I have been meaning to post this blog about Phoebe’s fifth month for weeks. I knew what I wanted to talk about as her “5 month milestone” approached. And then I got hacked. My website was down for what seemed like an eternity. And then my mom came to visit and I had better things to do with my evenings, like play Settlers of Catan. So I continued to not blog about Phoebe’s milestone. And, now, here we are. It’ the evening of the 29th. And Phoebe is now five-and-a-HALF months old. And I finally sit down to blog.
I will not attempt to write the same post that was in my head two weeks ago. Too much time has passed. Too much has developed. This is now a five-and-a-half-month post.
Two weeks ago, I wanted to talk about the concept of strict joy. This is the concept that joy is not simply random and spontaneous, but that it is something you cultivate, like a garden. Our lives are intensely chaotic and difficult things, but it’s in the midst of this turmoil that we do all of our living. We can run away from life or fight life…or we can live intentionally. We can choose to live joyously.
In the mornings, Matt and I used to pray over breakfast to start our day. We felt that giving thanks was an important way to start our day, but the prayers had become rote and were not touching our hearts deeply enough. Matt was having stressful days at work, while I was struggling to mother my ever-changing child at home. So, we started giving thanks in a different way: each morning we each say three things that we are truly thankful for at the moment, and when we are getting frustrated or bogged down during the day, we stop and think of our three things.
This discipline has helped me keep my head above water many a day. I think of my three things, and then I keep going. I keep focusing on all of the positive things in my life and all the blessings until I no longer feel bogged down by whatever trials I am being challenged with at the moment.
When we walk through our days with deep gratitude and an air of thankfulness, we afford ourselves the opportunity to see beauty in the smallest things, we give ourselves the opportunity to be patient and peaceful, and to enjoy the multifaceted wonders that await us at every twist and bend. When faced with a worry or a sadness or a stressor, do not bend under its weight. Rather, accept it for what it is, let it pass through you, and return to the garden of joy that you have cultivated for your mind. Joy is not so much something you have as it is a way of looking at the world.
So what does this all have to do with Phoebe?
It may sound silly to admit, but this month it struck me: this whole parenting thing is permanent. There are no breaks. There are no holidays. Even if someone is babysitting, my mind and heart are still with Phoebe. And even when she’s sleeping and I’m blogging or watching TV, I’m still a parent. I have been forever changed. There. Is. No. Going. Back.
Of course I don’t want to “go back.” I love being a parent. But being a good parent is hard work. It takes a lot out of me, and some days I feel emptied upon emptied with nothing left to give. Some days it’s really hard to be the kind of person I want my daughter to have as a mother. The more I face my ever-burgeoning daughter, the more I have to face myself: my own frailties, my own shortcomings, my ignorance and my doubt. But I have come to understand that becoming a better parent – and becoming a better person – means I learn how to accept my shortcoming and push forward. Because parenting, like living, is not about perfection. It’s about virtues: love, hope, faithfulness…and joy. It’s about life. It’s about living, and living together.
For you, Phoebe, I have a poem…
My baby’s palms are both
the most soft and most warm
of all softness and warmth that I know.
And the smooth of my baby’s smooth
is a song made of sinew and skin.
My baby sleeps like a drum;
she stretched over my empties, and
out throbbed love.
When she awakes, tucked under my chin,
her face alights and the soft touch grooves.
I am constantly fighting with grace.
I beat soft and low;
her love beats soft and true.
My baby was made to bring warmth
and a disarming smooth to my days.
I was made to love her, grow her,
know her rhythm,
find her tune.