It was a typical week night in our house – the mad dash to cook dinner, clean up dinner, bathe the child, read the books, sing the songs, and say goodnight. All within a rushed, two-hour time frame after work.
For many reasons or no reason at all, my three year old was having trouble settling in for bed. She needed water. She needed cuddles. More water. Chapstick. A stuffed animal. Cuddles. More humming. And please, just one more song.
It was more than an hour past her bedtime, and we were both fading. She was overtired, and I was overextended. I kept running through “the list.” You know the one. The grocery list. The work to-do list. The cleaning list. The loads of laundry I meant to do. The phone calls I had forgotten to make. The reading I was supposed to complete for school. Inside I was exasperated; outside I was calm and steady. (This is a feat I’m convinced only parents and actors can achieve).
“Mama, I need you.”
I thought of the list again. This time, the list included the top reasons I shouldn’t go in there again along with possible bribes to get her to sleep. Against my better judgment, I opened her door.
“What is it, honey? You know it’s bedtime.”
“Mama, I need more cuddles.”
I climbed in her bed, kissed her temple and noticed the short wisps of new hair that was filling in. When did that start?
“It’s ok baby. It’s time to rest. I’m here. It’s sleepy time. I’m here.”
She pulled me close and stroked my face. “I love you mommy. You are so gentle with me. You are so kind.”
My heart shattered into a million pieces.
She didn’t have a list. Her mind wasn’t scattered across oceans of to-do lists and mountains of priorities. I was her list. Slowly, I felt the joy seep in. And I stayed there for a while, hugging and humming, and thinking of nothing else but her.
I wonder how many times I have missed the joy in the everyday routine of parenthood. How many times have I (with good intentions) gotten caught up in the tasks, the lists, the management of our lives and skipped over the whole point of living anyway?
Since then, I have begun listening more attentively to really hear what she needs. I try to remind myself to choose joy over efficiency or accomplishment. I tell myself (sometimes out loud) that you have to let happiness in, and embrace it. Like a wise man once said, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” (Yes, that’s life advice from Ferris Bueller).