Contentment

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I will not waste my life on envy.

It’s easy to fall into, being envious. Facebook makes it easy to see who’s taking vacations, who’s having a child, who’s gotten a promotion, who’s lost the baby weight. Pinterest makes it easy to build the perfect life – dream house, dream wardrobe, dream body, dream spouse.

But when that’s how I spend my time, what I have doesn’t look so good anymore. My house is too small, my wardrobe too outdated, my bank account too puny.

They say the grass is always greener on the other side, but the truth is, it’s greener where you water it. If I spend all my time and energy focused on a life I don’t have, I’m watering someone else’s grass. My life becomes dry and desolate because of my inattention to it.

Other people’s lives take them down different paths. Some of them end up with bigger homes or better bodies. And that’s okay. What they have does not have to diminish what I have, unless I let it.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old, but I better understand now how fragile and temporary this life is. I don’t know how much time I get here, so I refuse to spend one second envying the logo on someone else’s flip flops. Or lusting after their granite countertops … or their granite abs.

I will not spend my days wondering “what if” and thinking “if only.” Not when I’m lucky enough to be married to the love of my life, a man who embraces my flaws and encourages me daily. And not when I have two healthy children, who are still young enough to think I’m the best.

I will nurture my marriage and my children. I will embrace all 1,600 square feet of my home and make it a warm and inviting refuge. I will accept that my body post-kids will always be a little softer.

I want my days filled up with what I have, not emptied by what I don’t.

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When Does It Get Easier?

My good friend Erin and I had our babies just three weeks apart – it was her first, my second. We texted frequently in those early weeks, commiserating about our lack of sleep and sharing pictures of our adorable babies. We texted on good days and not-good days, knowing we always had someone who would appreciate what we were going through. She asked me new-mom questions, and I tried to offer encouragement and reassurance whenever I could.

Until one day, when she texted me the question that every new parent has asked: “When does it get easier?” I don’t know if this makes me a good friend or a bad one, but rather than reassure her that at three months/when she sleeps through the night/fill-in-the-milestone it would get easier, I told her the truth: it doesn’t.

It doesn’t get easier. Honestly, there is no phase easier than the newborn one. You have one task: keep your baby alive. We make that task more complicated than it needs to be, of course, with debates over bottles vs. breast, cloth vs. disposable diapers, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping. But really, it’s quite simple. Feed your baby something appropriate; diaper your baby with something that contains the pee and poo (mostly, anyway); clothe your baby in something comfortable; put your baby to sleep in something safe. Cuddle her, snuggle her. Keep her safe and make sure she knows she’s loved. It may not be easy, but it’s pretty simple.

But then, she grows up some. And you realize that keeping her alive is a lot more challenging once she can climb stairs. And jump off things. And run out into streets. And when she won’t eat anything except goldfish crackers for days on end (the pediatrician says she won’t starve herself, but you Google, just to be sure).

Then she grows up a little more, and you realize that merely keeping her alive isn’t enough anymore. You also have to actually parent her. You have to teach her not to hit when she’s angry. You have to teach her to be kind to others and share her toys.

And, when this phase happens, it dawns on you. You cannot teach her anything without demonstrating it first. Kids are sponges, and she’s soaking you up all day long, every single day. If you want her to be kind, you must be kind. If you want her to be generous, you must be generous. If you want her to control her temper, you must control your temper. Parenting isn’t just about shaping her character – it’s about shaping yours. And so you curb your language, and you drive a little slower and more courteously, because you know she’s listening and watching. And you make sure to adopt a child who’s about her age from the Angel Tree at Christmas, so she can help you shop and learn about sharing love and kindness with everyone, even those who come from very different backgrounds.

Then she grows up a little more, and you’re trying to help with math homework that you don’t understand. And the girls at school are mean to her and make her cry, and you are shocked at how much you want to hurt them for hurting her. Then there are first loves and first heartbreaks and learning to drive and going to college … and letting go.

So no, it doesn’t get easier than those first few weeks. It gets so much harder, in fact. But it does get better.

It gets better, because you get better. Each phase of parenting feels overwhelming at first. You think “how am I going to do this?” on good days, and “why did I want kids?” on bad days. But then, little by little, you find your groove or a trick that works. You learn how she likes to be soothed, that she likes her sandwiches in triangles instead of rectangles, that she’ll open up and tell you what’s on her mind in the 15 minutes before bedtime every night.

And it gets better, because you realize you’re not alone in your struggles. Every mom who’s gone before you, is coming behind you and is standing next to you has felt what you feel. We are all bone tired; even the ones who look so put together. We are all terrified of getting it wrong; even the ones who make getting it right look effortless. And once you realize this, it gets better because a burden shared is a burden lightened.

There is no part of parenting that is easy. It starts at overwhelmingly difficult, and only ratchets up from there. But you learn that “hard” is not synonymous with “bad.” And you learn to embrace the paradox of a job that gets harder the better you are at it.

It’s probably not the most comforting thing to hear when you’re just starting out on this journey of parenting (sorry, Erin!). But while it may not get any easier, trust me – it’s going to keep getting better.

A Snail’s Pace

One of the hardest things about having kids is getting smacked in the face daily by your own flaws and shortcomings. I am full of flaws (my family would be happy to provide a list for your perusal, I’m sure), but the one that I hate the most as a mom is my impatience.

I’ve never been a patient person. I drive fast, I talk fast, I eat fast. I’m a terrible listener and, despite years of trying to self-correct the habit, I will frequently interrupt people I consider to be “slow talkers” to try and help them get to their point faster. Ew, right?

Because God thinks he’s hilarious, I fell in love with and married a man who moves at a slow and methodical pace. FOR EVERYTHING. Jon eats slowly, walks slowly, talks slowly. Incidentally, he is also a fantastic listener. Honestly, between my messiness and my impatience, you should wonder what he sees in me.

It’s too soon to tell with the little one, but my son has inherited Jon’s “thoroughness,” as Jon calls it. (I call it slowness.) Nathan cannot be rushed for anything. So you can imagine what my days with the kids look like. The words “come on, Nathan” and “hurry up, Nathan” must be said at least 50 times. After telling him for five minutes to put on his shoes, only to watch him slowly attempt it for the next two minutes, I find myself grabbing his shoes and putting them on his feet myself, grumbling about him taking so long. He spends another three minutes selecting a toy to take in the car. By now, there’s steam coming out my ears. “Just get in the car, Nathan!” I snap. And then those big, beautiful brown eyes, with the impossibly long eyelashes (also inherited from his dad), meet mine. And they look so sad. And he ducks his head and says “sorry, Mom.”

And then it comes. Guilt, strong and powerful, washing over me. There’s no reason for my rushing him. We’re just going to the library, and there’s no specific time we need to be there. The only reason for my shortness is my impatience. We all learn to swallow the doses of mom guilt early and often, but none taste quite as bitter as when my shortcomings hurt my son for no good reason. He may take forever to accomplish the smallest tasks, but he is also gentle, empathetic, kind and generous. He’s who I want to be, when I’m finally done growing up.

Maybe it’s because I get so much practice, but I do have at least one redeeming quality – I’m quick with an apology. Swiftly, I kneel down in front of him, lift his chin and look deeply into his solemn little face.

“I’m sorry, buddy. I shouldn’t have been impatient. Go ahead and pick your toy.” And because a three year old’s capacity for forgiveness is unrivaled, I get a beaming smile and all is forgotten … On his part, anyway.

As for me, I’m reminded again to stop rushing, slow down and be patient with my sweet little snail. These years are flying by fast enough.

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I love this sweet boy.