Lately, my favorite mornings are those rare occasions in which I manage to roll myself out of bed in the first round of my alarm, dress as silently as possible, and make my way down the stairs with half-closed eyes, engaging my deepest core on the third to last step in an effort to hover rather than sink into the creak that snaps my children awake and upright. These are the same kids who slept with open, snoring mouths through a tornado only a few months earlier. Life is a mystery. Really, it’s a matter of only a few dozen minutes I’m desperate to protect as my own, sneaking to the kitchen like the Ninjago warrior (whose life and character I know in more detail than most of my immediate family) for what has quickly become a personal ritual of sipping something hot (occasionally paired with a spoonful of Nutella) and pretending I lead a solitary life.
As social media as it would sound to say that these moments are my inner well-spring, morning meditations spent basking in the glow of a Texas sunrise with an open journal and #deepthoughts, the less selfie-worthy reality is that as I sit down to a table sticky with yesterday’s peanut butter, nondescript crumbs stuck to the bottom of my feet from walking across a floor I swear I swept just last night, and a growing list of daily to-dos, more often than not I’m fighting a deep urge to quit. I oscillate between wanting to get a jump on breakfast and wanting to reach for my too-long neglected running shoes, sprinting away from care-giving and into a life where I am lighthearted, stylish, and most importantly, rested.
It’s been just a few months since we’ve officially entered the “tween” phase, and my head is still spinning. My sweet girl, who frequently looks as bewildered by her shift in emotions as I am, alternates between an adoring shadow and legitimate sassy pants I’m just meeting for the first time. Her triumphs are exhilarating, and her heartbreaks break mine too. In our house, two small people kick this parenting gig up a notch, and of late there’s more chatter, more homework, more drama and relationship problems to solve on the daily, more yelling my name through the bathroom door, more needed from me than I’ve experienced in my 30-something years thus far. This marathon of care-giving can lead us easily to feeling worn out and underappreciated, and cause us to question why we ever agreed to the 24-hour, on-call-without-thanks terms. But in the quiet of my recent mornings I’ve discovered a mental pro that quiets all the cons. Being so needed often feels like a trap of indentured servitude, and sure—without me, who would spin leftover refrigerator contents into dinner gold or be able to locate a second shoe in the mad dash out the door? More than that, though, are deeper needs to be met by both sides.
As parents, we have an opportunity to make ripples, to improve and lift and better the world through interactions with our little people—the same people who accidentally ram the shopping cart into our heels for the third time on the pasta aisle and stomp up the stairs in a huff only to come charging back down again, throwing themselves into our arms for a hug that asks if we love them in spite of mood swings. What a gift to be a champion and confidante, an example of what real people, real female bodies, and real daily goodness looks like, with real tempers being lost but followed up with real apologies and real promises made to try harder next time to improve.
For all that they drive us crazy with unending strings of questions and drop bombs of school projects due the night before a deadline, they need us—and we need them.
We need their over-the-top enthusiasm when they learn their first dance moves and the magic they find in Every. Single. Holiday. We need their quick-to-forgive humility and unending patience in reminding us to get off our phones and finish building the greatest Lego city of all time. They need to see that grownups make a million mistakes but keep trying. They need to be held tighter when they are teased and reassured that rather than responding in kind, more kindness is always the answer. We need them to call us out on our hypocrisy when we, in the next breath, unleash an insult on another driver or get caught hiding in the pantry eating Oreos before dinner. We have an incredible place and opportunity in this tear-filled, sleep-deprived, multi-tasking realm of motherhood to be what we know they need because we were in their awkward, self-conscious shoes not so very long ago—and sometimes we still are.
Most likely I will continue to acknowledge the growing list of “cons” and justification to hightail it out of care-giving and into the life of a woman who realizes her leggings are inside out before she leaves the house, but I will do my best to come back to a few of my favorite arguments for sticking with it: rolling out an extra mat for Curious George in our living room to practice on because “everyone needs yoga,” heart-to-heart chats in tented bed sheets, or practicing jump rope by the mailbox because the girls at school wouldn’t let her try. If I make an impact on just these two lives, how many more lives could that touch? How far could those ripples of kindness and acceptance extend? I know at the very least they have worked their way into the deeper parts of my own heart and made me better for having given.
And on those other days—the days when I’m less altruistic, wondering when my sentence of servitude will end—I’ll be delving into inner peace with a spoon and a secret pantry stash of Nutella.