The following is an adapted excerpt from the book Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path by Erin Loechner.
"Again, again, again!" Bee says. We are reading in the bedroom, and I have just finished telling her that she used to say "yellow" was "lellow" and "love" was "yove." When announcing her favorite color, she'd proudly squeal, "I yove lellow!" and leave all of us grown-ups scratching our heads.
These "again-again-again!" days are tiring, but in the good way. Our days are filled with requests for brownies, for the zoo, for her own zoo, for me to switch jobs to become a zookeeper at her own zoo so she and the monkeys can have ice cream after hours.
"At my own zoo, there will be sea urchins," she says. "I will measure them. They will weigh four hundred minutes."
We know of the many requirements of a parent's job. The piggyback-riding and the spill-wiping and the hand-holding. To say nothing of the hand-letting-go. And then there's the socializing, the manners, the cultural enrichment outside of Daniel Tiger's jurisdiction. It is enough to make you throw your hands in the air, to declare incompetence under the sheer pressure it takes to raise a child you pray does not become a jerk when grown.
This is a true prayer I have said, many a time. Don't let her be a jerk, God. Don't let me raise a jerk.
Being a mother has been the most difficult challenge of my life, and it's not because of the workload or the fear or the barrage of hypothetical questions after 8 p.m. It is the surrender. The failure. The knowing that I will never know, accepting what I can never accept, understanding that I will never understand what it means to perfect the gig.
In these again-again-again days, for many the pressure is extraordinary. There is an immense amount of information, of articles floating around, proclaiming "One Hundred Things Your Toddler Should Know by Now."
It's a trap we all fall into, the temptation to measure our child's progress.
It's a trap we all fall into, the temptation to measure our child's progress. (It is, after all, the only way we can measure our own.)
The idea of letting down our kids, of providing them with an environment that is less than perfect, less than ideal, less than the standard — this is crippling for so many. Failing at parenthood means failing at life, doesn't it? So we schedule more activities, we buy the best gadgets for the most enriching learning experience. We teach them to play the violin at three and a half, to read at two, to speak Mandarin at one.
We pack it all in. And here we sit, lamenting our lack of balance.
I have heard it said that we are precisely the parents our children need. I have heard it said that our children choose us, like there is a great cosmic nursery in the universe's attic and the tiny babies are all fighting over who gets to live with Gandhi.
Perhaps they flip for it, and the rest of the babies just get us.
Some of us might be really good at making cherry cobbler and beds. Some of us may earn Nobel Peace Prizes, and some of us might consider it a win if we don't sob and scream and threaten bedtime without dinner from 3:30 on. But on the best of days, we can hope that we have everything our children need from us. We have dedication, commitment. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness. We have persistence, forbearance, creativity.
We have everything our children don't need from us too. And yet . . .
We have love.
What I have found about these characteristics — the love, the grace and the everything else — is that they fly right out the window when the kitchen gets hot. As soon as we begin watching the calendar, the clock, we miss the adventure. It is difficult to offer forgiveness when there is an emptied bottle of ketchup and a dog in the bathtub ("He's finger-painting, Mom!") and the in-laws are on their way for prime rib.
It is difficult to persist when you cannot see a margin of time in your calendar. When you have not created space for laughter, for surprise, for ill-timed finger-painting sessions with a condiment-covered dog. And it is difficult to accept all of it — the love, the grace and the everything else — when you have failed. When you have swatted a behind and it connected too hard and you had promised yourself you would never parent that way and now there are two sets of tears.
Busyness is a byproduct of our culture. It is the sacrifice we make for our religion of more, for our perfectionist tendencies, for our temptation to over schedule, over inform, over provide. But the answer is not to lower the expectations we have created. The answer, I believe, is to live up to the expectations we have been created for.
Live up to the expectation that you are what your child needs.
Live up to the expectation that you are what your child needs. That your focus, time, attention, failings — that these are enough. Live up to the expectation that your behaviors are being copied. Your reactions are being noted. Your forgiveness is being accepted. Your shortcomings are being acknowledged, understood, embraced.
Your best is being called for. Live up to the expectation that in these again-again-again times, you are enough.
What I learned from my seasons of working for more and striving for better and yearning for perfect, is that even with the yearning, I fell short. I am not yet perfect. I never will be. But in between the days when I am my worst, there are days when I am my best.
In these again-again-again days, I need Bee to see these moments. And if I am sending her to her room, if I am shuffling her to and from dance lessons and music class before a quick drive through the burger joint, when I am too focused on the day to see this minute — this very minute — she will miss it.
And so will I.
Do you know the best things in life cannot be measured? Aptitude is not a perfect test score. Balance is not a perfect day planner. Creativity is not a perfect art sculpture. The best things in life cannot be measured, but they can be learned, practiced, honed. Home is a good place to start—the place where we keep our junk drawer, where its contents find ways to spill out into the people who know us best, who have promised to love us at our worst.
In these again-again-again days with our children, there are muddy paws and unrolled toilet paper, yelling and do-overs, apologies and redeeming bath bubbles.
And there is great forgiveness, if we're lucky. Immeasurable forgiveness, if we're even luckier.
Bee will be four soon. She is still talking of her zoo, of the monkeys and after-hours ice cream, of the sea urchins and her grandest dreams, her wildest plans. I know the feeling. These again-again-again days are my grandest dreams, my wildest plans. I do not want to waste them. I do not want to spend this weighty and precious time gritting my teeth in the name of productivity, pursuit, perfection.
And if Bee can bring imagination to the suffocating precision of math, of time, of counting and measuring and balancing this great untouchable life?
I will measure them.
Well, perhaps so can I.
They will weigh four hundred minutes.
And they'll be gone in a flash.
Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner is now available on Amazon!
Taken from Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner. Copyright © 2017 by Erin Loechner. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com