Mothering in the Trenches

Today I feel like my two year old looks:

I think I could fall asleep just about anywhere right now.  Except I can’t, because I’m the mom and I have work to do.  Although I started the day before anyone else in my family, I have miles to go before I sleep.  So I’ll satisfy my wish to sleep by sharing these pictures of a little girl who thought she was just resting for a minute, but who has now been sleeping for over 2 hours (I did move her to the couch so she’d rest more comfortably).

As I write this, I must admit that even a busy house like mine has moments of calm.  If not, I most definitely wouldn’t have a blog.  As my two year old sleeps in a chair, my four year old also sleeps on the couch.  My oldest is off with friends, my second oldest off at a soccer tryout (yes, I thought we were done, but we’re not, and that’s ok), and three of them are playing outside.  My baby crawls around at my feet, teaching herself how to manage her sippy cup.  I have a lot to do, but I’ve reached the point that there will ALWAYS be more work to do than I have time to do it in.  If I never pause to record it, to write about how I feel, then I’m losing a layer of my life — one that offers meaning and perspective to all the other layers.  Sometimes the words seem to pour out of my mind and recording them is an investment in myself and my family, part of our story.

Today is June 4th.  I have done 34 loads of laundry since June 1.  This is not an exaggeration.  It’s my life.  I was behind on laundry before school was out.  I’ve had company in town and we went on a short vacation, so I’ve had catching up to do.  Now, I’m pretty sure that’s a lot of laundry, but I still have more to do!  I also have 5 baskets full of clothing to fold and put away.

Welcome to my life in the trenches, on the front lines of humanity.  All I’ve done this week is laundry and cleaning, but my house looks just like when I started.  My family room floor is covered with stuff.  You know, stuff.  Things that you’re tired of cleaning up, but you can’t really get rid of them because they’re relevant in someone’s life but that someone thinks the carpet is an appropriate place to keep it.  I’m tired of spending so much of my time dealing with stuff.  One of my goals this summer is to edit, edit, edit our belongings and get them down to an easily manageable level.

In the midst of these efforts, there have been moments of calm like I’ve described and moments of craziness.  Last night as I was cooking a special dinner for my son’s birthday, I also had crying children, someone on the phone, someone at the door, and 7 other children (we had friends over) involved in a craft activity in my dining room.  Naturally, that was the moment when my baby fell and bonked her head, bringing the noise and tension to a crescendo while the rice browned in the bottom of the pan.  Those are the moments when I feel like I’m going to snap, when I wonder how I got myself into this predicament and why on earth I thought I could raise a large family.

But they pass.  Only a few minutes and the baby is calmed, the telephone is silenced, the salesman at the door realizes that I’m truly not interested.  The food turns out great and everyone’s hungry tummy is soon filled.  The turmoil subsides and I’m left with another tiny lull in which to work like crazy before the next wave hits.  And it always does, in some form or another.  Slowly but surely I’m becoming more consistent in handling these moments with calmness instead of frustration.  I still need to work on the stress.  By the time dinner was ready, my shoulders and neck were so tense that I could hardly bear to shred the meat.  Honestly, though, there have always been moments like that.  They just involved fewer people and therefore a smaller chorus.  The difference is that now the lulls are my only chance to get work done, to catch up.  A few years ago the lulls meant I could do something fun, or sit down myself.  When I do that now, I’m doing it at the expense of important work.

The past few months have taught me that there will be work no matter what I do.  I cannot tell myself that I’ll read a book when the work is done.  The work is never done.  Instead, sometimes the work just needs to wait.  I have to balance this carefully, but I can’t afford to ignore the weighty matters of life that will never seem as urgent as the dishes.  I’ve got to lay down next to my youngest boy and talk about life.  I’ve got to sit and chat with my daughters.  I’ve got to read good books so that my mind will stay fresh.  I’ve got to exercise faith that in the end, it will all turn out right.

This morning I re-read the words of Julie B. Beck from the April 2010 General Conference.  Some of her comments really struck me.

“A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do.  Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important.  A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence.”

Just this morning my husband and I were talking about how our lives have reached the point that we are working as hard physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally as we were when serving missions.  Each day seems to hold the same amount of intensity and the same levels of exhaustion.  The key is to recognize that it’s designed to be that way, and that it’s a privilege to pay the price.

I continue with another passage from the same talk:

“Revelation can come hour by hour and moment by moment as we do the right things.  When women nurture as Christ nurtured, a power and peace can descend to guide when help is needed.  For instance, mothers can feel help from the Spirit even when tired, noisy children are clamoring for attention, but they can be distanced from the Spirit if they lose their temper with children.  Being in the right places allows us to receive guidance.  It requires a conscious effort to diminish distractions, but having the Spirit of revelation makes it possible to prevail over opposition and persist in faith through difficult days and essential routine tasks. … Because personal revelation is a constantly renewable source of strength, it is possible to feel bathed in help even during turbulent times.”

Wow.  As I read these words this morning, I felt great inside.  I am in the right place.  I am doing the right things.   Too often I let myself believe that the revelation I need can only come in quiet moments of tranquility.  Today I was reminded that it can and does come to mothers  in the trenches.

And so my lull has passed.  The toddlers are awake, everyone is hungry and I must gather my group in from the neighbor’s yard.  Not a single item of clothing has been folded or put away.    I am still tired, my kitchen is still dirty, and there are still miles to travel in my day.  But I am happy and somewhat refreshed, so I will call it time well spent.

Back to the trenches!  It’s the right place to be.

Hopeful Homemaker

2 comments

  • You may not have “caught up” on some of the household chores during your “lull” amount of time but you did something just as great! Your post is wonderful and when you turn your blog into a printed book, you will be so pleased and so will your children!

    They will say “Mommy was normal. She had stress, she had happiness in her family and she had love and faith in our Savior.”

    What a great way to share you feelings and testimony!

  • Brent

    Wow, Jen – You are amazing. That is quite the post and it makes me want to be better after reading it. You are an amazing mother and I love you.

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