As I sat nursing Emily this morning, I saw my phone sitting on the ottoman at my feet. I thought of a funny text I could send to Sam, but I knew if I picked up my phone I’d end up fiddling around on it till Emily was done eating. Knowing this was one of my rare moments of peace during the day with Levi at preschool, I resisted and instead shut my eyes and tried to focus on the weight of Emily’s body against mine, her hand brushing my skin, her contented little mmm’s as she ate.
I've been much more aware of savoring this baby. When I tell that to people, they say things like, “Well, now you know how fast it goes,” which is true, I do know better now than I used to, but it’s not the real reason. The real reason is that in all areas of my life I’m trying to be present.
Turning 30 has been an interesting experience for me. I never expected it to make much of a difference. After all, I’m not that much different two months into my thirties than I was in the last two months of my twenties, but perhaps it’s just that extra impetus for reflection on the whole of one’s life rather than on just the last year that’s different at big birthdays. Either way, I found myself thinking about my life so far and my life to come nearly every day.
This happened to coincide with a particularly difficult stage with Levi. We always seemed to be battling one another and we were both exhausted by it. And though I was trying not to wrestle with his formidable will, the other ways I tried to connect with and motivate him weren't working, so we almost always resorted to threats to get things done. Thankfully, I heard of a book called, “Parenting Without Power Struggles” and ordered it at my library.
The author, Susan Stiffelman, suggests that at times when your child won’t be getting his way, you should approach them as if they were grieving. After all, they’re experience a loss of something important to them. As she detailed the stages of grief-denial, anger, bargaining, depression or sadness, and acceptance- I realized these were exactly the emotions and actions Levi was experiencing several times a day. And so, Stiffelman says, it’s our job to walk our children through those emotions before they come to acceptance of the situation on their own, without our forcing it on them.
Of course I’m still working on it, but so far, I've seen a huge improvement in our relationship and when I apply the process, our interactions are much smoother. It’s also helping me realize how to be more supportive to Anna, how to be her ally, as she matures out of these kind of tantrumy behaviors.
So this was at the back of my mind today in this quiet nursing moment as I was thinking again of where my life has come. In the past several years I've dealt with anger, depression, and a whole lot of change. I thought maybe moving too often was the source of pain, but I've actually really loved it. I've seriously considered going back to school or work, but when it came down to it, I knew I would regret not staying home when the kids were small and we had the resources to make it possible. I've struggled with medications and injuries. But in the last year and a half, all that has gone away and I still get flashes of deep sadness or feeling adrift or feeling like something is missing.
So today, I put my life in the context of grief. I asked myself, “Is there something you’re grieving or mourning?” and it was like a weight was removed from my heart. It’s not that I don’t love my life or my family. It’s not that I regret the choices I've made because when I look back they really are indicative of my true desires. It’s that as a young woman I had expectations for my life and myself that have not been realized, and I am mourning them.
As I realized this, tears came to my eyes as I was filled with compassion for myself. I sometimes feel so torn inside and feeling like there’s no reason for it just adds to the pain and shame of it. But stepping back and seeing myself in grief and mourning lets me be kinder and gentler.
In the same way that it was hard to say goodbye to my grandmother and grandfather who I loved and admired deeply and who gave me hope, it is hard to say goodbye to a woman who is strong and smart and fit and happy and kind and friendly and admirable and capable and seems to be all of those things all of the time. I mourn the loss of her possibility. Especially when I meet her in the faces of friends, for who could resist friendship with a woman like that?
It is kind, understanding women who have carried me through periods of mourning. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma explains what we covenant to do when we are baptized into Christ’s church. He says, “as ye are… willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort”
We are all mourning, aren’t we? Life never happens the way we expect, so we need comfort. Alma lists these directives first, before standing as a witness of God and before keeping the commandments. Through the comfort and support of friends and the Spirit of God, we get to experience the rebirth of our visions of ourselves and those around us. I am free to wonder at the joyous renewal I feel when my heart bursts with love for my children. I get to experience becoming a new creature. Yes, it’s one who is smaller and weaker and less influential, but it is real.