During a rare lunch away from my workplace yesterday and out with The People, I overheard these words from an exhausted-sounding Mom, to one of her two young boys: "Stop talking!"
It caught my ear, mostly because to me (the mom who was not the one at her wits' end), it sounded harsh. I've heard pleas to stop screaming, stop whining, stop hitting or running or bullying. Talking was an offense that seemed not-so-offensive.
Then I realized this must be a Mom who is around her kids a lot...a LOT a lot. This must be a Mom who could actually use a break.
Two of my best girlfriends and I have been having an ongoing discussion about motherhood (and religion and current events and sexuality and family...) over an app called Voxer for a few months now. Recently, we were talking about this very parenting question: how much time is the EXACT right amount of time to spend with your kids so that everybody is happy?
Hint: that is a question with no answer.
The reason there is no right answer is that it never comes down to the amount of time a Mom has with her child(ren); it has more to do with what happens during the time she has.
One of my girlfriends works many hours a week teaching at a university, many more hours grading papers, and many more hours driving to and from school and to her parents' house to transport her young daughters for childcare. She doesn't feel like the time she has left with her kids is quality time.
The other girlfriend is home all day with three children--an infant, a toddler, and a fifth grader whom she home-schools. She feels like so MUCH of her time is spent directly caring for, preparing food for, cleaning up after, disciplining and teaching her children, her time is also not of the quality she would like.
They are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are left with similar feelings.
The time I am able to spend with my son is dictated both by a shared custody schedule and my job (which has asked a lot of extra time of me the past 6 weeks, with two out of three employees in my position out until mid-March). Whatever the amount of time I am able to spend with him--it never feels like enough. And it definitely doesn't feel like enough of the kind of quality time I'd like: the time to take him on frequent outings, to play in the sun and at the playground and with friends; time to visit children's museums and the beach. It's not that we don't have any time for these things. I just want more of it.
But there are a million things I would like to have in an ideal world.
I caught a bit of an Oprah interview the other day with Nate Berkus...I don't know much about him except that he's a designer with his own show and multiple lines of interior design products. Anyway he was talking about losing his boyfriend to the Tsunami of 2004, when the two were on vacation in Sri Lanka. He talked about the difficulty in moving past that loss and coming to terms with your life where it is, as opposed to where you thought it would be.
I realized I have a lot of work to do in that area. Gratitude comes *somewhat* naturally to me, and I try to make up for what doesn't come naturally by making the conscious effort to appreciate. But I see now that I am still missing the joy of the moment every time my mind wanders to the things I don't have--namely, enough time with my baby.
I know that every day that passes in which I have yet to accept my life exactly where it is, I am keeping myself from moving forward. I see that it would be easy to spend 18 years wishing things were different and that I could have enough time with my son to be annoyed by his simply talking, like that mom at lunch yesterday.
And that would be a grave disservice to us both.
It is clear that no parent feels his or her situation is perfect, regardless of whether or not we feel we have control over it. But I also know that every effort I can make to accept the amount of time I have with my son, love and bless my life for every moment I've been gifted--in or out of his presence, and keep mindfully aware of the joy of every single chance I have to love him...well all of those efforts will be rewarded.
My son will feel my appreciation for our lives and know that I love him for exactly what he is to me in the here and now--not what he could be in some idyllic version of things.
Hopefully, he will learn by example that his level of happiness is a direct result of what percentage of his being has made the true and concerted choice to be happy with the life he has, even as he is free to make all the changes within his power to make it better, if that's what he wants.
I thought I'd done a lot of soul searching over the past few years. Well, I have. But I see now that I've hardly scratched the surface. On this cold, rainy winter day just perfect for my contemplative mood, I send out a prayer--to whom or what I'm not sure. It's a prayer for wisdom and clarity, and for the means to find the kind of peace that comes from true acceptance and happiness, in parenthood and all areas of life...