I used to become so antsy and irritated by things like traffic jams, red lights, doctors who were running behind after I rushed to make it to an appointment on time, oil changes, really anything that required me to sit and wait. I like to be on the go. I like to check things off my list. I hate sitting around and cannot stand the thought of wasting time. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy relaxing. I love to read and I have a growing list of tv shows I never miss, but if there’s down time or unanticipated “empty” time, I get very irritable.
Things have changed, however.
I have not undergone any sort of zen training unfortunately. What I did was give birth to baby #2. I’ve taken to calling him my “zen child,” however, don’t let the name fool you…he’s anything but “zen.” The child is on the go CONSTANTLY. My first was was easy. He was very content to sit around on his chubby little butt and suck on his chubby little fist. Didn’t walk until he was almost 16 months, never really put things in his mouth, never went through a climbing phase, and rarely even ventured into the kitchen cupboards. I now realize, we were tricked. Tricked into believing that we had this baby thing licked.
Then Zen Child arrived.
He’s not terribly fussy, but fussier than the first one was. He’s a good sleeper, but not as good as the first one was. And he moves. All. The. Time. He was walking before his first birthday and now, at 11 months, he’s on the verge of running. He climbs everything, he screams suddenly and at the top of his lungs for no reason at all. He puts EVERYTHING in his mouth and he’s hungry CONSTANTLY. I mean, this kid eats as much as his 5-year-old brother and myself combined. At most meals I just stop feeding him after a while, because he never actually pushes food away. And in between bites? He usually screams or bangs his hands on the high chair. He tips things over, he hits, he sometimes bites, and he climbs inside of any box, tub, or laundry basket he can find. And he laughs. He laughs all the time and sometimes wildly. He gets plowed over by the dog and laughs hysterically. So what’s so “zen” about this baby? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute.
Older Child has since made up for those years of coasting in the form of stubbornness, occasional tantrums, and constant, constant, constant talking. This child talks non-stop. He is either telling his father and me some elaborate story that delves into the truly bizarre or he’s asking a million “how come?” questions many of which one can’t answer unless they have a degree in physics (“How come a motorcycle tips over when it’s stopped, but not when it’s going? How come the waves go in and out and always in the same way?”) He asks questions while he’s watching cartoons, while he’s eating cereal, and while he’s in the tub. He talks to me when we’re riding in the car, when we’re getting dressed, and even when we’re *trying* to brush our teeth.
God love ’em.
So between the constant mover and the constant talker, I feel overstimulated all day long on every front. Dinner prep includes a little chopping, then chasing Zen Baby to take the plastic golf club out of his hand because he’s hitting the dog. Then maybe a bit more chopping, then stopping to explain to Older Child why the Ninja Turtles each wear a different color bandanas. Then maybe I get a pot on the stove, but then Zen Baby is climbing on the end table. Then Older Child wants to discuss which toy he wants to take to daycare tomorrow and why. Then my phone rings. Or a text bings or Zen Baby falls off the end table and is now crying. Then something on the stove is burning. Then Older Child says, “I want a snack. How come I can’t have a snack now and then dinner. Oh! I know! I”ll just have a little snack now and then I promise, I really promise, I’ll eat all my dinner. And how come….” But now I put Zen Baby down in the kitchen (after comforting him because he fell off the end table) and he’s playing in the lazy susan, so I have to grab him before he pinches his finger. Then Older Child screams because the dog is chewing on Michelangelo’s nunchucks. Then my husband comes home from work and I pause to give a death glare that says, “Maybe we should have chosen celibacy. See what we’ve gotten ourselves into?” Then the dog woofs because she has to go out….
Despite how this may sound, I’m actually not complaining. You need to understand that moment so you can understand why baby #2 is my Zen Baby. He added so much chaos into my life that, as a result, I quite literally don’t have the time or energy to care about so many small and stupid things. I really can’t dwell on a bad day or workplace gossip because I have a million things to do when I get home – I am literally too tired to do so. He forced me to let go of SO many obsessive mom things: sometimes people come to visit and my house is a mess and I really don’t care anymore; sometimes Older Child eats Easy Mac because that’s the best I can do and I really don’t lose any sleep about it; sometimes we go to bed later than I wanted, oh well; sometimes we are out and about and I forget the diaper bag and Zen Baby pees through his clothes, oh well, I guess we’ll ride home in only a diaper; sometimes a rude librarian will tell you that you can’t be in the library if your baby isn’t wearing shoes and you will look right at her and say, “If you can figure out how to keep shoes on this baby, I would be MORE than happy to oblige!” and you won’t feel guilty! (hypothetically speaking, of course).
But here’s the best part – here’s where Zen Baby has really changed my life. Every so often, life places you in situations where there’s nothing to do, but wait: traffic, a late doctor, a line at the bank or grocery store, the dentist, a late friend… you have nowhere to be and you’re trapped where you are. For me, when these moments happen and I’m with the kids, it can be hellish, but when I’m alone, oh sweet Jesus, it’s heavenly! I can just. sit.
Now, when I find myself alone in ANY context, it’s amazing. Recently I was at the dentist and they reclined me back in the chair and said, “We’ll be right with you.” Then the lady came back in and said, “We are running a little behind. I’m so sorry, but it might be a few more minutes.” And I was absolutely thrilled to have five or ten more minutes of just sitting… in silence. I could think and breathe and close my eyes. I could just sit still. So now, thanks to Zen Baby, whenever I start to feel my old self getting antsy, I stop that rushed voice and tell myself, “You are alone. Just sit.”
One evening, after the kids went to bed, I walked out to pull a few weeds in the garden. I was so hot and muggy, so after a few minutes of this I decided to instead, stand by the raspberry bushes and just eat raspberries off the vine. Just as I did, it started to rain. It was a very light rain and felt so good, since it had been so hot that day. I just stood, in that moment, enjoying the clouds at dusk, the cool rain, the fresh raspberries and took a deep breath. Before Zen Baby I wouldn’t have noticed such a moment. There was no one around. No one needed me. I could just enjoy the smell of the rain, the taste of the berries, and the fresh air.
This is how crazy I’ve become about capturing these moments: one Friday afternoon my husband and I both got out of work early so we could get a head start on a weekend get-away. We rode together to pick the kids up from daycare and then we were going to leave from there. This particular day my husband went into retrieve them and I waited in the car. While he was gone I turned off the radio, leaned my head back against the head rest and closed my eyes to relish the silence so rarely found on the inside of a minivan. I think it lasted about three minutes until he returned, but it was a glorious three minutes!
And so I’d urge you to conciously seek out moments when there’s nothing to do but just take a deep breath and be thankful for a moment of peace, because whether you have zero children or six, I think we all probably would agree that we need a bit more peace in our daily lives.