The gray presses down with two hands on my shoulders. I sing nursery rhymes and dutifully remove grape stems. I lay my girls down for their naps, thankful that they are resting but loathe to let go of their little hands.
Sometimes, parenting is lonely work.
Not because I am alone (I am RARELY alone), but because day-to-day, it’s hard to see anything change. Diapers get dirty at regular intervals. The princess dresses are out of the toy box by 9:45 AM every day. We eat off the same silverware, drink from the same glasses that then need to be washed. And washed. And washed.
Routine is beautiful. Routine is tiring.
My husband leaves for work at the same time every day, carrying the same coffee mug and rugged leather briefcase. My parents have farmed the same dirt since they were married. I have friends who have worked for the same company for over a decade.
And I think we all feel it. The weight of sameness.
The funny thing is this – different is rarely better. But I don’t always believe that. I believe that so and so’s recent trip to a tropical locale makes them happier. I believe I’d feel better if my hair were just a different color. I believe what I see in a picture is an accurate reflection of the whole.
I believe the untruths, get a little cranky, and then stop doing one very important thing. I quit taking care of my present day self.
Do you know what I mean? As in, if I can’t have all the apples, I don’t want any of them.
OK. I don’t stop entirely. I eat. I brush my teeth. I try to start the day in clean clothes. But some days, that’s as far as I go. I don’t devise fun games that make my toddler’s face stretch wide in smile. I read stories without doing the voices. I slap turkey melts on lunch plates for the third day in a row.
I let sameness overwhelm me, body and soul.
It’s easy to forget that in order to make time to care for others, I first have to take time to care for myself. I know, I know. We hear this a lot. You know why? Because it’s true. Marguerite Lamb, in an article for American Baby, said, “While we can’t control our children’s happiness, we are responsible for our own. And because children absorb everything from us, our moods matter… Consequently, one of the best things you can do for your child’s emotional well-being is to attend to yours.”
I think this applies to more than just parents and children though. It’s about the way we all live in relation to one another. Caring for ourselves makes us apt to be kinder to the world around us. Why? Because caring for ourselves makes us feel good. And when we feel good, we act accordingly.
At the risk of you thinking I’m a hedonist, I’m going to share three almost fail-safes that make me feel good, consequently making me a better spouse, mama, friend, co-worker, and fellow passenger on this earth.
Eat Good Food
We all have to eat. Every day, three times a day (if we’re lucky.) But I’ve noticed that what I eat determines how I feel. There’s a whole pile of science behind this that I’m not going to go into here, but straight up, I feel better when I eat yogurt and berries and scrambled eggs for breakfast than when I eat cereal.
I like cereal. Don’t get me wrong. Cereal is easy. But that’s the problem. When we start eating food because it’s easy, we stop caring whether or not it’s actually good. And if it’s not good, well, what’s the point?
Good food doesn’t mean difficult food, and I think that’s what derails most people. It’s just about having the right ingredients. If you want to make an amazing lunch, you have to have more in your kitchen than peanut butter and jelly.
So sit down. Make a list of foods you like to eat, foods that make you feel energized, foods that are colorful and bright and exploding with flavor. Then hit up the market. It’s a first class luxury to have a place that sells mangoes, peppers, chard and Gouda just miles from our homes. Take advantage of it.
Crank the Tunes
When we get bored during the afternoons, my living room turns into a disco. We can stream Pandora through our TV, which means that on any given day you’ll find us rocking to Raffi, bebopping with Billie, or pretending we have club moves like the Black Eyed Peas.
Sound crazy? It probably is. But music with a beat can immediately perk me up. It’s like a mental knuckle-crack and shoulder roll. Suddenly I’m out of my own head. I’m being silly with my daughters, swinging and twirling, boogieing and laughing.
I used to do this at work too (not the dancing part – Lord help us). I’d bring an ear-bud and plug it into my phone, and then delve into my next project with renewed gusto. Music is like a mental reset button, and it’s as easy as pushing play.
Love what you Use
I’m no minimalist, but I do like keeping my possessions pretty basic. I buy what I love, and then I use the heck out of it. At this stage of life, I’ve learned that “stuff” doesn’t make me happy, but quality and usefulness do.
So use what you love, and love what you use. If something in your cupboard or drawer annoys you, start a thrift store or garage sale box and pass it on. Buy what you know you need, and then take pleasure in using it day after day.
I recently found a really great website called Raise.com that lets me sell old gift cards and buy new ones at a discount. Someone could probably film an episode of Hoarders on the way I collect gift cards, so I was stoked to find a way to sell unused cards and make some cash, or replace them with cards that got me closer to a new item I needed. Check it out sometime. It’s a great way to get use out something that otherwise just sits.
Trust me when I say that I know life is busy. No one really has time for extras. But taking the time to do something that brightens your day usually means you make someone else’s day brighter as well, simply by virtue of your own happiness.
And isn’t that how we’re meant to live with one another? With kindness, with patience, and above all, with care?