“Water is going to be the death of me,” I said to my husband.
“What do you mean? Like a water sport accident?”
“No, not like that. I mean pouring glasses of water and I am certain that if I clean up one more spilled glass of water then I will surely die.”
The minute, THE MINUTE our kids get buckled into their respective car seats and booster seats, they are suddenly the most thirsty people that you have ever encountered. They are so thirsty, one wonders what desert we made them walk through on the way to the car. Forget the fact that they just walked a total of ten steps from a home that has an obscene amount of cold, clean water available — on tap! They didn’t want that water IN the house, oh no. The Murray Kid Quartet would prefer to yell out in ear splitting disharmony about how they’ll absolutely perish if we don’t stop for water somewhere between our driveway and the destination that we need to reach after an agonizing twenty minute drive.
We didn’t have water in the car as kids! My parents didn’t go through a drive-thru every time we got into our car! We were lucky if we weren’t sharing a seat belt with the neighbor kid and if his dad’s cigarette ash didn’t fly back into the car through our open back window!
And if we do crack, if we buckle under the pressure and acquiesce to these thirsty little terrorists, we’re not going to buy them each a bottle of water. They’ll never finish them. So we do what families do – we share. Two bottles of water to split between the four of them. What happens next? Another HUGE fight over who gets to hold it, who lost the lid, who is drinking more and a forensic analysis of whether someone slobbered on it. My husband actually had to yell (which he almost never does) about WATER the last time we went out. We seriously had to threaten them with being grounded if they didn’t stop harassing us about water!
Did I mention that they’re terrorists?
By now, you’re probably thinking, “Oh stuff it! You whiny, young hipster parent!” (I am neither young nor a hipster but thank you for the compliment!) Listen, I know how crazy this sounds but I’m not kidding when I say that I am hoping that I have already lived out my centuries in Purgatory by pouring non stop glasses of water every day, searching for sippy cup lids, clearing away half drunk bottles of water, cleaning up water spills on our kitchen table and floor and scrubbing the dried water ring stains from our couch. These little people actually drink the dirty bath water! They drink the dirty insect-flecked water from the water table outside! They accidentally pour it down their shirts and they call out for it at bedtime. Water is going to be the death of me.
The life that I — and the many of you who are vigorously nodding along — am living right now is one dominated by making and dispensing some sort of food or beverage to small people who rarely eat it and mostly spread it around so I can clean it all back up ad nauseam on an infinite loop. It is a life knee-deep in crumbs and sticky with jammy hands. If it is your inclination to tell me that this will all be over before I know it and that I will actually miss vacuuming dumped boxes of cereal off the floor, I get it, I really do! But there is a difference between saying “been there, done that” in a dismissive voice and “oh honey, I’ve been there and I’ve done that!”
At this moment — at most moments, maybe — I need to hear that second tone. Knowing it’s going to get better is a small consolation when it feels like the frustration of it is too much to bear. I don’t know that I can speak for you other moms out there, but running non-stop from sun up to sun down in the way we do wasn’t exactly what we had in mind when we envisioned the beauty and joy of motherhood. That must have been buried somewhere in the fine print beneath the Anne Geddes photo of that little bundle of joy growing out of a flowerpot.
But if wading through messes 24/7 makes me a bit grumpy, I don’t want you to have the wrong impression. I’m actually a very joyful person. I’m someone who talks fast and I use my hands a lot. More often than not, you’ll see me wearing a huge smile, and I laugh very loudly. I’m full of ideas and can joke my way through most trials. My occasional ranting notwithstanding, I’m often asked how I stay so chipper on no sleep while homeschooling four kids. Aside from being fueled by coffee and Jesus (not in that order), the answer is that being joyful is a choice.
Let me repeat that, for myself as much as for anyone reading: being joyful is a choice.
Huh? How can someone be happy when they’re not feeling it? Believe it or not, it’s fairly simple, but it takes practice. Years ago, I had an epiphany while sweeping the kitchen (again) as midnight approached. My husband and I were young parents then, with just two kids. He had been working all day and was sitting on the couch with a cold beer, and I was just smoldering with anger and jealousy in the kitchen. I had been awake the night before and had just spent yet another twelve hour day alone with our kids. And here I was, still cleaning in the middle of the night while he just sat and enjoyed himself. I was raging. I was sweeping with as much force and anger as I could muster, trying to make sure that he heard my grunts and sighs from the other room. Why didn’t he get up to help me?! Why wasn’t he noticing that I was still cleaning? I stood the broom in the corner and readied myself to stomp into that living room and blast him for not helping me. Again.
And that’s when it happened.
A little voice inside of me spoke up, offering something revolutionary right to my heart. It must have been my guardian angel, because I know that what it said was totally foreign to me, especially at that moment. Instead of going in angrily, it suggested, why not try using your nicest and most gentle voice? Instead of demanding something, it prodded, why not offer him something instead?
So around the corner I went, and in the sweetest voice that I could muster — a voice that was barely my own — I said, “Honey, would you like another beer?”
His jaw actually fell open. His eyes searched my face. His pulse quickened visibly through his shirt. What I had just done was unheard of in our home. I never thought that it was my “role” to serve my husband anything! I was so proud of my liberated feminism. Serve him?! What year is it? 1955? Guess what he said…
“Oh my goodness! Are you still cleaning in the kitchen?”
I stayed calm. “Yes I am.”
“I had no idea! How can I help?”
WHAT?! What just happened? Could he have actually been speaking the truth? Was it possible that although I was only a room away, he was relaxing after his long day and he truly had no idea that I was still working? Well, every female-hosted talk show over the last thirty years would say, “OH NO, GIRL! That man knew that you were busting it in the other room and he didn’t care!” But that narrative didn’t seem right at that moment. He genuinely seemed like he didn’t know. So I tried something else new. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Yup! I decided not to be mad, and I grabbed him that beer and I told him that I was almost done and would join him shortly.
When I walked back into the kitchen, I had to actually will myself not to be resentful. I was done with the games that women sometimes play. If I was such a “strong, independent woman,” why had I spent so many years doing things in anger and letting resentment build while manipulating my husband’s emotions, trying to get him to “care”?
What I learned that night was this: Not everyone is doing things to intentionally upset me. Not everyone is going to see the hard work that I’m doing, and that isn’t intentional either. Not everyone is going to thank me. And most importantly of all, I am not the only one working hard around here!
Something really huge happened after this. I continued trying out this idea of serving my husband and kids with a gentle voice and a smile on my face, and things began to change. Without being asked, they started serving me back! I know, I know! It sounds crazy right?! But here is the thing, when ALL of the family members put their own needs on the back-burner and place the needs of others before them, no one’s needs get neglected! When we all approach each other with an attitude of service, everyone gets served!
Does this mean that you always get exactly what you need? Of course not. But if you intentionally express gratitude — if you step back and actually examine your blessings, you will see what those in your life have actually been doing for you. You will realize how many times the coffee has been made before you woke up or how the car always seems to have gas in it and how someone always puts the lid back onto the peanut butter because you never seem to do that and then they put it back into the cupboard. And when you realize these things, you will have a very hard time maintaining the resentment you feel when you believe you’re being taken for granted.
Service. That’s what we actually sign up for when we get married and have kids. It can seem soul crushing in the years with young kids. That’s what I was experiencing when I sat down to write this. There are days when that feeling threatens to overtake me, but there are days when I am the one on the couch while my husband makes the tea. Remembering that tends to put a crimp in that “woe is me” feeling.
My fellow mothers, I’m especially appealing to you here. We have a tough job, but we need to put more smiles on our faces. We need to speak with more patience and gentler voices when we approach our families. A lot of us stink at that. I still slip into my moods sometimes, but my husband will tell you that I have come a long way with this. Even after the longest, most frustrating, snotty nosed, cry filled day, I usually have a smile on when he comes home, and we pour a drink and laugh together. He then sits and puts his feet up and I start making dinner. Often, there is still a quick flash of anger, a split second where my mind protests, “Hey! I just worked all day too, and now I’m up making dinner!” But then I snap out of it and cook for the family that I love. And the truth is, my husband never rests for long before he is back up and picking up toys and wiping down counters.
When another day ends, I sit back and think of how we are all woven together, serving and loving each other, stronger because of these daily acts of service. I sip the drink my husband has brought me, sit back, relax, and find myself thankful for the good things in my life.
Which is of course when I hear, “MOM! GET ME A DRINK OF WATER!”
Being joyful is a choice. Being joyful is a choice. Being joyful is a choice.
These may be the hardest moments. The ones when you think you’ve got things in hand and they manage to find you with your guard down. But I can choose to continue to let that wear me down or I can choose service with a smile. One is a path to holiness and one has the power to drag everyone else down. It is a choice! We need to realize that putting that smile on the outside of our face whether we feel it or not will actually transform us from the inside out.