A life of drudgery or a life of joy?

As part of her 120 Days to Momnipotence Series Danielle Bean wrote about the importance of enjoying what’s going on now. She quoted from The Virtue Driven Life A life of drudgery or a life of joy?.

In the book, Fr. Benedict Groeschel writes:

“Enjoy what’s going on while it’s going on. If you go to the supermarket, enjoy it. Don’t make it drudgery. Talk to the cashier. Speak to the people at the fruit counter. Chat with a neighbor. Try to get to know people, get them to talk to you, and make your passage through life pleasurable. If you are a private person and find it a chore or somewhat difficult to speak to strangers, at least smile. As an old extrovert, I deeply appreciate a quiet person with a genuine smile; in addition, such a person listens to us, which practically no one else does.”

Along the same vein in The Happiness Project, author Gretchen Rubin stresses the importance of enjoying the process. She uses the example of choosing a birthday cake for her daughter. At first, she is tempted to get annoyed with how much time her daughter wants to invest into exploring cake options, but then she realizes this is where the joy is really unfolding.

Rubin writes,

“Enjoy the process. Eliza will enjoy eating the cake for only five minutes, but she can have hours of enjoyment planning the cake.”

So much of my life is about being process-involved. There’s the process of making sure kids are dressed and the girls’ hair is quasi-brushed so they don’t leave the house looking like a band of ragamuffins. Right now I’m in the process of teaching a child to read, and there’s the arduous saying (over and over again) of those short vowel sounds. 


There’s the bedtime process, which frequently has more steps than it would probably take to launch a nuclear attack. There’s the process of preparing meals and getting kids ready to head out to soccer. Honestly, if I reflect upon an ordinary day, I’m in the business of processes. I’m always taking action, little steps to achieve some particular end whether it’s making sure kids’ teeth are brushed to prevent cavities and/or severe halitosis or reading a book to a child in the hopes I am feeding his mind with imagination and beautiful language.

Some of these steps I take throughout the day are enjoyable like the aforementioned reading of a book, especially if it’s a good book, but a lot of what I do could easily fall into the category of drudgery. But only if I let it. I can make it drudgery – or not. I have to enjoy what I’m doing now. I have to enjoy the process of taking care of kids: the schlepping, the cleaning, the refereeing, the teaching. After all, I am doing all of this in the hopes that I will achieve a particular end: I will raise happy, healthy, and kind children who will go out into the world with faith, confidence, and the knowledge that they were (are!) loved.

Like Rubin, I have a little girl who is similarly making big plans for her birthday cake. She even drew a picture of what she hopes her fairy cake will look like. I could let the thought of figuring out how to make a fairy house on a cake stress me out. It could become just another thing on a never-ending to-do list. Or I could approach the task joyfully, knowing full well that even if her cakes comes out looking more like a fairy hovel, she will think it’s perfectly lovely.

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Mary Elizabeth’s vision for her woodland fairy cake

I don’t always enjoy what’s going on or am even aware of what I’m doing. I’m too busy thinking ahead or trying to prevent a toddler from killing himself. Sometimes I look back at my day and all I see is drudgery. But it’s not the nature of the work that makes it so, it’s the nature of the person doing it.

I can be joyful or not. It’s my choice. I can enjoy what I’m doing or not. I can see the day-to-day grind as just that: a grind. Or I can see it as a doling out of sacrificial love. I can only hope for the end, or I can savor the process. I can view children as inconveniences I have to manage or as blessings I need to revel in. I can smile at strangers, talk at clerks, or be in such a hurry to be done with my errands that I miss out on the satisfaction of a simple human interaction.

I can see my life as one of drudgery or one of joy. I choose joy.

I need these littles as much as they need me

I’ve felt rather sheepish having a post that complains about an unplanned vacation on my front page for so long. I have had days when I’ve stumbled upon a blog where a mom shares her sadness over her children’s absence. These are often days when I have abandoned my increasingly philistine ways and entered into the social media banter as means of escaping ennui or frustrating. Or just escaping period because I am on the verge of running away, and I figure running away to a virtual world is better than hopping in the minivan and driving to who-knows-where-anywhere-but-here.

So I find this blogging mama, and she says she misses the finger smudges, the noise, the messes, the pandemonium when her kids are at school or are older and just out of the house more. I know how she’s feeling because I’ve certainly been that mom before. I really do miss those things when I am miraculously able to escape from it all. But sometimes the blogging mama’s saccharine sweet sentiments irk me because at the moment I am reading them I would give anything for  Five Minutes’ Peace. I need these littles as much as they need me I’m not greedy. I don’t need a trip to paradise. I just want a solo trip to the bathroom. Interestingly, one of my besties texted me while I was hanging at the Raleigh airport and wrote something about trying to just enjoy using the potty all alone. That was nice.

When I do have a break, I am always amazed by how little time alone I need to refill. And I am fortunate to get more breaks than many since the grandparents aren’t too far and when I was on bed rest, I hired a reliable babysitter. ( Unfortunately, she is graduating in May.)

It is odd, but I’ll be gone for not even an hour or Thomas will be napping and the older kids will be having a special sleepover at the grandparents, and I really do miss the noise, the hugs, the peals of laughter, and even sometimes the tsunamis of emotion crashing through our home. I tell myself I will be a calmer mom when the loud kids return. I will embrace the laughter, the screeching, even the fighting, but I usually don’t. Just as it takes very little time for me to start missing my kids when they’re away and to grow all sentimental, it takes me equally as quick sometimes to feel a little overwhelmed by it all.

And I’ve got to get something off my chest: I don’t really ever miss the messes or the cleaning up of those messes. I know in theory I am one day supposed to miss the crushed Kix on the kitchen floor, the apple cores flushed down the toilet that leave it hopelessly clogged, and the stickers that end up clinging to the kitchen floor for their dear life. But, sorry, I just don’t see myself missing all that much. While I will miss the people behind those messes, the messes themselves can go their sweet, merry way, and I doubt they’ll be mourned over one iota.

The ice has returned to the South, so we’re all cozy in the home. I am not apart from the family this time. Nope, we’re all packed into Sardinesville. We’ve had sweet moments, making homemade Valentines, eating freshly baked banana bread from the oven, but right now one child is trying to knit beside me while another is thrusting an odoriferous foot in her face. Baths are overrated.

I remember feeling like the hotel room was too quiet and just wanting to be home. I hated not knowing when I’d return and worrying how everyone was holding up. I came home to discover everyone had survived (thrived!) in my absence, but they missed me, too. Yes, my homecoming after the snowpocalypse was very sweet. The girls were still up and very happy to see me. My 6-year-old had made me a “welcome home” sign with big, colorful crayon letters on a bright blue piece of construction paper. Thomas (2) was already asleep when I arrived home, but he woke up in the middle of the night and found me in my husband and my his bed and was delighted to see me. It was good to be home.

But I woke up my first night back with a snotty nose that turned into a nasty cold. Congestion kept me up at night all week, and kids woke me up early. Sibling squabbles disrupted my thoughts. I tried to read or write or pray, but children quickly found me. I’ve noticed they don’t interrupt my husband as much when he’s playing the guitar, reading, or working on the computer, but they’re far less tolerant of Mom taking a break. They expect me to be available to them, and I haven’t been the greatest at setting boundaries.

Back when I was in the hotel, I texted dear Rachel and told her how I kept trying to pray (take advantage of these long stretches of silence, my wise inner voice advised), but it was useless. It was almost as if I needed a child tugging on my jeans or tattling on a dreadful offense a sibling committed to pray. “My life is a prayer, you know?” I texted.

“Yes, I do know!” she texted back.

When we’re in the thick of it, mothering is tough. When we are away from our families or we outgrow the hands-on, physically exhausting demands of motherhood, we feel wistful. I’ve written about this before, but motherhood is an extricable double helix of heartache and happiness, gain and loss, frustration and satisfaction.

But as my two daughters throw books at one another pining for my attention (look at me not that blasted laptop! look at me, Mommy! Negative attention at its finest), and my 4-year-old tugs on my hair and asks if she can take a picture of the hairdo she’s giving me, I feel more frustration than satisfaction.

So I take a deep breath and say a prayer for patience – a prayer I did not need when I was alone with my thoughts and a good book.

There was no school today even though this morning there was only the percussing of cold rain against the windowpane. Sleet came later. I had plans to get a lot accomplished before the winter storm advisory, so my to-dos are falling by the wayside. My agenda has changed. I am not a doer right now; I am at a beauty salon. I am available to a throng of antsy kids.

My 4-year-old just cocks her head to the side and examines my locks, “I did something else that looks a little more beautiful. Can I take a picture?” she asks.

Click.

“Look, Mommy,” she shows me the picture of the back of my hair, which is nothing short of a ragamuffin mess, but she looks at it approvingly.

My 9-year-old takes the banana bread out of the oven. “Looks good,” she comments.

The sweet smell fills the kitchen. My 4-year-old runs her fingers through strands of my hair, which feels good. I say a quick prayer of thanks.

Truthfully, there’s been a lot more praying since I’ve been home.

Motherhood, I thought, when I first held my baby was going to be about me raising children, guiding them, helping them, and maybe molding them just a bit. But motherhood isn’t about making babies or forming children; it’s about making mothers, forming women who are strong and wise enough to know they cannot possibly rely on their own strength to get through the day. It’s about taking a life and transforming it into a prayer. Sometimes it’s psalm of thanks. Sometimes it’s a plaintive cry for patience, help, grace, or just plain hope that we won’t screw these precious beings entrusted to us.

I’d never learn lessons like these in quiet hotel rooms or even in those blissful moments of motherhood when I’ve held a sleeping, cooing baby or when Todzilla has ceased his destruction and is still on my lap listening to a story while I breathe in the sweet smell of him. I learn it in the banality of motherhood, the noisiness, the hands-on, non-stop work of it all.

My life is a prayer. My life is an offering. I need my children as much as they need me.

This little, unexpected vacation can end now

I’ll never again shoot off an insipid tweet like “Leaving on a jet plane” because we all know the next line of the song goes something like this: “Don’t know when I’ll be back again.” And, see, I thought I knew when I’d be back again and when I thought I’d only be gone for two days and traveling on both of those days, it all felt a little short like maybe I should stay away a little longer and fill the tank up with more sleep and uninterrupted reading, talking, and daydreaming.

But here I am in North Carolina when I was supposed to have arrived in Atlanta Tuesday night and driven just under two hours to home sweet home that just a week ago was home barf home and not a place I felt particularly distraught about leaving. Now the path to home is no Yellow Brook Road. It’s more like a scene from The Walking Dead. Or so I’ve seen on various social media feeds.

Fortunately, all is well at my house as evidenced by the photos my husband has texted me.

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His tongue did not get stuck, but my 4-year-old apparently was playing in the snow sans socks and started crying about her stinging feet. “I almost got frostbit,” she told me over the phone. We Southerners really don’t know how to handle this white stuff.

I know it should feel like a luxury being alone in a hotel (for the third night in a row!) eating meals I didn’t cook and sleeping in a bed alone without any pinkie toes inching up my nostril. (My husband’s pinkie toes would never fit in my nostril, but Thomas and Mary Elizabeth’s come close. Trust me on this one.)

I know, too, I should not be wah-wahing about being away from my children and my life of domestic bliss (oh, the piles of laundry that await me!) because chances are, there’s a mom reading this who would give anything to make the “leave-it-all-behind” fantasy a reality. I know because I have been that very mom.

I ‘ve been there. I’ve been mired in the mundanity of it all: the endless counter-wiping, sibling squabble refereeing, and meal prepping. All these everyday duties drifting aimlessly along an underlying current of anxiety that none of it mattered at all. All that work I did day in and day out – did it even count as work at all? I don’t do anything; yet, I did everything. At the end of a day I’d be exhausted and wonder for what? What did I really do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Ah, but would it really feel like nothing if I went away? Ha! Imagine the chaos. Forget the abandoned Atlanta interstates and snowpocalypse. My home would be a disaster, a health hazard. How would anyone find anything without Mom the GPS Unit?

I’m sure most moms have had fleeting fantasies of making their escape and our Ralphie moments when we return and our family fawns over us and asks how we reached that lowly state and we answer with something pithy like, “It ‘twas too-much-laundry-and-not-enough-thanks poisoning.”

images This little, unexpected vacation can end now

I was ready for a break. I was eager to be in the presence of some amazing moms, moms who were honest about how much they loved motherhood but also were aware of how it stretched you so thin sometimes you thought you might unravel.

I flew to Philadelphia on Monday to be a part of Danielle Bean’s amazing Momnipotent study for mothers. It’s obviously still in production, but the book and accompanying DVD and journal are expected to come out some time in the late spring (you can sign up now, though, for email updates; see link above). It was a gift to be a part of it and to meet authentic, real moms, including a mother who had daughters who weren’t always the quiet, calm type. “One of daughters clocked her sister on the head this morning over food,” she told me.

Alleluia! I mean, sorry to the victim of the clocking, but I’ve met so many moms of girls who seem to have the girls who are sugar and spice minus any real spice whereas I live in a house where spiciness and sauciness and just plain loudness dominate, and the only sweetness that seems to be present sometimes is the dark chocolate I am surreptitiously cramming in my mouth in a moment of stress. I’ve found myself wondering too many times if I am doing something wrong instead of just recognizing that I’ve got spunky kids full of life and all its glorious drama, and that their every whim and behavior isn’t all about me. Get over yourself, Katie. You are no puppet master. You’re often just along for the ride, so put the safety harness on and try to enjoy it. Weeeeeeee!!!!!

I miss it all so much. Worried friends have been texting me and telling me to try to just enjoy the time sans kids and at first, I did. But now I’m just ready to be home. I miss my husband. I miss my kids. I even miss the spiciness. It’s too quiet in this hotel room. There have been far too many solo trips to the bathroom. Well, actually that may be one luxury I’ve kind of appreciated. No entourage – not even a big, black dog breathing on me as I empty my bladder is kind of a big deal.

Yes, I have a book to read. It’s good enough. I have my laptop and that novel I’m should be writing, but the words aren’t flowing too easily out of me. Maybe I need more of a soundtrack to be inspired. Where’s my toddler’s pteranodon-like shrieking when I need it?

There’s only so much time you can spend on social media. Uninterrupted Twitter perusing gets old very quickly. Gym hotels are lonely. Eating alone at a restaurant isn’t as idyllic as it sounds at least not when you eat meal after meal in silence. I’ve always enjoyed the role of the solo tortured artist. Even as a young girl, I liked to retreat to a creek nearby my home and write alone in nature. The life of a hermit cloistered in silence has a certain appeal to me. I like being on my own. But I like to be the mom and wife, too, perhaps more than I even realized until I’ve gotten a taste of what it would be like to be away and alone for several days in a row. Maybe my kids sometimes take what I do for granted, but maybe I take my beautiful, messy life for granted  just as much at times.

When I finally walk into my door, I’ll be relieved and happy to have all those kids and that dog and husband so happy to see me (the new cat will be nice to see, too, but he generally doesn’t greet me with the kind of enthusiasm the rest of the family does). Yet, I know just like everyday motherhood, it won’t be all warm and rosy. The noise decibel is likely to make me cringe and kick myself for not basking in my solitude more. The immediate meltdowns (Mom’s home now, so we can fall apart and blame her for the fact that we can’t find this or that) will frustrate me. I may very well wonder why I was in such a hurry to return to the pandemonium.

But there’s one thing I won’t wonder about, at least not for awhile. I won’t wonder if what I do matters. Maybe it’s not the doing that really matters – lo and behold, they survived without me! – but it’s the just being there that does. Sometimes the tasks I perform might feel invisible or taken for granted, but I should never feel extraneous.

A mother is not an Oxford comma; she needs to be there. She is not the checker-offer of items on a to-do list. She is the heart of her home. Maybe the cooking and laundry folding don’t matter as much as we think. My kids and husband don’t seem to be all too worried about all that, although my husband mentioned that Thomas hasn’t been pooping as much. “Have you been giving him any smoothies?”

“You know, I haven’t. I’ll make him a big fruit smoothie tomorrow.”

“Throw in some greens, too,” I advised.

They had hash browns and some other odds and ends for dinner because the cupboards are getting bare, thanks to the snowpocalypse.

So Mom keeps things regular in more ways than one.

But it’s not my Miralax-like power or my laundry folding technique my kids are pining for (if I’m honest I am a lazy folder, and my husband is far more precise and actually folded my filming outfit for Momnipotent into a neat origami swan or close to it anyway). It’s just me they’re missing.

When my husband told me my 4-year-old said, “I miss Mommy because I love my mommy,” I nearly cried. They do notice. Maybe not the behind-the-scenes work, but they do notice me and when I’m not there, there’s a void only I can fill. That’s powerful stuff. That’s “momnipotence.”

I know I’ll end up getting fed up again and feeling inconsequential in my mothering journey, but my longer-than-anticipated absence from home has made me aware of just how wrong I was to think that my life and what I do don’t matter. Even if I do it imperfectly, they want me with them. There’s a house full of people who miss me and want me home. I’m on my way.

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