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.

 

Releasing Worry Over Circumstances We Cannot Control

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I needed a release more than I knew. I realized it today in a small 4′ x 4′ dressing room on the second floor of the hospital, where my trembling arms cinched the ties of a deep pink hospital shirt, the color of hope. The color of strength. The color of fear.

My shaking hand signed the paperwork minutes before. My stint in the waiting room wasn’t long enough, much preferring to be there over learning of any new news back in the exam room. Older women sitting around me complained of their grown children’s entitlement at holidays, but all I could hear was their bitterness. I wondered if this was how they avoided bigger worries, the sort that brought them to this particular waiting room on the second floor of the hospital, here in the cancer center.

Someone outside my dressing room talked about her breast cancer diagnosis at 35. A concerned nurse asked me if my doctor talked to me about early mammograms. I wondered if she knew something I didn’t, if her question was actually a suggestion, though my insurance policy doesn’t agree.

“Hop up on the stretcher here,” the tech instructed as we entered the tiny exam room. Her tone was warm. I recognized her from every other time I’ve been here and was relieved that I wouldn’t be going through this ultrasound alone.

Lying on my back, I breathed slowly and methodically. In this supine position, the tears could only pool unless I allowed myself to release them. I counted tiles– six across, six down. Another square room, this whole place just a grid within the hospital, with all news delivered in the style of Russian roulette.

The news came quickly. The tumor had disappeared in a year’s time. At the sight of my tears, my tech was quick to reassure me that although it might have just shrunk, it would never turn into cancer. She didn’t actually use that formidable word, she strategically used the word “anything.” I knew what she implied. She made a few jokes trying to ease the burden of my spilling tears. She assumed they came from a place of relief for the good news, and I suppose they did. I had kept them at bay, all the worry I hadn’t allowed myself to dwell on in the midst of holiday busyness, work obligations, and all that accompanies motherhood. I hadn’t allowed myself to think about it for 367 days, the span since the last time I was here.

But this release would have come regardless of whether the news was good or bad. All the worry my body had been carrying gave way in the knowing. This news meant that I could still nurse my baby, that my own body had not betrayed me. In those short moments before the doctor walked in, I had finally allowed myself to consider every possible scenario, and I was scared.

I looked at the ultrasound and thought what a slap in the face it is that ultrasounds can be used to deliver both good news and heartache. It was an ultrasound that first informed me that I had lost my first pregnancy. Other ultrasounds allowed me to see healthy, growing baby boys. And this very wand would detect a tumor and then, a year later, lose track of it.

“One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.” – John the Cross as quoted by Madeleine L’Engle in “Walking on Water,” 156.

Back in my car, my head throbbed. My heart ached despite the best news I could have gotten today, and for that news, I am so thankful. I’m grateful for my doctor and tech with wonderful bedside manner. I can only imagine them having to sit alongside women going through so much more than I’ve had to go through, reassuring women with much bigger fears and problems than I have. But they also made me feel as if my concern was not insignificant. It wasn’t unnoticed. And it was unfair and worrisome. It’s my burden to deal with, but ultimately it’s not my burden to carry.

It has always, always been God’s burden. It was there in God’s hands before I ever noticed it. and He will keep his hand on it even when technology can’t find it.

In an hour, it was all over. Suddenly, I’m desperate to get home to coffee and warmth and to get out of this cold December rain. Carrying an umbrella through the cancer center parking lot on the way in felt ridiculous; raindrops were the least of my concerns. But gripping that umbrella was within the realm of my control when everything else was not.

Today I expected to wake up and wrap presents all day. Instead, I spent the morning in much-needed prayer, filled with both worship and worry. I overheard my six-year-old explaining to my four-year-old why I had to go to the hospital this morning, that I have bumps near my milk that I have to get checked. That was the best way I could explain it to him so that he wouldn’t worry but also know that this was something important for mommy to get checked out, so that one day when he’s a dad, he can support his wife if she ever has to go through this. Or hold his own daughter’s hand and let her know that she’s not alone even when it feels that way. That God is always with her and that she is always, always prayed over. God will hold onto our worries until we are ready to release them completely.