I staggered into the kitchen. A tiny hand slapped my chest over and over as I hefted his thigh higher on my hip. I leaned over the stove at my sister’s house and peeked into the tea kettle: there was enough water inside to make a cup. Clicking on the burner, I swung the baby around to the other hip and trudged to the dining room table. My dad sat behind his open laptop, a cup of coffee beside it. “Good morning Stephanie. How did you sleep? He asked.
I thought back to baby’s late bedtime, his multiple wakings, and a final rise with the sun. The first night spent away from home is usually hard on him anyhow, but that night felt particularly rough. I suspected teething.
“Not enough.” I replied as diplomatically as I could.
My dad offered his condolences, and a bowl of cereal.
Our families converged for Thanksgiving. Many of us piled sleeping around the house. My dad, who slept out in their trailer parked in the driveway of my sister’s house, looked fresh in the morning light. I filled up my teacup and walked over to see what he was doing. He picked up a piece of paper in his handwriting, and explained how he loved to sit down in the morning and choose a project on his list to tackle on the computer. He said his favorite thing was to cross off a line from his list.
I sighed wistfully. I told him my brain works much the same as his. I would LOVE to have the time and space to chose a project, do a project, and finish a project. When I told him about that, he replied, “You will. Right now you’re in a very busy time in life.” I looked at my baby, now leaning out to reach my bowl. I hoisted him into a high-chair and sprinkled the tray with Cheerios for his little fingers.
He said, “I remember when we had small children. People would tell us, ‘It goes by so fast. Love every minute. It just all goes by so fast.’ But I remember thinking, ‘No it doesn’t. It goes by painfully slow!'”
My own dad admitted to it. I feel every day (and night) of these little years. Every day. Every night. It can go by excruciatingly slow. Now, mark me: this is no commentary on my love of my children, or my dad’s love of my sisters and me when we were little. Our love of our babies has nothing to do with the amount of chronic time and energy they require, except to say that it’s all worth it. Of course it is. I absolutely enjoy my kiddos, and their little personalities. But the constancy of the mom job can wear down even the most enthusiastic of perspectives.
Let’s face it: It doesn’t go by so fast.
My sister, whose kids are the same ages as mine, says that the days seem long, and the years seem short. That sounds balanced. But she’s also married to a worship leader, so I think God tells her these sort of things while she’s in church 24/7, doing the Lord’s business with her husband. But I digress.
What my dad said gave me permission.
He gave me permission to look reality squarely in the eye, and let myself be a person too: not a beatific saint, and not a grandmother. He gave me permission to be just me: a mom, following Jesus, who gets too little sleep, and still hitches up her pants in the morning to parent all day long.
There is also a verse that is a great tool to keep me going. I used to hate it. But now I know the secret.
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
It doesn’t say, “Be thankful FOR all circumstances.” It says, “Be thankful IN all circumstances.” Phew! That lets pain still hurt. But it directs my eyes to focus on Jesus, the giver of strength and comfort. He fills my cup and gets me through it all far better than more and more coffee. It says to keep a grateful attitude, no matter what is going on in life. Did the baby sleep last night? Nope. Does Christ forgive me for snapping at my other kids for every little offense? Yep. Did I get any “me time” during baby’s nap today? Nope. Is the salvation of my soul secure in Christ? Yep. Did I feel lonely today? Yep. Do I have the Holy Spirit living in me, the “Great Comforter?” You bet. All of this is true. Being thankful IN all circumstances is a matter of focus. It’s the thing to which I choose to pay attention. It’s like, the one thing on God’s green earth that I actually can control.
So when a well-meaning grandma tells you, “It all goes by so fast. Cherish this time, because it all goes by so fast.” nod graciously. She is – after all – your elder. And you are – after all – a classy mama. But know in your heart that you are up to your eyeballs in cherished moments, and are starving for the day when you can eat a warm meal, completely uninterrupted.
Listen to my dad instead.
That morning, he had enough time to finish his cup of coffee while it was still hot, and then read my kids ten books in a row. But looking back at his own time of being a young father, he squarely remembers the slog of it all. And when he was told that it all goes by so fast, he still holds fast to his convictions.
“No, it doesn’t.”