I can’t remember if it was Bruce or Lindsey who first introduced me to the writing of the marvelous Katrina Kenison. But since I know they are both fellow acolytes, I don’t hesitate to thank them jointly for bringing Katrina’s writing into my life.
I spent many of my quiet, before-bed hours this past month reading, then rereading, then rereading again Katrina’s first book, Mitten Strings for God. In it, Katrina combines personal reflections from when her boys were just older than mine are now with wisdom from philosophers and fellow parents to offer her readers an alternative to the fast-paced, hyper-competitive rat race that so many of us feel like we’re running. Unlike some books of its ilk, Mitten Strings is not an indictment of parents and their choices, but rather an invitation to consider walking another path.
So resonant were Katrina’s anecdotes and so profound her wisdom that I suspect that I will return to Mitten Strings in a future post. But today I want to share the one theme that struck me most deeply, one that had me underlining my text, grabbing the nearest stack of Post-it notes, and scribbling the myriad ways in which I had fallen into the trap Katrina warns of.
According to Katrina,
[I]n our efforts to make each moment ‘count,’ we seem to have lost the knack of appreciating the ordinary. We provide our children with so much that the extraordinary isn’t special anymore, and the subtle rhythms of daily life elude us altogether. We do too much and savor too little. We mistake activity for happiness, and so we stuff our children’s days with activities, and their heads with information, when we ought to be feeding their souls instead.
Mistaking activity for happiness? Welcome to my world.
As an introduction, let me give you a breakdown of our weekday mornings:
- Monday: 2-3 year old story and craft time at the library
- Tuesday: Big Boy goes to preschool; Tiny Baby and I do the week’s grocery shopping
- Wednesday: baby story time at the library
- Thursday: Big Boy goes to preschool; Tiny Baby and I go to baby playgroup
- Friday: big kid playgroup
Given the fact that my kids both nap in the afternoons and, these days at least, spend much of their post-nap, pre-dinner time with a babysitter while I’m at physical therapy, there are very few moments during the week when we are together, just playing and reading and being. We’re always coming or going or eating meals or getting ready for bed.
My kids are really little – 3 and 18 months. And I’m planning their childhoods out from under them. And why?
Because I want so desperately to be around other people that I’d rather push my my baby around Kroger than sit on the floor and do puzzles with him.
My heart is sinking as I write that sentence, but it is the truth. The cold reality of it.
Lest I beat myself up too much, I will say that my boys don’t seem to find any of these activities onerous. All of them are fun and developmentally appropriate. And being a stay-at-home mother can be wrenchingly isolating. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to connect with other parents while my kids connect with theirs (i.e. wrestle Duplo blocks out of each other’s hands under the guise of “sharing”).
But, in truth, we’re doing these things for me and not for them. I need routine, I need structure, I need to see other 30- and 40-something women sitting cross-legged across the floor from me while our kids ramble around us.
And I suspect that that would be all fine and well – for now, at least – if it really made me happy. But I feel the hollowness of it. Like there is space inside of me that could be filled with something purer. And this stuff doesn’t fill it. I know that I’m rushing us through our days, rushing them through their babyhoods for the veneer of happiness only, for the satisfaction of sticking to a schedule.
So today I’m going to try something different. Husband will take Big Boy to preschool and Tiny Baby and I will stay home. We’ll play outside if the November sun will tame the wind for long enough. We’ll share a snack and a puzzle. And I’ll see if – for today at least – I can be enough for him and he can be enough for me.
Do you ever feel like – to borrow a phrase from Katrina – your agenda is starving your soul?