It was four in the afternoon, and I had just returned from a walk to the grocery store. Standing hunched over my kitchen counter, elbows deep in half-emptied grocery bags, bottles of oil, jars of honey, packages of salad greens, ears of corn, loaves of bread, bunches of fruit, and piles of deli meat, I shoveled fistfuls of blueberries into my mouth.
Alex, my eleven-year-old, came bouncing into the kitchen behind me and caught me there, tearing into the berries like a child sneaking candy.
“Ooooh, blueberries! Can I have some?”
I looked down at the mess of food spilled out in front of me. I felt a trickle of sweat drip down my back from the miles I’d walked to and from the store. I felt the warm closeness of my son’s body, peering over my shoulder, and something in me burst.
“Yes, please, take the berries!” I snapped sarcastically. “Have all the blueberries! Go ahead!” I threw my arms in the air and backed away from the pint on the counter. “Eat them! Eat them in your face!”
I charged out of the kitchen like an animal, huffing and aimless.
When I can no longer see the goodness in my dirty-footed, hard-playing children but instead see only the mess. When I feel the heaviness of their bodies as they cling to me, rather than the lightness of their hearts. When joy is all around me———but we’re late for church and my five-year-old has lost her shoes (again)
It was a completely embarrassing, out-of-body-like experience. It was a display of lunacy, possibly triggered by hunger or exhaustion or the stress of an overwhelming and busy time of year. I stood for a moment in front of the churning air conditioner and came back to myself. I felt lost, as though I’d walked into a room and forgotten why I’d gone.
Alex gingerly stepped past me on his way out of the kitchen, a single palm full of blueberries. “Thank you,” he said quietly, being careful to keep a safe distance and avoid eye contact.
Full of remorse, I apologized immediately and muttered something—more to myself than to my son—about how I hadn’t eaten anything yet that day and I’d just come in from walking to the store and was only trying to have a moment to myself.
That justification is what I keep coming back to in the dredges of this busy season of life. I need a moment to myself. When I can no longer see the goodness in my dirty-footed, hard-playing children but instead see only the mess. When I feel the heaviness of their bodies as they cling to me, rather than the lightness of their hearts. When joy is all around me—but we’re late for church and my five-year-old has lost her shoes (again) and I am on my knees scouring under the bed and grumbling about how unbelievable it is for her to have five pairs of shoes yet not a single matching set in sight. Every time.
I know I’m not alone in the trenches of motherhood. A quick scroll through my social media feeds shows me all of my friends who are there too—it’s all overflowing sinks, cluttered tables, scrambles to the bus stop, laundry-pile excavations, long commutes, making some semblance of a living. It’s all busyness. Motherhood is busyness. It’s having your brain and calendar and personal space filled with the minutiae of another person. Wait, no. That’s marriage. Motherhood usually includes multiple other people.
Motherhood is making sure you’ve fed and bathed and clothed your children and that you’ve connected with them, on some level, throughout the day. It’s remembering homework assignments and permission slips. It’s being aware of who likes wheat bread and who prefers white, who will tolerate onions and who can’t stand tomatoes in their spaghetti sauce. It’s being interrupted during every cup of coffee, every Netflix date with your husband, every shower. It’s the busyness of grocery shopping with two children who tap-dance down every aisle, annoyingly unconcerned with the inconvenience they’re causing other customers, and two other children who bicker over which cereal we’ll buy this week. It’s finally sitting down to get work done, only to have a small child rest on your shoulder and ask for a snack.
we won’t be joyful for the hours we have in this season———unless we choose to be.
It’s saying, “Just a minute” ad nauseam to our children. And even more often to ourselves.
I’ll find time for me, in just a minute. I’ll find time for my spouse, in just a minute. I’ll catch up with friends, in just a minute. I will get off this treadmill-paced life of go, go, go—in just a minute. I will.
But we can’t live in a season of just a minute. We can survive; we can make it to the next grumpy, bedraggled explosion over the sharing of precious blueberries. But we won’t be joyful for the hours we have in this season—unless we choose to be.
I read an article recently about how scheduling regimented exercise into our days does nothing to benefit our health if we are otherwise sedentary people. The positive impact of squeezing in an hour of daily exercise does nothing much beyond keep us alive if we are otherwise spending most of our time sitting on the couch, in an office chair, or in the seat of a car. Movement, the article suggested, needs to be a natural way of living rather than the exception.
It struck me that this concept also applies to self-care and, ultimately, to joy. Joy can’t be squeezed in as part of a strict routine. Joy cannot be a scheduled calendar event. (Ever schedule something days or weeks in advance that you think you’ll really enjoy but by the time that day arrives you don’t feel up to going, or you don’t have fun because you’re not in the mood for it, even though you scheduled it?) Joy doesn’t operate on command. Joy is an intentional practice that becomes an overflowing of the heart.
Joy doesn’t operate on command. Joy is an intentional practice that becomes an overflowing of the heart.
For me, I’m finding that joy is a natural byproduct of letting go—of letting the dishes sit piled in the sink, letting the socks stay scattered on the floor, just breathing in sync with the ticking of the clock when I’m strapping my children into their car seats with the full knowledge that we are late. Again.
In the past several weeks, I’ve practiced self-care by taking long walks—children optional. I’ve let my five-year-old help with dinner, even though I know the mess she leaves in her wake will be huge. I’ve begun choosing to hug preemptively, rather than be the body that’s collapsed upon. And I’ve been buying two pints of blueberries so I have one to share and one that’s just for me.
I don’t need just a minute to myself. I need to just let go and be myself in the minutes that I have.
I don’t want to look back on these years and see only a dark tunnel behind me that I sped through with all my might, careful not to crash, desperate just to get to the light at the end. I remind myself that my husband and I wanted to have children. Long before we had any idea just how all-encompassing parenthood would be, we chose this busy, messy, wonderful life. And I want to enjoy it, more, in each moment.