forgive yourself

September 4, 2013

“Take the long view, I reminded myself, looking out across the fields to our own long view. Life finds its balance. Children grow up. Second chances come along. In the meantime, I could choose to savor this moment.” – Katrina Kenison


Can you forgive yourself for not living in the moment?

When our babies are sparkling new and swaddled up we set out with intentions we can believe in, but we just don’t know. We are going to live in the moment. We’re going to relish these baby years, these elementary years, for we have been told time and again how precious it all is, and how fleeting. And intrinsically, we know it to be true.

But, what we don’t know is that we are about to be swept up inside days and nights that bleed into one. And that our minds will fill with a sleep-deprived dense fog of anxiety and joy that is only overcome in miraculous small doses of clarity, rare and nearly impossible.

I can’t stand it when a mother of older children remarks, OH just you wait…you think it’s hard NOW…they become teenagers you know! OR the ever-popular, Oh it goes so fast, you need to cherish these days! They are the best days!

I think I hate it because I know it’s true and yet there is nothing I can do about this particular cold hard truth: I cannot stay in the moment and cherish everything and keep in mind how fast it goes and juggle all the life at once. I am only one me.

I still think people should stop saying these things, even though they’re true, but what scares me most is that, down deep, no matter what, I know these are truly some of the best days of my life and sometimes I’m willing them to pass so I can breathe. (Or get some sleep or eat a full meal while sitting.)

I’m reading The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison (I know, what took me so long?) and it’s rocking my world. I love it so much and it has me thinking really hard. Because on the fringes of my stubborn responses to the remarks that are made in my direction, by parents of older children, I have known that I’m going to miss every single part of this, so much. I have understood that these are the ordinary days that are so precious and I have known that slowing them down is completely out of my control.

I hate that. It’s exhausting to be so aware of these truths and so limited by fatigue all at once. The irony is not lost on me.

As my kids get just a little bit older, out of the physically demanding baby stage, and begin to embark on more and more autonomy, I struggle with letting go. Even kindergarten kicks my ass….I have no idea how hard it’s going to be to watch my kids drive away in a car, or start junior high or leave on a road trip to check out colleges. I have no idea what’s in store in the way of rebellion and independence, in the ways they will choose to find themselves apart from me.

I only know I will look back on being able to meet these needs, so exhaustingly, with a painful nostalgia. No matter how hard I try, I will be them–the remarkers. Though I have vowed to not actually voice these remarks, I will certainly feel them, speak them in my heart and I will have to bite my tongue so hard, to not say them to that mother of young children–bed-headed, circles under her eyes, chasing down a toddler with a baby on her hip, in Target.

As Kenison writes through the adolescent years of her sons, I’m astounded at how much I am already feeling her words. I’m so aware that I will be fighting to choose the lessons she is speaking, just as I am now. Be. Here. Now.

I’ve been doing this, OH look at the beauty!, since the start of the life of baby son number one, through adding another son and then one more baby, our girl. I have been fighting, but so much of the time I’m losing.

Can I forgive myself? Can I let it go? Can I recognize that Kenison has gotten so much better at living the ordinary things so presently because she’s had a few more years to grow into herself? Do I fully recognize that I have an overly busy creative mind and that I struggle with impatience and I really really need my sleep or I just can’t function, let alone focus on the beauty of all the moments?

Can you forgive yourself for the same failings? 

I want you to try to do that with me, because what I’m realizing as my kids start to grow up is that I am getting so much better at it, right with Kenison. I read her words and I see and feel the beauty of the overturned coffee mug drying next to the sink while she takes in the mountain view from the kitchen window.

It is the extraordinary ordinary. I see it, too. So do you.

We see it, through our bleary eyes, our worries and the strain of trying to pay bills and juggle school activities and through our hunger for those future days of quiet hours when they’re all at school, or away, grown. Some days we just want that, because we can’t even see ourselves or out the window through the haze of demands.

Forgive us. 

It has nothing to do with being a terrible mother or an incapable gratitude spender. It has everything to do with being human. How we’re bristling with every ounce of energy spent, weary and bone-tired and anxious and behind.

There are moments, in the midst of that, when our young children shake us, unhinge the finger-printed lens of our hearts. They say or do something, any small or big thing that touches us and probably only us because we’re Mom. And our hearts swell with thankfulness and that kind of love that only we can have for these particular children. Then in a blink, it passes because someone hits someone and a screech interrupts the reverie and lately Elsie Jane keeps taking off her diaper, randomly, whatever is in it. Maybe I should potty train her, but I’m too busy worrying about Asher’s difficult adjustment to school, how he cries each and every morning and only answers BAD after I ask how his day was.

And yet, when they have gone away like this, to their own places for part of the day, I miss them so hard. I stand sometimes in the kitchen and look at the breakfast mess and I don’t mind at all cleaning it up, because I have time, because I have this moment to breathe.

I guess we can’t breathe in gratitude and stay in the moment unless we have time here and there to catch our breath. 

Some of us rarely, if ever, get that chance. Forgive yourself. 

Yes, there are ways to cut back on the drowning, the exhaustion. Spend more time offline, say NO more often and don’t refrain from doing something absolutely and totally unproductive every now and again. But Mamas, don’t forget that even if you do all of that right–if you fight for balance and make healthy choices, you are still Mama and you still have A LOT on  your hunched shoulders. 

We will. We will see the beauty. We do, even when we don’t see it. And we will, more and more, as these kids grow, I know we will. Even if it gets harder in the teen years in a myriad of ways. Even as we navigate all of their activities and friendships and moods. It will be demanding, of course it will. But please try hard to remember that the remarkers (who we will one day be) don’t fully remember. They don’t. I mean, I already don’t and my youngest is only two.

What was so upsetting about sleep-deprivation anyway? It didn’t last THAT long?


YES. It did. It’s just a blur because it was that hard. And because it was that hard, it is imprinted on our very souls. These imprints, in retrospect, are only a simple form, at a loss for the distinct memories that shape them. So we grow nostalgic for those grinding moments that burrowed down deep within without any true detailed recalling of what it was really like.

The fact that we hardly ever slept is not the only thing that we won’t remember clearly. We also won’t remember exactly what the pudgy little dimpled fingers looked like, until we pull out the pictures. We won’t be able to hear the tiny adorable cartoon-like toddler voices of our children, until we watch a home video. It will then all seem so perfect, in its entirety.

The focus of this space on the worldwide web is exactly what Katrina Kenison is talking about. I’m so grateful that it’s here and that I put down my feelings and pictures. That I hold close the moments, both messy and hard and beautiful and good, in stories. This is one of the ways that I focus on being grateful. This is one way I continue to see the extraordinary in every little and big thing.

And yet, I will look back at even these pages and wonder what the big deal was, sometimes. Because it’s true what they say. What I’m living then will be my trenches and the ones of today will be rose-colored fox holes, my friends.

Throwing in the towel is not the answer: Forget it, I can’t live in the moment anyway. Too hard! I will always strive to….and I will go on forgiving myself when I just can’t, and then I will try again tomorrow. 

“Sometimes it is a long, slow flowering. Sometimes it is necessary, as Galway Kinnell has written, “to reteach a thing its loveliness, to put a hand on its brow of the flower, and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.” – Kenison

That goes for both our children…and ourselves. We are growing up too, and we can only keep flowering if we forgive ourselves and touch our very own brow with blessing.


Here are some posts that might help you lift some of that heavy weight off your hunched shoulders:

Your Hard is Hard – well, it’s about YOUR hard being hard, since it is.
Free Pass – on giving YOU a free pass, like you would a friend
Remember – on missing already what we won’t remember
Passing the Bed – on motherhood, depression and hope


Kristin September 4, 2013 at 11:03 am

To me, sometimes living in the moment is simply not feeling the guilt–because the guilt is what takes the moment away. So it may not matter that I’m frustrated or impatient–as long as I am feeling organically and authentically, isn’t that the point? Not saying “I should be feeling …” Just acknowledging what I AM feeling.

Sometimes it’s just about giving myself the reminder–when my kid won’t sleep and I’m starving and just want to go veg in front of the TV, I say to myself, “Someday, when he’s a teen and locked himself in his room, I will long for the bedtimes of holding his hand while he drifts off.” So the “cherish this moment” does jerk me back into the present.
Kristin recently posted..Welcome September!

Thekitchwitch September 4, 2013 at 11:05 am

I love Katrina’s writing and return to it when things get hard, because it’s like talking with a caring and much wiser friend.

I remember once you wrote to me, “You have to forgive yourself. It’s hard but you really, really have to.”

I’m still doing a semi-shitty job at forgiving myself, but your words stuck with me and they at least give me the courage to try.
Thekitchwitch recently posted..Green Goddess Dressing

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:09 pm

It’s so hard. I say these things because as Katrina’s book says, I write from my most ideal self. I don’t always DO these things very well, but I guess wanting to try counts for something. For both of us.


Vikki September 4, 2013 at 11:29 am

This is a great piece to read after posting today about how I feel that I fell short as a mom over the summer. I am one of the most forgiving people in the world until it comes to forgiving myself.
Vikki recently posted..Hundreds of Miles

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Me too, Vikki. Me too.


Kristin Shaw September 4, 2013 at 11:39 am

I was trying to get a photo of my son this morning, and he was making mean, screwed-up faces. Finally, I lost my patience and said, “Come on! Dammit. Just smile for me.” And then I felt like a jerk. Did I really need to push him into SMILING? I got down on my knees and hugged him, and we started over. He forgives me, and I forgive myself. We’re doing well, together.
Thank you, Heather.
Kristin Shaw recently posted..Milestones

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:08 pm

You’re such a good Mama, Kristin. Largely because you’re such a good and wise person, spreading that out over your sweet boy. I love it. I’m glad I get to know you.


Thekitchwitch September 4, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Beginning of school stress is the whipping boy for mothers, It is why I say things like “dammit” to my kids when they are fragile, pulling on socks and organizing backpacks and then feel stripped bare.
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Amy Whitley September 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

Living in the now. Savoring. Appreciating. It’s my mantra for the decade, I think. And it’s so hard.
Amy Whitley recently posted..In with the new

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm

It IS so hard. Oh I’m so glad that we’re doing it even when we think we are not.


tracy@sellabitmum September 4, 2013 at 12:03 pm

That was my favorite read of the summer…and a keeper and looker-back-upper for sure. Love this. xo
tracy@sellabitmum recently posted..Finish Strong

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Oh thank you, my Tracy. I love you.

Amanda September 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Even as I swallowed and bit back an overwhelming urge to let loose a keening nearly ten years in the making, I also felt the kind of comfort that comes when the sun peeks out of from behind a cloud and warms your skin from goosebumps. We are all in this, bound by a common struggle, divided by a natural instinct to share what we know.

You masterfully set us free, even as you make us weep with the idea that it never gets easier as it gets ever more beautiful.

Thank you.
Amanda recently posted..It all started when-

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Um Amanda, I’m pretty sure this comment will go down as one of the most appreciated comments of all time. Thank YOU.


Kate September 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I hope that if I ever uttered any of those ‘You just wait…’ words, that you forgive me, because from the bottom of my heart I am so sorry for being so blind. I vow to never, ever, ever use those words to anyone ever again. Thank you for opening my eyes.

This is perfect, and while it certainly changes as the child grows, in many ways, parenting gets so much harder too, because you have to step back, let them fail, fall, get hurt, be broken and a host of other painful life experiences that they absolutely NEED in order to grow. You have to allow their hearts to break, while your soul is torn to pieces over and over again. And it’s a thousand times harder to stand there while it happens than to know it’s coming at some point.

Be yourself, present, scattered, creative or otherwise, and allow each day to fall as it may, whether grand or dismal. Just be yourself. It’s all your children need.
Kate recently posted..try everything once, including grilled cabbage

Heather September 4, 2013 at 1:06 pm

It’s true, what you’ve said here. I know it’s coming, but I can’t imagine the pain of it. I’m a bit terrified of it, the letting go and watching. But as usual, your words are a balm here:

“Be yourself, present, scattered, creative or otherwise, and allow each day to fall as it may, whether grand or dismal. Just be yourself. It’s all your children need.”

You have not said Oh just you wait or anything like it by the way :)

lisa September 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm

I don’t like when people say “Just wait…” either. It just makes me feel bad and I always feel like I am being admonished. I do want to say this though–the teenage years get a bad rap. I won’t use the words “just wait” but if I did I would infuse them with excitement…more like “Just wait!!!”. I love having teenagers. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to worry and stress about, of course there are and I assume there always will be as a parent but there are some really wonderful thing about parenting teenagers. The conversations can be wonderfully complex and meaningful, you get to go and see real movies together, they think and talk about the world and what they think about it, and they can make you laugh, really laugh. There are good and hard things with all ages. But when you are feeling sad about the passing of time and the loss of those little bodies that still fit on your lap (and I know that sadness is inevitable) just remember, there are all sorts of lovely things to come.

Heather September 4, 2013 at 9:29 pm

Lisa, this is so true. So important. Looking forward to the many good things is a good thing. Thank you.
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Jessica September 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I struggle with this every single day. Sometimes I think I spend too much time out of the moment telling myself to be in the moment. And as Vikki commented above, it’s so much harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others. Losing our daughter did open me up to staying in the moment much more than I had before but it also has caused me to put more pressure on myself to stay in the moment and feel like a failure when I am not. All of this to say, I needed to read this. Thank you for writing it.
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Jenn September 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Oh Heather. You said in this post so many of the thoughts that have weighed on my heart lately. You’ve captured the essence of being a mom: we’re not perfect, but we keep showing up and we do our best. I loved this post and am ordering Katrina’s book asap. (She’s been on my list, so thanks so much for the kick in the pants.) :)
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Lindsey September 4, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Oh, Heather, YES. I adore Katrina’s writing too and love this response to it, and the permission you offer to forgive ourselves when we aren’t as present as we might wish. Thank you.

denise September 5, 2013 at 8:08 am



Although, I must return to read the conclusion of this heart-salve post because I just got a text asking, rather urgently, if I could please take the dry cleaning in the next 15 minutes, before, you know, the 9:30 cut off.

I’m swimming in these same thoughts right now and once Katrina’s book comes out of its particular cardboard moving box, I’m rereading it, pronto.

Much love, Goose
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Justine September 5, 2013 at 9:44 am

My littlest just started preschool, and I’m nodding to each word here – I know I need to live in the moment, I know I can’t always be present, and I know that this too, all of this – hardship, joy, dimpled wonder, will pass, and then I will only look back and hope that I’d savored as much as I could because by then, like you said, I wouldn’t remember. I would just know that I was here once, and hope that I had the sense to sometimes breathe it all in.

Jennifer September 5, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Thank you for this!! It’s another sweet tribute to us mommas! Oh I have said those words many many times.. And more so lately as I watch my 18 and 16 year old sons growing up and away. I too heard this from aunts, grandparents, my own mom, complete strangers watching me with my then little boys.. And I remember thinking yeah, yeah, sure. I was so caught up in the life of a mother with small children I didn’t think about the day when they would one day be big. But when my oldest started high school over four and a half years ago my mind often went to that future place. And last year , my sons senior year, graduation preparations sent up a red flag inside my heart. Here it was.. it was coming that empty nest I had been warned about.. And then last week my sister shared Katrina’s video and boy did that make me stop and think.. I had never read Katrina’s books (will be now!) so I wasn’t really aware of what she wrote about.. I cried through the entire video it was beautiful and bitter sweet. It was my story, my truth and it was right there in my face making me listen. It was really a small epiphany for me. A way to begin to accept the changes that are coming and to see that they aren’t bad. They are just changes. Life is still going on. I am still a mom with two big sons. Instead of worrying I am going to enjoy the ordinary moments that still come and go.

Amy Davis September 5, 2013 at 8:39 pm

It took me 7 months to read “The Gift of an Ordinary Day.” Though on different planes, my life was paralleling what she had written in those words. Marriage was at a crossroads. My heart was tremendously broken. My best friend had moved up to heaven after a three year battle with cervical cancer at age 39, a mother of three very young children herself. Everytime I read a page, I cried.

Life is again at a crossroads. I’m in the middle of reading “Magical Journey.” Two more kids are added into the mix now, totaling 5. And forgiveness is nowhere to be found. Perhaps I need to read the first book again. One for each hand.

Barbara Howard September 6, 2013 at 10:45 am

I also hated it when people would warn me to “wait til they’re teenagers!” As if then, it would be horrible, and these babies I loved so very much would morph into monsters I wouldn’t recognize. I am now a 63 year old grandmother with five grandchildren, the sons and daughters of one of my sons and one daughter. I can say in hindsight that THAT NEVER HAPPENED. I loved every single year of their lives, and my role in them. Yes, they changed and grew, but so did I (and their father.) We adjusted. We laughed. We cried. We tolerated. We embraced. Our lives were ordinary, but when I reflect on the years raising my two sons and my daughter, it fills me with joy that I can absolutely feel in my heart. I am still “all melty inside” when one of my adult kids says “Thanks, Mama”…or “I love you, Mama.” And all we ever did was the best we could, to love our children, to talk with them, to educate them, and then to let them be themselves.

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