motherhood

Margin for error

This morning my babysitter texted me at 7:43 am “I woke up with a sore throat but I feel fine, still want me to come?”

My heart raced as my fingers flew over the keypad, tapping out a rapid fire yes yes YES, come if you can, unless you’d feel better curled up in bed. I’ll extract an oath of angelic obedience from the kiddos, and here’s a bag of homeopathic cough drops if you find yourself hoarse.

She came, they behaved, and I fled the house for a few hours of solitude in a coffee shop where I wrote nothing but emails and accomplished very little in the grand scheme of things.

I did, however, come to the realization that I’ve overcommitted myself in almost every area of my life, and that I’m so relived that lent is upon us.

I have no margin in my day-to-day right now. I can feel it in the frantic, rising panic that sets in if the kids wake up 20 minutes too soon for the day, if the library’s children’s section is under construction  and I’ve lugged all three kids into the building though the snowy parking lot for naught, if dinner burns, if somebody falls and something starts bleeding.

There’s no room for any of these inevitabilities which are, after all, no more than the reality of life with small children. Each of them feel, by turns, like emergencies. None of them actually are. (Well, the library situation was acutely felt by my 4-year-old, but he was placated by a lone rolling cart stocked with wooden puzzles. Because we go to the library for the toys.)

I can’t sustain this level of intensity. I nearly wept on the phone with a dear friend this afternoon, my voice rising as I explained all the things I’d said yes to and all the reasons why, and how very necessary each item seemed, in isolation, but how the larger list was crushing me.

Sometimes I think I wrap my motherhood in layers and layers of busyness and “important external commitments” so that I won’t have to look to closely at my performance in my primary occupation.

I’m not so sure I want to see the results of that evaluation. Not at this particular moment in my mothering career, at least.

It’s very, very tempting for me to rationalize away the frantic pace of life right now because the kids are little, they won’t remember much, we’re getting out of debt/getting established in our careers/treading water as babies keep getting tossed our direction…but every one of those excuses falls flat when I test it aloud.

The truth is, my days aren’t all that full. There are a handful of commitments each week set in stone, and some daily metrics I need to hit, but for the most part, I’m the thing keeping me from fitting it all in.

And that’s because I have largely failed to identify what “it” is, exactly.

Even though I read and immediately implemented (and gushed obnoxiously about) “A Mother’s Rule of Life,” truth be told, I haven’t found my daily rhythm, and I’ve yet to set and follow a schedule for more than a week at a time. Because the stomach flu. Morning sickness. Nightmares and wet sheets and cars that need a trip to the shop and, well, life.

If the stars don’t aline and I don’t log 8 hours of sleep, I pretty much throw my hands up and let my day happen to me rather than moving through it intentionally and with purpose.

And that means there’s just no room for anything to go wrong, because there isn’t all that much going right to begin with.

I don’t wake up before my kids, unless the current resident-on-board forces me into the bathroom in the semi dark morning hours. We don’t really have a morning routine, unless the blessed babysitter comes and then, well, I flee the premises. But not before stuffing 3 loads of laundry into the machine, setting the crockpot, and frantically washing all the mirrors in all the rooms and … you get the idea.

So lent. It’s here. I’m here, in this place of utter chaos, and along comes this liturgical season, practically begging me to fall to my knees and don a sackcloth and get my priorities in order. And I know that the one thing I can do that could make this all better is to set, and follow, a daily prayer time.

And yet it’s the first thing to give when the day starts out on the wrong foot, when there’s someone literally getting up on the wrong side of my bed and waving a used Pull Up under my nose, demanding inspection. And it’s the last thing I want to do when I retreat onto the couch at nap time, or in the evening after the dishes are done and the lights are dimmed. There’s always something more apparently productive I could be doing, something more leisurely, something more concrete.

Meanwhile, time marches on, life speeds by, and I collapse at the end of the day, stunned by the ferocity of its demands and the unchangingness of my competency level. Shouldn’t I be better at this by now?

I think I would be, if I weren’t constantly trying to do it all under my own power. And I don’t just mean at motherhood, but at life.

I think I’d be better at life if I made more intentional room for Him, if I had continual recourse to His plans for the day and not my own.

I mean, I know this is true. But closing the computer, declining the invitation, turning down the project, turning off my phone…those are all the thousand little places I struggle, frittering away my days and my weeks until the quarterly meltdown, the back-up-against-the-wall why-do-we-do-so-much conversations, either with my husband or my best friend. And then a deep breath and a foolhardy dive back into the madness, none the wiser or more peaceful.

Enough.

Can this lent be different? Can I leave some margin in these 40 days, opening up my calendar to His discriminating gaze, and asking not “Can I?” or “Am I able?” but “Should I?” and “Is this what You want for us?”

I’m going to try, anyway.

17 Comments

  • cajuntexasmom

    “those are all the thousand little places I struggle, frittering away my days and my weeks until the quarterly meltdown…” Or the day when you realize your eldest is eight and a half…just six months shy of being half-raised…and you are STILL frittering. You aren’t alone, mama. I’ve had enough over here, too. We have to do better. Thank God for Lent.

  • Beth (A Mom's Life)

    The best routine I ever got into was waking up before anyone else in the house, getting a cup of coffee, reading my Bible, and then spending time in prayer. And now, years later, I can’t imagine starting my day any other way. It is truly a life changer!

  • Colleen Duggan

    I know everything struggles with different things (and in full disclosure: I’m as type A as they come), but the only thought I had while I read this was this: be gentle with yourself, just as our Lord is gentle with you. Everything you do–from changing the used Pull up, to the nap on the couch, to growing a baby, and to washing the dinner dishes–can be offered as a prayer.

    Good luck during Lent.

  • Amanda

    So many beautiful shares this week (per usual), Jenny! I struggle with this because I am not a planner. I just ride the wave so scheduling intentional time is just so hard for me! Even if you aren’t feeling a rockstar at home (which I’m pretty sure you are!) you really are a gift to so many women in what you do here. Your productivity truly does bless many. Hugs and prayers for your Lent.

  • Schafergal

    As always, thank you Jenny. So eloquent.

    “If the stars don’t align and I don’t log 8 hours of sleep, I pretty much throw my hands up and let my day happen to me rather than moving through it with intention and purpose.” This is so perfect. This is so me. It’s so easy to throw any semblance of a plan aside and just have a pity party of a day when we run off the rails just a little bit.

    I keep feeling I’m currently living in “survival mode”. But then I realize this is my new normal. And do I want to be throwing my hands up and having a pity party in a year? Or five? No. No way.

    Thanks for always being so honest.

    Ashley

  • Lisa

    YES, this. Esp. that paragraph about no room for inevitabilities…I go through times when it feels like every.little.inconvenience is ridiculously insurmountable, and can one thing just please go right or be simple! But you are so right- there needs to be margin for error, and I need to ask for God’s peace when all the crazy things happen or I WILL never find that “elusive peace” I look for when I expect everything in my day to go w/o a hitch. 🙂

  • Erin Franco

    I’m so with you. I am going public (is this a bad thing if no one i know in real life or probably any of my blog readers will see this?!) and admitting that my Big Lenten Penance is… getting up on time, every day, to pray. Because necessity is the mother of a mother’s self discipline. And I have been needing to commit 100 percent to no-exceptions morning prayer for a long time. Prayer to you from Louisiana;) pS, I saw that you have I’m saying Josemaria lined up. He is one of my favorite saints. He has some awesome little quotes about your wake up time being your heroic moment (I know, right?!), and if you can just wake up on time, you have accomplished a great deal for the day. 🙂

  • Erin Franco

    I’m so with you. I am going public (is this a bad thing if no one i know in real life or probably any of my blog readers will see this?!) and admitting that my Big Lenten Penance is… getting up on time, every day, to pray. Because necessity is the mother of a mother’s self discipline. And I have been needing to commit 100 percent to no-exceptions morning prayer for a long time. Prayer to you from Louisiana;) pS, I saw that you have I’m saying Josemaria lined up. He is one of my favorite saints. He has some awesome little quotes about your wake up time being your heroic moment (I know, right?!), and if you can just wake up on time, you have accomplished a great deal for the day. 🙂

  • Agatha Loin

    Hi, This is the first time reading your blog. I’m a mom to 5 kids- 12, 10, 8, 5 and 2. I was you a few years ago…it gets easier as they get older and can help more. What helped me the most, more than trying to stick to a schedule, was to link certain needs (dishes, laundry, tidy house) with meals. We eat every day three times a day so now we do dishes, laundry and bathrooms after breakfast and teeth. We tidy up main part of house after lunch and tidy bedrooms after dinner…maybe that would work for you too?? Also taking the time to teach your kids how to do a job even if it is just wiping something with a Clorox wipe is worth it! (hugs)

  • melmcguireful

    Yes! I also read, loved, and had trouble implementing a Mothers Rule in my own life. Something more recently that has REALLY resonated with me was a book I got off Brandon Vogt’s list of best books he read in 2014. It’s called Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Not a faith-based book but SO applicable to this world and our lives in it. Highly recommend.

  • Julie Walsh

    Oh, I’ve been here so many times — I tend to swing from great over-commitment to saying ‘no’ to everything, just to feel some peace. I’m currently on the upswing from the latter. So now I’m trying to discern how, exactly, I’ve been the thing that prevents me from fitting it all in, so that I can be better next time. And prayer — it’s always so key, and I’m always so bad at fitting it in. I’m working on that, too.

    Thanks for your honesty.

  • Tia

    we’ve all been here. I often swing from wallowing in squalor while my kids eat cheerios from the floor to cramming in multiple activities in a day and feeling frazzled.When I get to this stage I implement a formula for what my day looks like, and then spend a few weeks just forcing myself to say no if I try to cram more in. For me it usually looks like 1 small cleaning task + 1 activity for kids (could be out of the house or in, depending) + 1 work-related goal achieved + sorting out dinner. Then I rank them 4-3-2-1, so that the lowest priority thing gets ditched guilt-free if things are taking a turn for the worse. For me, work goal is usually 1, kid activity 2, and cleaning and dinner swap places for last on the list.

    Some days this winds up being a kind of lazy slug day and I wish we’d done more, but more often than not I wind up feeling super relaxed and happy and I find there wasn’t that much margin in my day to begin with. There is so much pain in the reality that theoretically we can do a ton in a day, an hour, or a fifteen-minute break, but that in fact, we can’t actually accomplish that much over the long-term at that same frenetic pace.

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