There are rhythms to this parenting thing. Some rhythms flow slowly with a long, low heartbeat that lasts for years. Others beat bright and fast and are finished just as quickly as they started. Some are made by us, caused by us, in our quest to do more, want more, see more, be more. Other rhythms are far beyond our control and it is all we can do to keep our shoelaces tied and our eyes on the prize and try not to fall down along the way.
Lately, our family rhythm has been at odds with how we usually live our lives. We like to be busy, it’s true, but we like to be busy doing things like walking in the woods and painting cardboard castles and building a spring scale from an old shoe box and some elastic. We like making things together. We like cooking and baking together. We like sharing books by reading aloud while precariously perched all together in the hammock or curled up under a Mama-made blanket on the couch or in somebody’s bed. And oh, how we like walking in the woods!
We like, in a nutshell, a pattern of busy days full of slow, perfect moments, a dash of great literature, a healthy dollop of science, and endless bucketfuls of nature thrown in for good measure.
(It’s also full of harried mornings and busy schedules and early morning practices and frazzled dinner prep before running out the door for lessons and short tempers and bored children and a larger-than-I-like dose of whining — both mine and theirs. I don’t want you think we lead some sort of falsely perfect Truman-esque life because we absolutely do not.)
This morning, our out of sync rhythm finally caught up to us. In retrospect, it was kind of funny, but it was hard to laugh at it the time, as all such moments are. It started with a reminder to brush your teeth before school and ended with a missed school bus (and went downhill from there), but really it was nothing more than a temporary discombobulation that could have been easily solved if only we could have stopped time for about 10 minutes somewhere in the minutes that preceded it.
Last year, the hour before the kids headed off to school and I settled in to work was usually filled with reading or crafting or gardening. Sometimes, we would do homework that hadn’t been done or review concepts that hadn’t been fully grasped. Sometimes, we would bake muffins or start bread dough rising. Sometimes, we would go for a walk in the woods or dig in the garden for a while. If the weather was nice, we would sprawl in the hammock and knock off another chapter of whatever we were currently reading, or play in the snow and shovel the driveway if it were a snowy day.
I treasured that time with the kids. It started our days with a lovely rhythm of love and togetherness that helped us face the day ahead and it meant that no matter what else happened that day, we had already taken some time to be together in peace and joy.
There is definitely something to be said for starting your days with peace and joy.
But this year… this year, our rhythm is completely off. Oh, we have a rhythm, but it is one full of busy evenings and late nights and sleepy, cranky mornings followed by a frantic trying-to-fit-everything-in-to-the-limited-hours-we’ve-got. We get up and rush around, rush off to 2 different schools, rush through a catch-as-you-can dinner 3 nights a week, rush to this activity, then that one, and then we rush to finish homework in time to actually do something relaxing and mellow before bed — something we have not been very good at accomplishing more days than not.
Part of me is feeling terribly guilty for “being off my game” of late. I don’t like sleeping late and feeling pressured to get everyone out the door on time and with everything they need (don’t forget your lunch! And that permission form! Did I sign your homework?). I don’t like how dinner time has been sneaking up on me (even with a plan) or how bedtimes have been more like poorly followed suggestions. I really don’t like how little down time we’ve had as a family. And I really, really hate the toll it has been taking on my energy levels and my pain.
So tonight, I am going to bed not long after the kids do.
I’m going to do it tomorrow night, too.
I might read for a bit, or listen to music, but in very short order, the lights will be out and my head will be on the pillow.
And sometime around 5:30 in the morning, I’ll be sitting on the family room floor stretching out my muscles and getting ready to workout so that by 6, I’ll be in the shower and by 6:10 I’ll be joyfully and peacefully greeting my early-rising son having already taken care of the most important matter of the day: myself.
My health, my peace of mind, my inner joy… these are the resources I need to have available to me in order to get through the craziness of life without losing my mind.
I’ve blogged before about life with chronic illness, but the truth of it is that for me, mornings are my friend. By mid-afternoon, my body’s ill health catches up with me and I am no longer the peaceful, happy woman who can cope with anything life throws at her.
And I do deserve to be happy and at peace with my life and capable of coping with anything life throws at me, at least after a few minutes of heartfelt swearing.
So do you.
Life doesn’t have to be perfect or even in control to be really damn good. It just has to have more good moments than bad ones.
Living with chronic illness, sometimes I’ll even take a “it didn’t totally suck today” sort of day and call it really awesome because there was that one moment that lasted 19 seconds that was actually pretty good. To do anything else is to admit that life as a chronically ill person is really totally suck-worthy and energy draining and depressingly depressing all the time and it will continue to be so for… oh, like… forever.
I suppose you could see it that way. But I tend to think of it as being a choice. A choice to not live a life consumed by misery and suffering. A choice to not define myself and my life by the pain I feel and the exhaustion and depression that inevitably come with it.
I choose to life a life of wonder and joy.
I tried living a life where I focus on trying to make my reality fit my wishes by pushing hard and working harder and not stopping until I was falling apart at the seams every single day trying to be what I was no longer. It only served to reinforce how much of my life has had to change since becoming ill. How much I have lost. How much I can no longer do.
So no, thank you. I refuse.
I refuse to let my life be shaped by all the miserable, exhausting, painful moments. I do my best to accommodate my body’s limitations, but I refuse to dwell on them. I choose, instead, to life a life full of many small moments of peace and joy and laughter and love.
Right now, our family rhythm is rather busier than I can easily cope with and we have all been feeling the strain. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy is something I’ve heard said and it is, to a large extent, true. When Mama can’t keep it together for herself, she definitely can’t keep it together with the family.
So it is time, I have decided, for this Mama to put herself first again. To reorder things a bit so that mornings are first and foremost designed to keep Mama healthy and energized, and secondly a happy revelry of books and muffins and bread baking and together-in-joy making.
Plus it will give me time to get dinner in the crockpot before the day gets too advanced and we find ourselves scrounging through the refrigerator hoping someone did the grocery shopping and wondering why we only have 2 chicken balls and 3 spoonfuls of beef with broccoli left over from the Chinese take-out 2 nights ago… until we remember we ate Chinese leftovers last night before lessons and that the person who does the shopping is me and I didn’t, so yes, we really are having 2 chicken balls and 3 spoonfuls of beef with broccoli plus grilled cheese sandwiches because really, don’t grilled cheese sandwiches go with everything?
Tomorrow, at 5:30 in the morning, I’ll be wondering why the sun isn’t up and if I am not really just certifiably insane and if I’m the only person on the planet who is awake at such an ungodly hour… and it will be good.
Just don’t ask The Man We Call Dad what he thinks of this plan. He thinks I’m certifiable, I’m sure.
He might be right.
But I don’t care, because I’m gonna be happy.
How do I know?
Because I’m at peace with it. I’m choosing to be happy. And I mean it.
(Just don’t ask me how I’m feeling at 5:30 tomorrow morning. I’m not sure I’ll be awake enough to remember how happy about getting up at oh-god-it’s-dark-out-30 I’ve decided to be.)