More often than I want to admit, I’m counting down the hours, the minutes, and the seconds until the kids go to bed. I love them. But I’m tired. Why do kids so emphatically resist basic life functions like eating, sleeping and pooping? Why do toys explode into every corner of the house? Why is repetition and volume the most powerful tool children have?
Finally, they’re in bed. Their breathing slows and their muscles slacken. Their mischief and squabbling evaporates into thin air. Their round cheeks push against their pillows and their fringe of eyelashes point down to their tiny noses and flower bud lips. Suddenly, shimmering over their tousled hair is a golden halo of innocence that erases the exhaustion caused by their incessant needs. Knowing they are safely nestled and asleep and that there will (most likely) be a couple of hours where no one says my name, suddenly my heart wakes up – hungry for love. So I feed it. My heart feasts on picture after picture and video after video. It nibbles on that photo of Flora wearing a swimsuit at the table with her pudgy feet resting on either side of her cereal bowl. It indulges on the video of Millie who passionately sings her made up songs with charming tune (or lack of). It finishes with a quick scroll back a few years to see what over-achiever Georgia was doing at her sisters’ ages.
Why is it that I was so ready for them to be asleep, but now I can’t get enough of them? During the day, there isn’t a lot of time or energy to relish in a beautiful moment. And those moments are tucked between bills, brawling, bum-wiping, endless chores and requests for snacks. But at night, those beautiful moments are frozen in time, and magnified because there are no more distractions or demands on my energy. I can savor them. Roll them around in my mind. They aren’t tucked between other less joyful moments – they’re the summary of the day.
It takes a lot of schlepping to get out the door. There’s the million trips up and down the stairs to make sure everyone has what they need. There’s the “Get your shoes on. Now. NO. NOW. Go get your shoes on. No, you can’t wear that. Fine, wear whatever you want. Wait, why are YOU naked? I just got you dressed! No. Just get in the car. Okay buckle. The bathroom? I asked you to go and your said you didn’t need to go! Hurry!”
There’s also the mental energy spent in making the plans – It’ll take this long to get there and we have this much time to do the thing and still get home for naptime/bedtime/mealtime. Mental inventory of everyone’s sleep the night before (emotional disposition), most recent meal and bathroom trip, and location of their precious items. Then there’s the complaining and the fighting. Its all just… a lot.
No matter how prepared you are, its still a gamble whether an outing will go well. You could not have anticipated that her eye would swell shut out of nowhere while camping. Neither could you have planned for that beautiful bluebird that we stopped to watch build a nest. You could not have prepared for that spectacular tantrum. Neither could you have foreseen that moment when tiny hands pulled your face close for an eskimo kiss.
All of the joy. All of the really good stuff comes at a price. And a lot of it is really easy to miss.
The cost of joy is work. So so so much work. The cost of joy is vulnerability, willingness, consistency, sacrifice, forgiveness, gratitude… all of that on top of the physical reality of life; jobs, chores, illness, finances, etc.
And yet… joy itself is so accessible, so very simple.
Disneyland is awesome. But so is sharing a bowl of ice cream on the porch. A day free of worry is phenomenal. But so is a day of sticky floors and lost tempers and getting the pink race-car grocery cart and drawing her first family portrait and naming the squirrel that lives in the backyard.
Joy is the sound of the smoke detector going off every Saturday morning- indicating that dad is making breakfast – and the 1 year old trying to fan the alarm with a towel, just like she’s seen her sisters and parents do since she was born. Joy is a worn out mom tickling a pile of kids to distract them from their fight over whose identical toy is the one that is broken. Joy is the empathy of a toddler when you stub your toe.
Really, the cost of joy is just the effort it takes to sift out the good stuff and remember it at the end of the day. Because its always there. Every day. No matter what.