For the past two months, I have been at home taking care of our newborn daughter. She’s adorable, incredibly alert, and usually snuggly.
Perhaps the most frequent piece of parenting advice I’ve received is “Enjoy this time; it goes so fast.” That’s true… except when it doesn’t.
At three AM when 15 minutes with a sleepless, fussy baby feels like three hours. When you realize that the accumulated sleep debt is affecting your brain’s ability to process information. During an errand that would have been a mindless 30 minutes pre-baby turns into a two hour ordeal. Checking in on work email and realizing that you really miss your colleagues and the intellectual engagement of your job.
While I love her intensely, there are certainly moments in which enjoyment is the furthest thing from my mind, and I’d love to be doing something, anything, else.
The paradox is that this time with a child is exactly what I’d longed for in the abstract for years and in the concrete for months. While watching others hold their children. When hoping for a positive pregnancy test of our own. Although I am looking forward to returning to teaching in a little more than a month, I also suspect that these moments with her will be the ones I find myself thinking wistfully back on.
I choose a poem each school year and, given my current station in life, one that our priest posted recently on Facebook seems particularly apt.
When I am inside writing, all I can think about is how I should be outside living.
When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.
When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.
I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.
On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,
For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.
I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.
So instead, I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.
When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.
All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.
And even if it is just for one moment,
I know I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.
(As performed by Sarah Kay in Scripps College Commencement Speech, 16 May 2015)
I find it so easy to want to be somewhere else in the midst of so many seasons of life, to be looking forward to what comes next or mourning what I’ve left behind. This FOMO (fear of missing out) seems a hallmark of so much of modern life and, more often than I’d like, the space on my head. Gratitude, Kay suggests, may not take away FOMO, but it can help us avoid wishing our lives away.
In addition to pushing back against FOMO, Brene Brown writes that gratitude also fights the anxiety and fear that find their way into the hearts of parents. Anne Lamott names thank as one of the three essential prayers.
This school year, abbreviated though it will be, I’m hopeful I can be grateful for where I am at the moment.