When we are present and uncluttered we are propelled by love.
“Our lives are frittered away by detail … simplify, simplify” – Henry David Thoreau
Life is busy. As a mom it is frightfully easy to let our days be frittered away by details, only realizing as we fall into bed at night that we didn’t really live the day. We were moving, certainly moving, but we weren’t present. Love happens in the present and it is hidden in the moments.
My youngest sister, Charity, has had a lot of vicarious mothering experience. As the youngest of nine siblings and the only sister yet to have kids, she is our go-to girl when any of us need some extended child-care in order to travel or work. I love her fresh perspective on what it means to mother and why we do it day in and day out. Sometimes when you’re in the trenches you don’t see things quite as clearly. These are her words:
I spent the past week babysitting my brother’s three small children. I am a seeker of all kinds of adventures, and this was one like no other. A glimpse into the trump-all adventure of parenthood.
Among other things, I kissed owies better, tried to sooth choruses of screams when I really felt like screaming myself, changed the world’s most epic stinky diaper (you are probably thinking, I have seen worse, but I honestly doubt it), drove to the elementary school in my nightgown, made a memory game and a chalkboard canvas out of the driveway, wiped up literally countless piles of spit-up, barely won the wrestling match in the pew during church, safely (but perhaps just barely) frequented the swimming pool and the school playground, sang lullabies, made pigtails, shook formula into bottles and desperately promised fruit snacks for good behavior.
Every night when the kids went to sleep at 7:30, I was exhausted. It was fun, but there were flashes when the thought “I really can’t do this!” ran through my head.
Here is the naive and amazed question of my childlessness – how do parents do it?
I found the answer in a tiny flake of split-second bliss where I felt what I’m sure is just a small taste of a certain brand of golden, liquid joy preserved for moms and dads. It was an emotion that would absolutely propel a parent to keep going, week in and week out, no matter how crazy things got. It was a simple moment, but miraculously and magnificently energizing, empowering, motivating and so, so, so beautiful.
I was sitting on the beach at San Juan Capistrano. The sun was saying goodnight with simple yellows and that lightest of blues. McKay was digging, silhouetted in front of the shimmering waves, Baby Cubby was sitting nuzzled to my left side, and Lyla stood in the sand holding my thumbs, her feet willowed into the beach and she giggled in the amber light. Her hair was wispy. Cubby’s body was warm. McKay radiated the plain happiness of childhood. The hairs on my arms stood on end. The world stopped spinning. Just for a moment, just for that wildly beautiful moment, as if it was unable to contain the euphoria of such love.
Soon came the whines and the spit-up and the encroaching night. The moment came and went, but maybe it will last me until I have a similar but amplified experience with a child that is mine.
I thank heaven that God has put into us this extraordinary but so human ability to love.
Motherhood is hard. It is often the overwhelming love buried in small moments that ‘propels’ us to keep going. The trick is to be present and uncluttered enough to see these moments -- to let them fall into our laps. When we can grasp them and drink them in, our love grows, our joy swells and we are renewed.
When I analyze the times I’m unhappy as a mother, I find they always coincide with days and weeks and months when I’ve overcrowded my life. Times when I’m over committed, times when my brain is overburdened by compulsions or discontent and I’m distracted. When I can muster the energy and discipline to build in some space, de-clutter my life, and simplify things, suddenly I can see the crystals in the air, hear the music of my life, and drink in the present in all its glory. I can see the love that is laced through all I do. I can feel the power of mother love wash over me, push me forward, and fill up my family.
Love will exit the other side.
Richard A. Swenson, M. D. says: “Love is the only thing that will exit out the other side. It will stand alone, vindicated. It will finally and clearly be seen for the dominant, unbeatable, infinite, glorified force it has always been, just obscured for millennia by layers of fallen clutter.”
I want so much to be able to watch my sleeping children at night assured they have felt the love that propelled us through the day. I want to stamp love onto their souls so that can’t escape its powerful pull.
Our children will be gone in a blink. The difficult questions, the bad phases, the tantrums, the rebellions and our never ending lists of things we want to get done will all come and go. But what will stand in the end is how well we loved.
(excerpts from my chapter in Deliberate Motherhood)