Homesick: Choosing Mindfulness While My Kids are Little

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Hours before the autumn sunrise, my husband wakes. I stir, recalling the reason for his early departure. I close my eyes as he pads out of the room to set up booth 308 at a large juried craft festival in a nearby town.

An hour later, I wake again, still torn about whether to go to the festival. My kids are asleep, and I know better than to wake them. As I shower, I consider the effort required to get all of us there– the long drive, the parking, the required packing of diaper bags and coolers. I doubt my own physical stamina to keep up with three little boys who will require snacks, lunch, naps, potty breaks, and diaper changes. I picture myself trying to navigate a stroller alongside a five-year-old who stops often to pull up his socks and a seven-year-old who people-watches so intensely, he forgets to look where he’s walking. Throngs of people would be out enjoying the cooler temperatures today after weeks suspended in the 90s. I find myself longing for home and the support of family. Maybe it would be manageable if I could meet up with my family and do this together.

As much as I would have loved to visit my husband’s booth today, I finally accepted it would be too much by myself. Visiting all the different booths would require corralling three bulls through a china shop so I could inspect ceramics and delicate jewelry. I came up with a compromise for my torn thoughts. The boys built forts for most of the morning, and after lunch and naptime, I packed the stroller, but not for crowds. My kids grabbed their helmets, scooters, and water bottles. We drove to a nearby lake with no agenda other than to satisfy a craving for the outdoors, for pink cheeks and the smell of leaves burning in the distance, for the sensation of fallen sticks crunching under our sneakers and for conquering the forest with only the occasional passerby. 

I can’t always keep up with my friends these days. Their kids are getting older, and I’m still pausing for naps, nursing sessions, and diaper changes, still wrestling my two-year-old into his car seat. I feel defeated even as I embrace this season, longing for it to go on forever, for my kids to stay frozen at this magical age of childhood and wonder. They jump out of trees and run back to the stroller, “base,” for quick sips from Paw Patrol water bottles: one learning to read, one learning to tie his shoes, and one on the cusp of potty-training. I know I’ll miss it someday; everyone tells me: 

“Don’t blink, they’ll be off to college.” 

“One day you’ll miss this.”

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

“It goes by so fast.”

I wonder what my life would be like if I lived in my hometown, closer to family. Would I be more stressed, or less stressed? Would these early years of parenting have been more flexible? Would I be bored without the mountains I’ve come to love here, returning to streets I know like the back of my hand with memories saturating every place? What if my kids could have the childhood experiences I had, like working at Colonial Williamsburg? My mind slips into a complicated place as I imagine unraveling everything we’ve worked so hard for here to set up a life somewhere else. We’d need to find new schools, doctors, friends, church, jobs, and probably a hundred other things I’d only realize once we got there. 

Each day I work the carpool line at school, full of grandparents shouldering some of the burden. The extended family members who show up at school events or to bring cupcakes all live locally. I cannot even fathom what it would be like to live near family. The past seven years of juggling naps and diaper changes and snacks and lunches and strollers and nursing remind me of my own strength, even as I marvel at what I’ve learned so far during some of the most physically demanding years of parenting while living so far away from family. I’m that much more grateful for the times I have been able to lean on my family for help, especially when we travel or celebrate birthdays. I never take them for granted.

As I push the stroller over the gravel trail, I reflect on the milestones we’ve crossed three times now, one per child, and which milestones are still to come for my youngest. This time today in nature while my boys zoom ahead of me on their scooters is giving me the quiet backdrop I need to process my racing thoughts, from longing for things I’ll never have to experiences I’ll never have again. Will I ever be pregnant again? When was the last time I wore my baby carrier? Was it the last time, and I didn’t know it? Will I ever run another marathon, or even just a half? Which cloth diaper will be the last one I change?

A group of teenagers laughs in the gazebo up ahead, girls in Homecoming dresses taking selfies before heading over to their dance. I try not to let my mind wander to a dangerous place, a longing for a daughter, but the sting comes too quickly. My thoughts are conflicted between feeling maxed out with three children and still longing for a daughter, and suddenly both options feel impossible. If I didn’t feel capable of going to a craft show today with three kids, why am I even wondering what it would be like to have a baby girl?

I remember Jesus’ words in Matthew: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34, NIV).” My mind is like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, playing out all the different scenarios, before I am snapped back to the present. The boys are getting restless, throwing sticks and arguing about which way to go, my cue to switch up activities. We backtrack to the car and head over to the library, then top off our evening with ice cream before dinner and a stroll through the local thrift shop.

I recall a passage in Ecclesiastes, one that falls just before a passage I sewed onto a sampler when I was ten and working as a costumed interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil– this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3: 11-13, NIV).” 

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A healthy dose of mindfulness and contentment is helping me embrace the life we have spent years cultivating lately. Instead of browsing Zillow for new homes, we are pouring into the one we have, hanging framed pictures that have been sitting on the floor for over a year and rearranging our bedroom to make room for a new reading chair. We painted over the suffocating yellow walls in my son’s bedroom and switched out his yellow bedding for beautiful grays and whites. I’ve let up on my TBR list of self-development books and have been enjoying novels again. I let up on my side business and haven’t noticed any change in sales, even while replacing striving with peacefulness. 

Lately I’ve seen just how easily life can change on a dime, whole worlds turning upside down, and I am all the more grateful for what we have cultivated here in this place.

 

Seeking Contentment in Every Season

Seeking contentment

When was the last time you felt true contentment in your life?

For months now, I’ve relished a feeling of peace and contentment that I’ve been missing for years. But just recently, I feel like something is off, as if there’s a hole in my life, and I’m desperately trying to put my finger on the crux of it. Perhaps it’s a certain longing, knowing that the infant stages are slowly slipping through my fingers as I begin to purge my house of baby gear and infant boy clothes. And, if we’re being honest, the girl clothes I had been saving, just in case.

I go through phases of wondering what it is, trying to fill this longing myself.

Is it staying home with my baby? I pray relentlessly about that option, knowing that my heart wants nothing more.

Is it writing? Writing has always fulfilled me, and it’s the one dream that has remained constant since I was seven. I build a blog, start a new writing Instagram account, join a writer’s membership group, and submit articles to magazines. I write 62,000 words and then let it sit for two months. I debate about going to a conference with an all-star lineup of motivational author-speakers.

Is it throwing myself more into my school counselor role? I continue to build yet another Instragram platform and create content for my Teachers Pay Teachers store for other school counselors to use. I write a children’s book and keep it under wraps, wondering whether to seek out a publisher. I make a spreadsheet comparing different publishers.

Is it a combination of some of these things? Staying home and writing? I look into my options for opening a daycare in my home to fund my dreams but quickly realize that would not fulfill the longing in my heart, instead adding wear-and-tear on a house that’s already impossible to keep clean underneath three small boys and their messes.

Is it a new pet? I research cats, visit SPCAs, donate to local shelters, and fill out endless adoption applications all over the country. I clear my schedule for a last-minute trip to another state to meet a potential puppy to rehome, my family just one of several other families hoping to be considered. I take my boys to play with puppies both at the pet store and at a breeder’s farm, just to hone in on which breed/age might be the perfect to later adopt for our family from a rescue. My arms are empty, with nothing to show for it except a newfound cat allergy and 13 applications that were never quite fast enough despite relentless searching and refreshing.

I return to something that absolutely fulfills me, one of the fondest memories with each of my babies.

I commit to rocking my baby during his naps. It’s that simple. I turn on my essential oils diffuser, close the blackout curtains, and for two-to-three glorious hours every afternoon, I rock my sweet baby. Desperate to make up for all the naptimes I miss when I’m at work August through May, I attempt pack 10 months’ worth of snuggles into two months. I let my friends and neighbors know I’m not available in the afternoons for playdates. I race home from whatever summer morning adventure we’ve been on, obsessing over getting lunch on the table before noon because I know that around 12:15, the baby will start fussing from his highchair, anxious for his nap and that blissful quiet, one-on-one time with Mommy.

My older boys (ages 3 and 5) know not to disturb naptime, although that doesn’t stop them from running full-speed into the nursery, flinging the door open to tattle or ask for snacks a dozen different times in piercing whispers and whines. But the baby’s afternoon nap has become a sacred tradition in our home. My Hillsong playlist cued up on iHeart Radio and the scent of Sweet Orange diffusing in the nursery cue my baby’s whimpering to become giddy coos when we enter his darkened room. This time is just as important to him as it is for me, especially since he is the youngest of three little boys and cannot always have my full attention. He nurses and is asleep within seconds, it seems, but I don’t put him down in his crib. This is as beautiful a rest for me as it is for him. I never fall asleep– despite only sleeping 5 hours each night– instead, I marvel at how unfathomable God’s love is for me, as I rock my sweet boy. I know that one day, he’ll have dreams and goals of his own, but for now, his love and need for me is probably at its greatest. I also realize my mom’s love for me as I rock my baby the way that she rocked me. She always sang to me, no exceptions. I don’t always, if we’re being honest. I let iHeartRadio take care of the soundtrack most of the time.

The baby’s still-fuzzy newborn hair turns sweaty and strawberry blonde with the full weight of his melonhead pinching my left forearm. His baby toes are too adorable for words and I know that even as we rock, they’re quickly becoming dirty, stinky, little boy feet.

My heart is already sick knowing that these special moments will come to an end when I return to work on July 30, less than two months away. I’ll still have weekends, of course, but I’m afraid we’ll lose this bond once he’s back at a sitter and our weekends are full with family time.

I fiercely guard my sweet time with him. The house is almost quiet. I bury my nose in his soft cheek and marvel at the beauty of this baby. He was completely a gracious gift of God, one for whom, for a long time, I felt undeserving. So much on social media makes it seem like some mothers are more worthy of a pregnancy than others, that some babies are more of a miracle than others. That guilt has always ridden my pregnancies of the full joy I should have been embracing, along with the burden of fear of yet another miscarriage.

It took me years –and four pregnancies–to realize that I am responsible for my own feelings about these things. My wise sister told me during my 4th pregnancy that I was just as deserving of that pregnancy as anyone else. No exceptions. I’ve stopped trying to stifle my own joy to protect myself, to guard my heart from fully embracing the gift, one for which I’ve never felt deserving. I’ve stopped trying to please everyone at the expense of my own mental health. Because, for the most part, it’s just wasted energy, and will hurt my confidence and stamina as a mother.

As I rock, I still wonder about this longing in my heart. Ultimately, I am the only one who will pursue my dreams; I care the most about them. I am on this journey with God. Other people have their own paths, and while I have the beautiful option to encourage and support them, ultimately they are going to see their dreams through (or not), because they most likely care more about them than anyone else.

I wish I knew, six years ago, that family time is one of my most cherished gifts. I wish I knew that I could say no to other things–good things, even– to commit more time to family. I never realized that simple family time is just as valid a commitment as any appointment on my calendar. My oldest went to a sitter at only 7 weeks old because I didn’t know I could take 12 weeks of maternity leave. I’ll never get that time back.

I’ll never get it back.

So mama, take care of yourself. Look out for yourself, because no one else is going to walk God’s marvelous path for you. No one is going to pursue your dreams for you because you care about them the most. This includes your priorities. If rocking my baby to sleep is a priority, I treat it just as importantly as I would a doctor’s appointment, and I refuse to feel guilty or indulgent about it, because it is just as worthy an excuse as anything else. Our priorities are worth it. Our relationship with God is worth it. My 15-month-old is certainly worth it.

Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Feature image by Kathy Denton Photography