If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know how much I bristle whenever someone responds to expressions of frustrations about children with the words “Enjoy them, it goes so fast!” Often, in these early years, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the physical demands of caring for multiple littles. We made our family planning decisions with an eye toward the kids having sibling playmates, but we didn’t quite grasp how much Julianna’s needs would intensify her younger brothers’ early childhood demands.
Whenever people would wag their fingers at me to enjoy the experience because it’s so fleeting– inevitably when I was at my wits’ end–I would feel guilty for getting frustrated. Like I was a bad parent for feeling the burden to be so heavy in the first place.
A few weeks ago, right around New Year’s, I realized the weight had begun to lift. I found myself living in the moment and enjoying them fully. We had our best Advent ever. Not once did I feel like I was overwhelmed this December. I thought perhaps I’d finally cracked the right balance of calendar activities, but as I pondered it, I decided it was about the kids themselves.
The positive shift in Nicholas’ behavior alone has lightened the load by half. When every second is a battle and the sparring partner is at home five days a week and half of the other two, it wears you down quickly. Especially when you know how “delightful” he is in every other situation, because people are always telling you so.
Julianna is finally able to dress herself, if I can give her time to do it on her own (glacial) schedule. We can understand more than half of what she tries to tell us now, and that is soul food. I can’t even begin to communicate how that relaxes the spirit.
And not having to wash diapers is a huge shift all by itself. We’re only using diapers at nap and night-time now, and sometimes they stay dry. At Christmas, we traveled without a stroller for the first time in nine years.
We had a wonderful Christmas break. The kids bickered, sure, but I didn’t lose my temper. I didn’t have to shout to get things accomplished. I was even able to be philosophical about the snow days that lengthened Christmas break.
And then? Then school started. Piano lessons. Three-school pickups. Dental appointments. IEP meetings. Cub scouts. Julianna’s dance. By the end of two weeks of school, Christian and I are once again shouting at kids to hurry up. We’re having to issue the same instructions five times per child. We’re always in a rush to get somewhere, get homework done, get lunches made. Getting to the grocery store has only been accomplished because there’s no alternative.
I realize now that what made Advent and Christmas so enjoyable this year wasn’t the change in the kids–it was the fact that we had less going on. The kids’ abilities and attitudes can help or harm my stress level, but the real key is busy-ness. When we’re doing too much, we fight.
“We’re all too busy,” a friend of mine observed when I shared this revelation. “The difference is some of us know it.”
“But it’s not enough to realize it–you have to do something about it,” I said.
That’s the hard part. The part I’m just starting to try to figure out. I have a feeling it’s going to take the better part of the childhood years to do so.