Did I mention that everyone brought their kids? That my 2-year-old dumped all of her macaroni and cheese on the floor and stomped on it, then spent the rest of the hour making a mad dash through the front door like a convict in a prison break? (Ironically, she kept hiding from me under a sign asking parents to supervise their children.) Did I mention that my baby was howling so loudly by the end that I gave him a cookie and let him smear chocolate all over himself to shut him up?
I should have heeded the great advice by Natalie Hollingshead and simply skipped lunch. But the thought of going five more years without an occasional afternoon out is sometimes too depressing. The whole time I was thinking, “Five more years. In five years my youngest will be in kindergarten, and I’ll be free. Free. At. Last.”
But that’s a terrible line of logic. It’s the ultimate parent trap: looking to the days ahead and wishing away the (oh-so-priceless) moments as they are happening. Sometimes when you are in the thick of young parenting, it’s hard to step back and count your many blessings. Sure, there are some parts of the job that simply have to be endured, like when everyone’s barfing, or your kid wants to take up the Recorder, or you’re breastfeeding on a rock. But I don’t want to look back on my wonder years as the ones that I merely survived. I want to feel as though they were the best ones of my life.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about enjoying motherhood versus enduring it. And what I’ve come up with is that it’s up to me. I can wallow in self-pity and say it’s not my season to have fun or to take regular showers. Or, I can embrace the monotony and meltdowns and focus on the fact that right now I have a baby (a baby!) and kids who still want to hug me and hold my hand. Here are some of the things I’m trying to help me savor this stage:
1. Live in the moment
I’m such a planner that even on Christmas morning I’m tempted to ask my kids, “So what should we do tomorrow?” I’m trying to silence the part of my brain that’s going on and on about the future, and instead devote my full attention to the present.
2. Manage your expectations of what kids can do
Little kids hate sit-down restaurants, shopping and waiting in line at the post office. Little kids love crafts, making messes and trips to the park. These days I shop and eat out a lot less, and, as much as it pains me, I’ve stocked up on glue guns and glitter. Lots and lots of glitter.
3. Have a true “happy hour”
This has nothing to do with drinking and everything to do with finding 60 (or even 30) minutes a day to decompress. I’m giving myself a guilt-free hour after my kids go to bed where I don’t exercise, clean or catch up on email. This is a brief daily respite where only TLC’s “My Strange Addiction” or a cheesy murder mystery will do.
4. Practice healthy sleep habits
For my money, there’s a definite correlation between good nights and good days. I’m trying to be militant about naps and bedtime so I can enjoy the happiness that accompanies well-rested children (and mommies).
5. Date your kids
I’m a big believer in dates, of positive one-on-one interaction. These small outings give me something to look forward to and offer a chance for conversation that doesn’t end with me saying “go clean your room.”
6. Praise, praise, praise
I find that when I actually verbalize all of the things my kids are doing right it helps me recognize life’s positive moments as they are unfolding.
7. When suggestions 1-6 go to pot, laugh it off
One time when two of my children were having epic simultaneous public meltdowns, a stranger came up, patted me on the back, and said “Being a mom is awesome!” She’s right. So I’m trying to laugh off the ridiculous moments and savor the sweet ones. After all, it could be worse: I could have teenagers.