It was our first trip with two babies and a teenager that pushed me over the edge. This Christmas, a 4 hour trip to Detroit turned into 6.5. My poor brother--a young bachelor jetsetter who joined us for the drive--looked like he wanted to scratch his eyes out every time we had to stop to nurse the 2 month old. It was hard on all of us. The hotel experience was even worse. We stayed at a 4.5 star hotel, but I couldn’t enjoy it between nightly feedings and my 19 month old screaming to get out of the white crib that looked like it was from the set of Rosemary’s Baby. I was horribly sleep deprived, half of us were sick, and the little energy reserves we had were spent socializing for a few hours with lots of family members.
In all honesty, I felt stuck. I questioned my life choices--and seriously. What had we done? I felt I was mourning my independence at a deeper and new level. So many things I wanted to do that got shot down by what felt like a chain and ball for each foot—one weighing 30 pounds, and the other, about 12 pounds. The plans to go on a date with my husband in my birth city. Scratched. The plans to get a spa service in our nice hotel. Deleted. The plans to hang out with cousins who I rarely see. Shot to the moon. I had been feeling this way with the aching bones, the sleepless nights, the oozing, blistery, bumpy, bloodied fingers cause by the case of dyshidrotic eczema (which started shortly after the birth of my first son), the incessant nursing and pumping of milk, lesson planning while putting a crying toddler to bed, but the trip shoved me right over the cliff.
As we drove back on the return leg of the trip, I felt dazed, confused and unhappy.
I also felt ungrateful-- and guilt for the lack of gratitude. Here I was, blessed with an emotionally generous, uncannily patient, wise, engaging husband and two healthy babies in less than 3 years. What was wrong with me? Living in Chicago, I heard many reports of violence that left families truly shattered this holiday. I had everything to be grateful for, yet I felt so unhappy and unfulfilled. Why? My hunch after some reflection: my lack of intentionality and wonder for the “mundane”.
As I head into the New Year, I am posturing myself to have a greater awareness of the beautiful mysteries, grace, and blessings of doing life and just being. I am substituting the “I get to”s for the “I have to”s. I am fixing my soul to be in a perpetual “Downward Dog” and my mind to be “present” in every action. I am committing myself to the Intentional Life.
When I awoke this morning, I drank 12 ounces of water slowly and with intention. I felt the slightly cooler than room temperature wetness smoothly move down my trachea. Though I wanted the sweetness of the oatmeal cookie from the batch my mom made for my brother, I chose the green juice that I pressed last night. No mindless and quick shoving of food into my mouth before the babies awakened. When my 19 month old stirred and fussed, I fixed my heart on compassion (instead of being annoyed that he was interrupting planned devotional time) and prayed with him. I then carefully chose a book to read to him. I read the pages, animating each character’s voice differently. I chose to feel grateful for him in those moments instead of rushed, annoyed, and interrupted. I slowed down to text a friend about her pregnancy. I carefully chopped onions for an omelet and intentionally invited my husband to stop his preparations for work to eat with me for a few minutes.
I thought about the fleeting season of dependence my boys have with me as I changed their diapers, and that made Solomon’s change more bearable (we generally have to chase him down or pin him down to change him, and it is exhausting!). I looked deeply into Elias’ eyes as he nursed, instead of thinking about the next thing I had to do. I chose to be present. I thought about the nutrients that no science can perfectly match that came out of my body to sustain my baby boy. I gave thanks for that milk instead of being frustrated that it stains my shirts and bed sheets. I gave thanks that it flows abundantly. I’m thankful now as I write about it.
This state of “present-ness” has made this day almost blissful. But I’ve done nothing new or “exciting”. I’ve been a mom, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a teacher, a writer, a housekeeper, a planner. I made no plans to travel to another continent. I have no exciting New Year’s Eve plans. In fact, I still can’t fit any of the clothes that I might wear to a NYE celebration. We’re not buying that really cool Honda Odyssey or moving into a bigger home. Yet, I am content. Perhaps, even happy.
As I write these reflections of my day, it sounds as if I were moving in slow motion. It’s not always practical to stop and read my son a book when I have to be at work at 7am. I generally move with intensity and urgency, and I will probably continue to do so as a function of personality. Yet, I now aim to fix my heart as intentionally present and gratefully check off each chore I “get to do”.