That's too good to be true. There's no way." But, since she had like five little kids under the age of five I figured she might know what she's talking about. So, the next time things got crazy (Example: 5:45 PM: Phil had just thrown up on the floor, Josh was crying for a bottle, Daniel had just gleefully dumped out an entire basket of toys in the middle of the kitchen and dinner was not even close to in the oven.) I decided to give it a try. I looked at the clock. Instead of wallowing in self pity and despair and wishing Calgon would just come and take me away already, I put my head down and got to work. By the time 5:55 had rolled around, everyone had stopped crying, the vomit was off the floor, kids were playing with the dumped out toys and the frozen pizza was in the oven. And I was in awe. It worked?? It WORKED???? IT WORKED!!!!!! And it continued to work, over and over again. I have had ample opportunities over the past 5 years since reading that book to put it into practice. At LEAST once a day all of my kids are crying at the same time or the couch is unstuffed or there is marker all over someone and someone else has to poop and someone can't find their shoes and someone isn't wearing pants and mommy forgot to do the laundry and we have to leave the house in five minutes. But as long as I power through instead of locking myself in the bathroom, it's over before I know it.
Just yesterday, I was teaching a class at the boys' school. As a former high school science teacher and general lover of kiddos and science and all things kiddos and science, I was having a blast teaching my little after school enrichment class about flight as we designed and redesigned our own paper airplanes. But Daniel was super disappointed because his design didn't live up to his expectations. He started to cry mid-class and by the time we reached the car he was in epic tantrum kicking the seat meltdown mode because he felt Mommy didn't help him. I was exhausted from a full day of parenting followed by teaching and the fact that I had hauled Josh and Noah along with me for this little adventure. I knew when we got home I would have to not only unpack everything, but get all of these kids on some sort of task WHILE MAKING DINNER because it was already 5:30. And then homework? And baths? And stories? And bedtime?? Oh, no. Honestly, I wanted to scream at Daniel because he would not stop crying and kicking and Josh and Noah WERE screaming at Daniel to be quiet. But as we rolled closer to home, I looked at the clock. "It will be over before you know it, Jen," I said to myself. "Just do the next thing." With that perspective, I took a deep breath.
"Daniel," I said. "I love you even when you are really mad at me. I love you all the time."
His wails subsided a bit.
"I am sorry that you are mad at me but I want you to know that I love you."
A little ray of light broke through, even though he was still protesting that it was "the worst day ever."
We got in the house and I shuffled Phil to the basement, turned on a Mr. Rogers for Noah and Josh and started to make dinner. Daniel stomped into the living room with a book. After a few minutes I went in.
"Hey, buddy. You want to come make some muffins with me?"
This is his FAVORITE THING that we used to do all of the time when he was little, and he is always sad that he doesn't get to make muffins with me anymore now that he is in school all day. I figured it was worth switching up my dinner menu from to have a moment with my boy.
"REALLY??!!!" he said. "YES!!"
He bounded in the kitchen where I had some orange juice and popcorn waiting for him, and after he fortified himself he started to push his chair over to the counter where my muffin-making mess was in progress.
"Um, Daniel, do you think you might be a little tall to stand on the chair?"
"Oh, yeah," he giggled. "Maybe, Mommy." and he grabbed a stool from the bathroom so that we could stand shoulder to shoulder. To be honest, he barely even needed that.
Wow, those days were over fast.
We mixed the muffins and I looked at the clock. A little more than ten minutes, but still pretty true after all these years. The mess had subsided. It was over before I knew it, and it was peaceful in my house. . .at least for that moment. I'll take 'em when I can get 'em. I patted myself on the back for mastering that art of putting my head down and powering through the difficult moments, but God wasn't quite done with my heart yet.
Later that night I was reading another book that has been challenging and encouraging me, Hands Free Mama. I love her message and one of those messages is that it will all be over soon, so don't miss it. I like to think that I am not a distracted mom, but in many ways I am so guilty of living in my head. This book gently calls me to accountability. I read a passage in here that stopped me in my tracks just as Loving the Little Years did years ago. Rachel was talking about how she used to dread when her kids brought their folders home from school and she hated unloading them. Just one more thing to worry about or sign or look at or throw away, just one more input in her already busy and distracted life. Ouch, I could relate. I kind of dread all the folders, too. And the WORST part is, Josh is so, so excited to show me his papers every day yet I am so worn out by 2pm when we slosh in the door from preschool pickup that often I barely even look at them, or promise he can show me later. Then, as if she hadn't gotten me enough, at the end of the chapter Rachel asked if there were times in your child's day, such as bedtime, homework, meal preparation or carpool that you currently view as an inconvenience that you could instead use as a time to connect. Crap, I thought. Am I supposed to just pick ONE of those??? Because I pretty much wish those parts of the day away EVERY SINGLE DAY. The past few weeks especially, I have not been able to get the kids showered and in bed FAST enough, have been totally guilty of turning off the music and asking for silence on the way to and from school and cringed and grumbled about homework more than my second graders do. But Rachel's book was a kind reminder that these times, the busy and challenging and mundane and boring and tedious and all hyper kids and repeating yourself a million times and big messes and buckles and snaps and zippers and brushing teeth and combing hair are the IMPORTANT times. In fact, most of my life appears to be made up of these times so it does not seem in my best interest to wish them away. How often do I just try to power through: get those kids on the bus, get them buckled in the van, get them tucked into bed and will them to fall asleep so I can just have a hot second to relax. Yet these are the times I am going to miss. They will be over before I know it. How easily I forget.
So, there's the delicate balance, friends. The two sides of the coin once again.
Power through, it will be over before you know it.
Savor it, it will be over before you know it.
Today as we came home from preschool, I cranked the music that Noah had selected and told Josh I couldn't wait to see his papers. He was so excited. He couldn't make it to the big blue couch fast enough and we went through all three papers in his folder in excruciating yet glorious detail. It took LESS than ten minutes, even with the full play-by-play, and the look on his sweet little face was so worth savoring.
There's a time to power through and a time to savor, a time for every purpose under heaven, right?
God, help me discern when I need to power through. When I need to savor.