When I was a little girl and would stay over with my Grandma and Grandpa, I always had trouble falling asleep. My Grandma Helen would rub my back and ask me what I was thinking about. I’d tell her and then she would say that I needed to clear my mind, to think about nothing. So I would try. I would repeat over and over in my head, don’t think don’t think don’t think…but then I was really busy thinking about not thinking and I’d stay awake longer.
For the short seven-ish years I’ve been a mother, the whole being present thing has been one of my greatest struggles, the way I would wonder if I’m doing it well enough. Lately I’ve been thinking that it works in much the same way as trying to think about nothing. The more time I spend scrutinizing myself on whether or not I’m spending enough time truly engaged with my children and truly appreciating the present moment, the less I’m actually doing it.
When I write about the beautiful moments that I see in the everyday things, it’s not because that’s all I’m doing or all I’m seeing. I used to feel like kind of a blog fraud for that. I mean, I haven’t been lying or pretending at anything, I do actually get all weepy and heart swell-y over Asher’s blue shirt that matches his eyes perfectly and the tuft of hair on the tippy top of Elsie’s head and the way Miles tips his head nearly to his shoulder when he’s concentrating really hard. My heart and soul are constantly noticing those things, always at attention, even when I’m not. Even when my head is spinning with a to-do list and I’m two hours ahead or two hours (or two days or fifteen years or…) behind the actual moment I’m living. Those things are beautiful to me even while I’m grumbling and huffing around, tired of the mess around the highchair and the dog hair and the whining and how everything is set on repeat and I’m supposed to try to keep up while it all spins out of control.
On Tuesdays, I do Just Write in this little web space of mine so I can take a moment to remember that my heart is good and in the right place, because most of the time I’m just like every other mother, thrown in the deep end of the pool with very little ability to swim. I used to be hard on myself for my lack of serenity and presence, but now I’m working more on accepting that this is hard and if I play a round of the Toy Story matching game and I don’t really like it, that’s okay. I mean, I am drowning after all. So I’m working on taking the pressure off myself, the expectation to always be in the moment and devouring every detail of my children at the stage and age that they are, desperate to remember and appreciate. Because even when it seems untrue, when I write out the details of a moment in my day, I see that I really was there, whatever my state of mind. In the midst of all the chaos and my distractions, sometimes overwhelmed with anxiety and sometimes overly impatient, I am here. Not as in “stay at home mom” here, but whatever hours I’m with my children or doing something on behalf of my children, which is most of the time. That’s true for the working-outside-the-home mother too, of course.
I am really here simply because I am Mama. Mommy. Mom. Mother. I was in the moment even if I wasn’t. (How very philosophical. Bear with me…)
If you happen to be a mother, that’s true for you as well. Other than in cases of the abusive or otherwise damaging person, most mothers are present simply because of our love. We are experiencing it all, the good and the bad and the in-between, the ordinary. We are hard pressed to even define what being present really means because it’s different for all of us. Most of the time, at the end of the day, whether we feel we’ve failed or not is more about how we view ourselves than what actually happened in those 24 hours. So maybe we’re asking the wrong thing of ourselves and rather than expecting perfection in how we take in our days, we should be asking ourselves to extend more grace where it does its best life-changing work–in our own hearts and minds. To take the pressure off and just keep going.
We end up in the deep end of the pool with so little skill and we can be alone there, pumping our tired arms and legs for hours. We can be in the trenches of the daily grind with pee outside the toilet and endless laundry and always crumbs. We can be out there all alone and miraculously, we’re still seeing the blue of eyes and the softness of hair and the tilt of a head. We can be in this pool for hours on end and we can still feel the heat of the sun on our skin and take in the green of the nearest trees and be in awe of it. We can spin circles looking for the next obstacle that feels a lot like waiting for shark fins to appear too close by and while we’re doing that we can catch sight of our child in one split second moment and appreciate some fine detail that no one else could possibly see, because we’re there. We’re really there, bobbing up and down but alive and kicking and fighting. That is presence.
The thing is, our kids are not putting this pressure on us to stay in the moment. They are doing their thing all around the pool and they don’t seem to notice that we’re running out of steam and dipping under. They just want us to stay there, nearby and cheering them on as they (hopefully) learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. Because, I mean, Mom has four phone calls to make before noon and she has to get the sister to the doctor and then she’s got to figure out what’s for dinner.
Most of us, we feel it all…the love and the pain and the joy and the guilt and the bone-weary exhaustion. We cope and we fail and we overcome and we try again. We keep going. All of this is the making of a mother, sloughing off her edges until she’s more of the person she wants to be and all the while, even when it doesn’t seem so, seeing all of it through means that she is present. She may be drowning in the daily grind and she doesn’t have to love that, because the truth is that she loves her small people, her growing up little offsprings of joy. And when they pee outside the toilet and she swears under her breath and grabs the paper towels and cleaner and goes to the floor on her knees, she doesn’t have to stand up and ask herself if she’s truly living in the moment. She is. It doesn’t get more real than that.
My mind is always crowded. It makes me feel unpresent. But I have to remember that when I pick my boys up from school or get Elsie from a nap, I mean every beat of my happy-to-see them heart, and when I ask them questions, I really want to know the answers and when I praise their work, I truly am proud. And even when these kinds of moments only add up to fifteen minutes of our busy days, it is enough because it is what I can do from the deep end and they know that I love them.
I’m writing this to myself but I’m also writing it to you, Mama. Every moment is holy, even if you don’t always have the energy or time to notice. It is this holiness that keeps you, wraps you up in truly living it, despite your trenches and yourself. Let’s stop over-analyzing it so much so we can more freely live it.
After all, we have been here all along.