Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Treasure This Time

Handsome Bryce goes to work at an office, I stay home with our three kids. The main difference between our day jobs is the sympathy we get from others. Imagine you were talking to Bryce and he described his workplace like this:

"Wow, today a guy at work just started screaming and crying because 'the milk is too cold.' When I suggested he should calm down he roared at me, like a bear. Later he peed all over the bathroom and clogged the toilet. When I was unclogging the toilet, for him, he laughed at me and told me my bum is big. I said, 'That's not very nice' and he yelled that I hurt his feelings and ran off to get in a slap fight with another coworker."

If Bryce said this you would fall out of your chair in horror. You would say, "Holy Jalapenos! How do you survive working with such crazy people?" You would feel pretty much obligated to give him some kind of baked goods to try and salve the abuse he has to endure daily.

But what do I get?

"TREASURE THIS TIME!"

In the grocery store, in the process of being snarled at for refusing to let my employees lick the mysterious puddle next to the meat counter, someone walks by and lobs this sage advice at me. In the Post Office as I try to mediate between my employees who have physically attacked each other, someone chimes in with these words. When I browse the internet because I am too tired to even take the shower I desperately need, a Greek Chorus of people chant it constantly. Treasure. This. Time.

I hear it so often that I have an ingrained terror that I am not treasuring this time enough. People wouldn't feel the need to lecture me about it if I was doing a great job treasuring things right? So when one of my employees decides to take a marker and draw on my couch, or throws up in my car, or demands I do seven things at once, I get a heaping bowl of guilt. Because guess what? I DON'T treasure barf. I don't treasure getting pooped on. And I don't treasure telling people 500 times a day that WE DO NOT SIT ON THE BABY.

Another thing that I started to unconsciously internalize, is the idea that somehow this time, which I am so inadequately treasuring, is THE BEST time. Once they are teenagers I am just going to be LONGING for someone to get poop on me and scream at me while I try to buy groceries. When they are not little anymore they will be so awful that I will even miss stumbling across Legos at 3am to clean up barf. You better treasure this time, because it is all down-hill from here.

These two ideas, (1. I must treasure everything about small children; and 2. This is the best time, therefore things are only going to become worse) were weighing down on me in ways I didn't even notice until I came across two things.

First, this post: I Wish Someone Would've Warned Me About These BIG Feelings

Second, this radio episode: Keeping Your Sanity In A Home Of Little Ones

It was such a surprising relief to hear that there were people who loved their little ones but were not perpetually pining to return to those early days of little children! I didn't realize how much I was expecting the future to be un-treasurable, and I didn't realize how that dreary outlook was pressing down on me.

I wanted more hope for the future so I decided to ask two amazing moms-of-teens about what mothering older children is like. Verity is a mom of two teenagers, and is over the LDS youth ministry for girls in the city where we live. Tara is my awe-inspiring sister-in-law, with two teenagers, and two younger kids. 


I love the answers they gave. When I asked about what they love about being a mom Verity said,

"I love sitting with my kids at church.  I love listening to their duets on the piano.  I love family game time."

It gives me hope because right now church time consists of me using snacks, toys, and whispered scolding to coerce my kids into sitting quietly. Piano duets are cacophonous, and I am not the most patient piano teacher. Family game time is 50% preemptive role playing, (pretending to lose the game and congratulate the winner,) 20% playing the game, and 30% dealing with someone disregarding their earlier intentions and throwing a huge tantrum about losing.

Tara said, "What I love most about being a mom - is seeing my kids make choices that bring joy, build their self worth and show kindness towards others. I feel like my understanding of Heavenly Father increases with these experiences with our kids. At the same time, I don't know if I can really take credit for those choices either. They have their own personalities and free agency. So when they DO make those choices it's even sweeter. Especially the choices that may have been more difficult."

This made me happy because, even though little kids are often totally selfish hedonists, Tara's answer is also the thing I love most about motherhood. You might even say I treasure it. And it makes me glad to know I don't have to lose this joy as they get older.

I asked them how their relationship with their kids has changed over time:

Tara- "My relationship with my kids feels like parts of it are the same while other parts are constantly in flux. No matter what they do - I will always love them. But one thing that has changed a lot is how they need me. When they were young I was needed allllll day long. Food prep, entertainment, grooming, bathing... you get the idea. I was needed for everything. Now I feel like I am needed in other ways but now I am the one stalking my teenagers hoping they will talk to me or want to run an errand with me so I can actually have some one-on-one time with them. I suspect that as they get older my role will continue to slide further away from caretaker, teacher and provider to counselor."

Verity- "Though it's been in process a long time, my kids' greater independence has changed a lot of things.  Where I used to feel bogged down and overwhelmed taking care of all of their needs, now I'm the one seeking a little bit of their time.  I'm less caretaker and more "office manager" now. I'm grateful for built-in "traditions" like game night and family time and dinners together, because life has definitely increased speed since they were little!  That phrase "the days are long but the years are short" is crazy true."

Their answers resonated with me. With a new baby lots of people told me about how they longed for those precious newborn days, and how they wish they lasted longer. They aren't wrong. It really is such a treasurable time because babies are magical. The thing is, if the newborn period was any longer parents would literally die. Literally.

You need sleep! If you don't sleep you die! I feel similarly about needy little kids. It is kind of magical to be so needed, but it is exhausting and consequently kind of maddening. I know I will miss those chubster baby cheeks, hopefully getting some sanity back will help.

I also asked what made them feel like a good mom:

Verity- "One of the best things I ever did as a young mom was to break out of my comfort zone and join a local Moms Club--we all came from different faiths and backgrounds and views, but we had a huge thing in common.  We were all moms, ha-ha!  We did playgroups, meetings, field trips, and (my favorite) community service projects together. Having an outlet like that, in addition to tremendous support from my husband, extended family, and church family, made it less a burden and more fun and fulfilling to be a mom!  Realizing that I wasn't alone and that everyone else was dealing with illnesses and diapers and tantrums helped so much. Two other things really help me in my "mom journey"-prayer and organization."

Tara- "I wish I could say that I felt like a good mom... mostly because I always feel like there is SO much more I could be doing. Some nights I feel like a really good mom when I have dinner on the table with all the food groups. Seriously. I love a quote I saw the other day from Al Fox Carraway, "Perfect is not a thing." I can and should be more forgiving of myself as a mother. My kids need a mom who is present at the crossroads to show love and to teach and counsel - I don't have to be perfect to do those things. "

I feel like these answers are motherhood in a nutshell. Sometimes you feel pretty good about it, and sometimes you feel pretty crappy about it. I guess that isn't really going to change with time.

They both gave some parting advice:

Verity- "If I'm going to give any advice, it's the phrase I keep having to repeat to myself--zone in and be where your feet are.  Step away from the computer, put your cell phone far away, and be available.  When your 13-year-old son approaches YOU and invites you to play table tennis in the dining room, go do it! In that moment, nothing else matters.  Quality AND quantity time are both important!"
Tara- "Some advice that was given by my husband's aunt on how to effectively communicate (aka have a conversation that is more than one word answers) with teenage boys. It involves being "busy" doing something instead of just sitting there talking. Some examples would be while you are driving - because you have to keep your eyes on the road, folding laundry, washing dishes or wiping down the counters. I have put this to use a few times and I am amazed at the results!"

Hearing from actual moms who love their teens, (as opposed to strangers hectoring me in the grocery store) helps me to be more optimistic about the future, which in-turn helps me to be more content with the present.

I love being a mom, and I love my children. As maddening and painful as this whole motherhood experience is, the good somehow far outweighs the bad. (Just imagine how much good that must be, because sometimes the bad is BAD.) 
I am looking forward to Mother's Day as an opportunity to be grateful for this crazy adventure. It is also a special opportunity to be extra grateful for my mom and Bryce's mom, who loved us and treasured us even when we were slobbering brats, and now love and treasure our family. Happy Mother's Day!