A friend recently passed on to me the article Don’t Carpe Diem written by Glennon Melton, which I have since found made the rounds in just about every “mom” circle about a dozen times. I glanced at it, read the first few lines and wrote back “this is gold– I can’t tell you how many times people have told me that, and it makes me frantic too!” Then I sat down and read through the article and realized that the author and I were touching different parts of the elephant.
The fact is, as mothers we have all been told a thousand times to “enjoy it! it goes so fast!” and that sort of thing. It gets tiresome at times, but just about as tiresome as anything else you’ve been told to do constantly and yet constantly fail at. When people say “they grow up so fast” what they are really saying is “life goes by so fast”. Seeing kids grow up is just the alarm that makes us realize it, which is why I think mothers hear more than their fair share of these types of encouragements. This being said, I definitely sympathize with the frantic feeling that Ms Melton describes every time someone “encourages” her this way. In my case I’ve come to realize this feeling is really one of two things:
1. A feeling of anxiety because I really haven’t been grateful when I should be, and isn’t that a miserable way to spend a wonderful life?
or 2. Anxiety because I really have been trying to enjoy and be grateful, even frantically so, but the moments just keep slipping by. And all too soon I know that little tousled toe-head will move on and move out, and I won’t get to peer into his crib at night or take him to the park, and then what….?
Ms Melton is fully aware of the feeling of failure: “I used to worry that not only was I failing to do a good enough job at parenting, but that I wasn’t enjoying it enough. Double failure.” This is a visceral feeling that every self-aware mother identifies with, which is part of why I think this article has been so wildly popular. The good news is that while she might be a double failure, we are all TOTAL FAILURES– both at doing and enjoying whatever it is that God has laid out for us– and that’s OK! As long as we admit it, repent of it and move forward in faith.
To flesh that out a little, real enjoyment isn’t rolling on the ground laughing from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed and all the time between naps. That much Ms Melton gets right. However, I think it robs life and the God who gives it to us to say that joy only comes in tiny moments she calls “Kairos time”, or that there is only joy in having parented, not in parenting. As precious as those moments are when our children are obedient/adorable or maybe just sleeping or even grown and gone, real joy is not found in those alone. It is found by taking the fun times and the hard ones and being grateful through both. It doesn’t need a fancy name, it doesn’t need to be discovered by a 21st century writer/blogger/mother, it’s pretty simple and it’s been around since the beginning of time. It’s called a grateful heart. It entails looking at your child who is screaming at the top of his lungs and trying to throw himself out of the stroller (to use a recent example) and still being able to enjoy the gift that they are because you knew they were going to be sinful (just like you) and demand impossible things of you, and be so selfish that they don’t even care if you’ve slept eaten or gone to the bathroom– AND YET they are still a wonderful gift! and full of promise! And although she doesn’t seem to realize it, what Ms Melton calls “Kairos” is, at it’s root, actually just age-old gratitude.
And that’s the rub. What we want to be told is what Ms Melton comes to as the conclusion of her article: find moments of joy/”Kairos” in this crazy difficult existence of motherhood and it’s all good. The problem with that is that it leaves a gaping hole– well o.k., maybe not a gaping hole– maybe just one large enough for a child to fall through. You see, I think children can tell when we are just gritting our teeth and bearing it (by which we really mean “them”) albeit finding moments of joy– and when we are actually enjoying ALL OF IT and therefore ALL OF THEM.
God expects us to be tight-rope walkers of a sort. He expects us to balance between loving and receiving the goodness He gives us in this life (which includes our children), and not expecting those things to ultimately fulfill us. He wants us to take deep, wonderful, ridiculous joy in our kids and to still realize that they are not the source of our joy. I can fall off that tightrope on either side and I’ve developed a little test to tell me which it is so that I know how to get back on when confronted by that “enjoy it” person in the grocery store. If I feel like the member of a chain gang that someone just walked up beside and barked an order to “enjoy it!”, chances are, I have fallen off on the ungrateful side. If, on the other hand, I feel like a person eating their last meal, trying to eek out every second of joy, every flavor, and then someone pokes their head in my cell and says “enjoy it!” chances are my misplaced expectations are making me frantic.
If, however, I am in the middle of the grocery store and things have gotten rather hairy and someone tells me to “enjoy it”, and I feel like saying, “Thanks, that’s a good reminder. I am enjoying this imperfect situation to the fullest realizing that it’s good but it’s not the end-all, and a perfect one awaits me,” then chances are I am right where I should be on the tightrope.
(Parenthetically, I would draw a line of difference between the person who says “enjoy every minute of it” and the person who says “I enjoyed every minute of it.” It’s one thing to point a person towards perfection and it’s another to point them towards yourself.)
Ms Melton touches on the fact that other people besides mothers have hard jobs and yet people don’t nag them to “enjoy it!” To that I would say, why not? Shouldn’t we all be enjoying this life to the fullest extent that a temporal/flawed existence can be? So in conclusion, do carpe diem– do encourage new moms to seize the day if you think it would be uplifting, and while you’re at it, tell the same thing to a 75-year-old man and a 5-year-old child. But most importantly, remind yourself.