A dove sits on her nest in the planter by the window. My brother in California sends us frequent (unsolicited) text updates on the soft grey mama bird. We see her from every angle. She waits in her manmade jungle, watching. Resting. Sitting. Protecting. A sacred vigil.
Five years ago I, too, waited for new life. It was about this time of year in the spring when I first felt the “quickening” of life fluttering in my womb. It felt like a fish nose bumping against a plastic bag won at the county fair. Life tapped my insides, reminding me I wasn’t alone. I housed a treasure.
I shared the dove’s intense desire to protect, guard and be vigilant. No poisonous food or misstep would harm this baby on my watch.
It was my pleasure to wait.
Now, three babies later, I wonder if mama dove feels isolated. Does she wish she could flit on the wind like her peers? Does she miss swooping down over the ocean at twilight? Does she resent having to stay close to home? Does she feel lonely?
And yet blood, bones, feathers and features are forming beneath her warm body. She is immobile, but not unproductive. She has less control than she thought. But miracles are happening in spite of her motionlessness. Or perhaps because of it.
Soon her nest will be full of noise and movement. Scrambling bodies demanding more food, touch and attention. No time to watch the wind or long for a day at sea.
Last week we received another picture text. Mama sitting still, awake and alert. I glance at my phone in line at the grocery story, wrangling kids and bagging groceries with a baby hanging off my body. In the parking lot, I check my phone before pulling out. My mom replied to the group text. “BABIES!!!” I scroll back to the photo, zooming in. Sure enough, three wet heads with large black eyes nestle under mama bird. It happened.
Messy life erupts from darkness.
What are you waiting for?
Do you believe your waiting is accomplishing something?
Perhaps newness is developing quietly. Silently. As you sit right where you are.
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.
I just took a personality test and discovered that I am “The Achiever.”
This wasn’t a huge surprise.
I’m the type who decides and actually follows through with goals. I wanted to be a runner, so I started running daily. I was determined to learn to cook, so I made a weekly menu and forced my roommates to join me for our home-cooked meal every day for a year. When I decided to start blogging last year, I jumped in the day before a challenge to write EVERY DAY for 31 days—and I did it. And when I moved to China and saw that a friend of mine who had been there for a month was already advancing in his language skills, I found a tutor to come over EVERY DAY to help me. And after five years, I learned to speak, read and write Chinese.
Hello. I am Leslie Verner and I am an Achiever.
But now this achiever is also a mom. I have two children with one on the way, and now any figurative race I run is a bit like competing with your legs tied together. AND you’re blind-folded. AND you have to run backwards.
So today, my major “achievements” of the day amounted to getting my children dressed, fed a semi-nutritious meal, teeth brushed, curly boy hair tamed with water and wispy girl hair combed into a tiny pony tail. I’m even proud to admit that not only are my own teeth brushed, but I even washed my hair for the first time in a week and managed to go for a walk.
At the beginning of the summer, I had aspirations of daily Bible time with my kids, running until I was 36 weeks pregnant like I did with my daughter (I made it to 20 weeks this time), visiting a diverse park in my city once a week to strike up friendships with international student families and actually planning activities using Pinterest as a springboard (ha).
What I didn’t take into account was that pregnancy would suck the wind from my self-motivated, driven, over-achieving sails. I sit here now, sails flapping in the wind, with my kids stuck (screaming) in my boat in the middle of a sea that I can’t navigate us out of. And I just can’t find the energy to hoist up these sails, make a decision about where to go or even admire the scenery.
But God is beginning to show me that this hugely pregnant body of mine that feels more like a handicap than a blessing is, in fact, swaddled tightly in grace.
Pregnancy is the strong arm that forces the achievers like me to just stop.
Stop doing, achieving, scheming, strategizing and striving and just BE. Be a mommy. Be a wife. Be a beloved daughter of God. Be served, loved and spoiled. Be simple. Cut corners. Accept foot rubs. Do less. Sit on benches. Walk slowly. Order take-out. Indulge in pedicures. Let people carry things. Take elevators. Receive.
Embrace this season of slowness that feels like weakness. There is strength to be found there.
A year ago I was training for a half marathon, running about 10 miles in a go. I explored the city, ran trails hugging the Rocky Mountains, crossed streams and laughed at prairie dogs that warned one another of my arrival just in time to dive back into their holes, their whistles trailing behind them. Today, it took me 40 minutes to walk less than two miles, with a brief stop at a bench at the halfway point. At 36 weeks pregnant, I can’t go fast or far from home. My feet pound the same steps of the same path and I’m passed by the same retired go-getters who comment that “I’m walking for two” or “Must be any day now, eh?”
But in the slowness and the sameness, I strain to hear that still, small voice that speaks to me as I pass one strong tree after another, standing stately by the stream my path parallels. The Voice whispers, “She shall be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water that brings forth its fruit in its season. And its leaf does not wither; and in whatever she does, she prospers.” And the words, strangely familiar, are the first of many such songs of hope for the weary that I happen to come across in Psalm 1 in the few minutes of quiet I snatch in the mornings.
Firmly planted. Watered. Bearing fruit.
Without even moving?
Like the story that Jesus shares with His disciples about birds not panicking over lack of food or flowers not being frantic about finding clothing, I can sink into the soil here for a little while. A constantly transplanted seed cannot thrive as well as one that stays firmly planted. And so God seems to be urging me to remain as I am. Accept this gift. Dig deep, be watered and revel in the slow work of God.
“Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth,” another psalm singer belts out.
My pregnant body is teaching me the beauty of diminishing, distilling my faith into a silent pool to soak in instead of a body of water to forge.
But this changed body is also teaching me about love.
It is only twisted God humor that chose women, who innately struggle more with body image than men, to be the ones to gain weight, be stretched, left with permanent scars and marks like the rotten milk ruts left under the lazy susan of my parent’s kitchen table, charted with purple veins mapping courses to unknown lands, left with too much saggy skin some places and not enough padding in others and a belly button that resembles a Muppet nose when all is said and done. Good one, God.
Or perhaps rather than a malicious meting out of a curse on our bodies, it is God’s upside-down way He likes to hand out unexpected blessings. A severe mercy.
Sometimes I like to stand naked in front of the mirror, marveling at this ludicrous body that doesn’t feel like mine. I tenderly touch the too-tight skin stretched over a tiny human body and soul growing within mine. I’m in awe of this mystery. But I also fear that my husband will laugh at making love to a body that is so deformed and abnormal—so different from the woman that he married. And yet all he ever says is exactly what I need to hear:
“You are beautiful.”
“You are the perfect size.”
“Your body is incredible.”
And in those moments I know that I am truly loved. Not for how fast I am, what a good cook I am, what I can achieve in school, how many languages I am fluent in, how creative of a mom I am, or how unblemished and perfect my feminine body is.
I am loved because I am loved.
Not even loved in spite of being pregnant, but loved even because I am pregnant. I’m loved just because I’m loved. And I will be loved even after this baby leaves its forever tattoos behind.
Pregnancy is a gift. God gives some women the inconvenient, uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing experience of pregnancy to teach us that we can no longer define ourselves by our achievements or by our appearance. He wants us to be weak so that we will accept help from others. He wants us to slow down so that we will notice more. He wants us to be needy so that we will look around for healing and find that He is already feeding, clothing and nurturing us in ways unique to us. He wants us to cease striving and know that He is God—and that we are not. And He wants us to change form so that we will know that we were never loved for our bodies to begin with.
And so in these final weeks of pregnancy, though I feel frustrated at being grounded when my over-achieving self wants to be out doing, I will think about those strong trees firmly planted by streams of water, calmly stretching their roots down to the stream. They do not fear heat or cold, rain or storm, because they are nourished by the Source of everything good. Just because they are not moving doesn’t mean there isn’t growth happening. And they know that not only will be they be taken care of, but that they are lavishly loved, adored even. Just like me.