We’ve been stuck at home a lot this winter. Between sickness, exceptional cold (for where we live), and just general pregnancy exhaustion, I haven’t ventured out alone with the kids much. Even our weekly grocery store trips came to a halt for a while. It has been hard in many ways, and part of that is the guilt I’ve felt. I’ve wondered if I’m depriving my kids by keeping them at home so much. The other part of it is that twelve-hour days at home with little ones can be lonely and draining.
Many days as soon as he wakes up, my two-year-old asks, “Sit counter make coffee?” He sits near me while I pour hot water over the grounds. His four-year-old brother wants to sit on the counter just as much. All throughout the day, they ask to sit there while I stir batter for banana muffins or make a new batch of pink play-doh. It's often not without squabbles, but generally they make room for one another.
The kitchen used to frequently be my space for little snatches of alone time. I would listen to podcasts and chop or scrub. The boys would chase each other through the house or play in the other room, only needing my occasional intervention. But in this season, they want to be near me. The other day, I asked if they wanted to watch a TV show while I took a shower, and my son said, "No, we'll just sit on the bed and wait for you." They did.
There are always little hands that want to help or voices that want to tell me something or arms extended proudly with a picture they drew. At one point, I grew resentful that I was constantly pausing whatever I was listening to (which sometimes felt like most of the adult talk I would hear in a day). So for a while, I stopped listening to anything in the kitchen. I lifted my boys up on the counter to watch many times a day. I scooted in dining room chairs so they could help me wash dishes. I poured countless cups of cinnamon milk and found favorite straws and tried to do it cheerfully.
I used to think that if I really poured myself in to play with my children, they would be more “filled-up” afterward. So I felt resentful when they needed me again so soon, especially when laundry or an essay was waiting for me. I felt like every imaginary game required so much of me—so much creativity and energy. I didn’t realize that they just wanted me to be there and bear witness (and often just play whatever role they had given me). Sometimes I was even interfering in their play in attempting to be the best playmate.
Certainly there are phases when children need more of us. That first year of life can be exhaustingly hard. A baby’s needs—and cries—are often urgent. I remember picking up my own infant sons with wet, soapy hands and wrangling them into baby carriers that were already covered in flour dust just so I could finish cooking. But that season isn’t the one we are in right now.
Right now we’re in a season where mostly my children just want me to be present. They are masters at being fully present. “What does 'bored' mean?” my preschooler asked me the other day. They spend their days trying to experience the world. They love for me to read them stories and poems while they snack. They love to help. They love to run through the house naked. They love for me to watch them ride their bikes. They love for me to sit on the bed and draw with them. It’s not as complex or even as effortful as I sometimes make it out to be.
I’ve been reading Charlotte Mason and realizing how beautiful childhood is and what children really need in the early years of their life. Mostly they need to be pointed to Christ and shown the beauty and riches of this world. They need time to play and think. They don’t need as many words and lengthy explanations as I used to think.
This has surprised me: our days, simple and imperfect as they may be, are enough for both me and my children.
And as I’ve relaxed into this, I’ve found so much more freedom and contentment. I realize that I don’t need to do daily math lessons with my four-year-old or plan so far ahead. I realize I don’t have to be adding something incredible to every imaginary game they are playing. I’m learning how well and creatively they often play without me and yet how much my attention matters. I’m learning not to feel the pressure all around us to be setting up opportunities for my children to learn; they are constantly learning.
Mostly I’m learning that children aren’t an interruption. Nor are the things I need to get done an interruption from them. There’s not an easy division between the time they need me and the time they don't or learning time and not learning time. I can choose to see these early years as full of mindless drudgery and constant interruptions or as full of wonder and delight.
I’ve learned that as I give myself to being their mom and stop listening to the idea that I'm not doing enough, I find more and more joy. This doesn't mean neglecting my own growth. In fact, that would go against my desire to be a good mom. However, when I can, I choose to set aside my own wants and plop them up on the counter to watch and help and chat.
I found these words of a blog post so good lately: “But a funny thing happens at my house when I start focusing too much on myself; everyone else starts focusing on themselves too.” (You should definitely read the whole post).
As I give myself to motherhood lately, I've found more joy. Yes, there have been hard, dark, and tearful days (some that were really, really hard). But there's also plenty to delight in: learning the names of the plants around our house, starting to notice the songs of different birds, chasing the sun around our driveway to stay warm while the boys ride their toys around. I notice more and more that when I choose to speak kindly or do something cheerfully, I see my children doing the same later.
This season of early pregnancy with two little ones has been hard in many ways. But it has also been a season of counter sitting, of constant company and extra hands to help. I remember how I used to love to have my sister's company while I cleaned my room, and now I have two delightfully chatty companions around quite frequently. I'm choosing to see this as something to delight in rather than an interruption. I firmly believe this work is important and my willingness to put them on the counter has an eternal significance even when our days feel small.