It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 22 minutes. In 22 minutes, you can shower (no hair washing–that’s no longer a daily priority), get dressed and possibly even put on make-up. You can journal, read your Bible and contemplate the life and words of Jesus. You can clean the kitchen and maybe even sweep the dried up cheese and peas off the floor. You can (nearly) do a Jillian Michaels workout video. Or you can steep a cup of Bengal Spice tea, breathe in cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves and sit down at your computer. Like I’m doing right now.
Why 22 minutes? You’ve probably already guessed. Only the best survival tool of motherhood: T.V.
With three children four and under, most days I feel like I’m operating in survival mode. Many days my husband and I grab each other by the shoulders in the kitchen, give those shoulders a shake, look one another square in the eye and proclaim: “You can do this. WE can do this.” Sometimes we even high-five. Lest I one day re-read this after gazing at pictures of my adorable children and wonder what the big deal was, let me explain.
My son never sleeps past 5:15 AM. Ever. (And YES, we bought the clock that turns green when it’s 6 AM–but we haven’t found a clock that forces your child back to sleep until they are supposed to wake up.) We wake up to variations of stomping down the hallway, our door squeaking, followed by, “Can I wake up now?” or yelling from down the hallway: “CAN SOMEBODY WIPE MY BOTTOM!?” Some mornings we have cuddles on the couch, but most days there is much shrieking, yelling, fighting and crying as my husband gets cheerios and raisins and situates the kids in front of the T.V. while he grinds the beans and makes us his home-roasted French press coffee (yes, we are coffee snobs–simple pleasures, my friends).
Every.single.event. is a battle. Who knew I would practically cry or throw my own tantrum every day over trying to get another human being to perform basic hygiene or reasonable habits? Brushing teeth, getting dressed, going to the bathroom, putting on shoes and socks and simply eating food are now events I need to mentally prepare for or else I will have a break down.
Mealtime with small children is the worst. Why do we bother giving them plates? The food spends more time on the table than on the plates and most days my son says “YUCK” after I’ve spent an hour cooking. And the crumbs. There are always–always–crumbs. Not to mention food smears, hidden “delights” and sticky railings. I smash cheerios into our cheerio-colored carpet on a daily basis. My son’s room has no pictures left on the walls (he pulled them all off and broke them), has crayon on the wall, a make-up stain on the carpet (from when they “borrowed” my foundation) and chunks out of the paint on the wall from when the glider chair became a carnival ride.
My children have very bad snot-management. It’s exactly as you imagine–and probably worse. I spend more time at the doctor’s office than I do with my closest friends.
Yes, they are cute and funny and say things like “tormado” for tornado, “nummy” for yummy and “bo-manna” for banana. There is love and laughter and hilarity in a way that I have never experienced before. Yes. But, mama who is in this boat with me–we know this is HARD. Here are some ways I am surviving–and even (in very small increments) thriving.
1. Monday Rituals.
My children take ONE bath a week (unless they are so visibly dirty that I’ll be embarrassed to take them anywhere). I am not usually a ritual-type of person, but this is saving me. On Mondays, we stay home. I put a load of laundry in, make an extra cup of coffee and herd the crew into the bathroom. I grab a book and attempt to read for as long as the baby stays happy flat on his back on the bathroom rug. Now that he’s five months old, I bathe him in the tub with other two. He splashes like it’s his job and the other two shriek and beg me to take him out. After this, we all put on “comfy clothes” and pull out their activity boxes and trays downstairs to do some simple non-pinteresty craft like gluing pasta or cotton balls onto construction paper.
2. The Children’s Museum.
We drive an hour to the Denver Children’s Museum nearly every week. It sounds crazy and like a waste of time, but I’ve discovered that this is the only way I can legally strap my children down for an hour while I listen to podcasts. At first I wondered about the morality of taking my children to a place where there were few rules and every part revolved around them. Then I discovered the freedom: Wait. A place I could take my children where I don’t have to tell them: “No!” “Don’t!” or “Stop that!” for an entire morning? Brilliant. This is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving–if you have a Children’s Museum anywhere within 60 miles of where you live, ASK FOR THIS FOR CHRISTMAS.
Fortunately, my husband doesn’t need to be at work until 9 am, so this is more feasible for us, but running for thirty minutes every-other day at 7 AM keeps me sane. I’m alone, outside and moving my body. But on snowy days, work-out videos on YouTube have also been a saving grace. Though they often get in the way (and more often get into mischief), these can be done with the kids in the room and they often try to join in.
4. Nights out.
My husband and I schedule date nights at least twice a month. At times when money is tight, we go to Starbucks. On better months, we go for sushi or a movie. Last month we went barn dancing, which was cheap and so fun! Why don’t people dance anymore? This month, we realized that we can still bring our baby to the movie, which means we can stay out without the stress of wondering when the baby will wake up and need to eat. I also try and meet friends for coffee or a drink (now that I have a few friends–hooray!).
Okay, so I don’t have much time for hobbies unless they involve my children since I am the stay-at-home parent. One of my hobbies is traveling, which happens um, never, now that I have children. So I’ve found a way to travel without traveling and have gotten involved in the International Women’s Club at the university near us. It meets the SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) criteria: during the day, before naptime, has other kids, snacks AND toys. I also love being outdoors, so I drag us all outside as much as possible. What do you love? How could you involve your kids in that?
6. Inventive Spirituality.
Sounds nutty, but it’s simple. Apart from the 22 minutes (or 44 … let’s be honest) that my husband and I have for quiet time in the morning, there is not a lot of space in my day for meditation, prayer or reflection. I am a part of a weekly Bible study, that I quickly do the DAY OF, but it provides the accountability I need to be in the Bible on a regular basis.
And I have a few apps and podcasts that help me think about spiritual things throughout my day:
You Version app: this has the Bible in many translations, but also has reading plans, devotionals and even devos and videos for kids. And it’s mostly free!
Laudate app: though I’m not Catholic, I have still loved this app. Here you can find daily readings, the liturgy of the hours, daily prayer, and a daily Bible verse. It was perfect for those early days of nursing when I was up at all hours.
The Practice Podcast: Better than a podcast and more than just a sermon, this podast provides a whole worship experience with a message, music and questions for reflection.
Pray As You Go Podcast: This is a daily prayer, scripture and meditation guide. It has been perfect for mornings when my husband goes on a run and I am preparing breakfast for my kids because we can listen to Scripture (often read more than once) and start our day in the right headspace. Thanks to Megan Tietz of Sorta Awesome Podcast for this recommendation!
7. Using My Brain.
This is a hard one when you live in Daniel Tiger World, but it is so necessary. I listen to podcasts any time I can, am in a book club and am involved in online communities related to racial reconciliation and social justice. I write to think (which is why I haven’t written as much these days …. when my body is tired, my brain stops working).
8. Trying to Be Sweeter.
I don’t have a saccharin personality. There was a good reason I was a middle school teacher not a primary school teacher. But I’m trying to sweeten up and learn the love languages of gush and snuggles. I’m trying to tune the tone of my voice so that I don’t always sound so eager, angry or frustrated. I’m learning to pretend I’m peppy.
9. Noticing Small.
Some complain that people use Instagram as a way to make their life seem perfect. I’m using it to notice the beauty in mine. John Updike famously said that he wanted to “give the mundane its beautiful due.” I’m striving to do this. I’m chasing beauty in my ordinary, mundane, boring life as a mom. And if Instagram helps me do that, then it is a worthy tool.
10. Permission to be Imperfect.
I can’t tell you how many times in the last five months I’ve had to rewash a load of clothes. And I think there is a direct correlation to how large your library fines are and how many children you have. My counters need wiping, the floors are strewn with toys, my bathroom looks like a science experiment and sometimes I strap my kids into their car seats in the garage long before I’m actually ready to leave the house. I let my children ride the toy horses at the grocery store five times as I check out (this is actually my most brilliant discovery yet–not only bribery, but one cent bribery!). BUT. They are clothed, fed, washed, and cared for. And even if I am sometimes merely surviving … they are thriving.
I need to remember that–and so do you.
You are doing good work, mama. You are loving the best way you know how with the time, energy and resources you have been given. And do you know what your kids are going to remember twenty years from now?
They are going to remember that hike you took them on, the way you laughed at their jokes and tickled them until they couldn’t talk. They are going to remember the songs you hummed as you scrubbed pans and the way you smelled when you snuggled next to them in bed. They are going to remember the dance parties in the kitchen, how you let them help you make waffles and the way you prayed with them before bed. They will remember that you did the voices as you read, sat with them on the floor and chased bunnies together in the front yard. Mama, you are doing an amazing job. You do you. Keep up the good work. And don’t discount the value of a 22 minute reprieve (in fact, don’t feel guilty about that even for a second). Most likely, it is just the breather you need to make you an even better mama in the end.