The past week or two, I have gotten little to no sleep. Somehow, all the teeth seem to be coming in at once, and I’ve reached a crazed sort of acceptance: March, please come in like a lion and out like a lamb!
Because of my son’s teething, and the serious low points we’ve encountered, I wanted to write about a concept I’ve been working on embracing for some time now: slow living. What does this mean to me? How can we live slowly, and why should we?
I come from a family of fast walkers. We’ve got long legs, places to go. In fact, I’ve spent a great deal of my life longing for change and movement, pushing myself in an anxious manner to achieve and accomplish before time runs out and I am left with the worst thing of all: regret!
During my Peace Corps service in China, I was surprised at the slowness of daily life. There were no fast walkers, it was all about the stroll. People spent hours in teahouses, just sitting and chatting and cracking open sunflower seed shells with their teeth. I hated it at first, and felt like I was missing so much by slowing down to this pace. As time passed, however, I learned that I wasn’t missing cultural opportunities by ‘wasting’ an entire day sipping tea and playing inane card games–this was the culture!
So it goes with my life as Mama. Slow living means working on acceptance, learning your limits and dropping the pretense that ‘having it all’ is even what you want anymore.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed as a parent, maybe some of these ideas can help you feel better too!
Slow Tip 1: Don’t Pack It In Our days are simple, and even though I am not one to keep a strict routine, we do have some structure. I try for one outing each day. An errand, a walk, sometimes just a little toddle along the cement of the driveway if the day is too brisk or snowy. I used to worry that keeping Felix ‘cooped up’ was boring him, but the truth is, he is excited by the tiniest of joys. A bowl of small objects, a new magnet on the fridge, the discovery that fridge magnets can be shoved into the small crack above the dishwasher (sigh….)! Doing less is often doing more, by not overwhelming small kids.
Slow Tip 2: Stop Cleaning Okay, not entirely, but really just stop doing what makes your blood boil. Do a bit each day, but don’t go nuts. Are you feeling exhausted and miserable and just don’t want to be doing x, y or z? Then don’t do it right now. In my kitchen, the dishes often pile up. Our laundry never ends. The house is just never too clean for too long, and I actually really love a clean home. I feel less stress when it’s tidy, but if you’re going through a sleepless week with a toddler, it just stops mattering. Accept that, let it go, pick your battles! It won’t always be this way. Because I find calm in cleanliness, I have picked one room (the living room) to always try and keep tidy. If I can get to the rest of the house, great! But I don’t push myself when I’m running on empty.
Slow Tip 3: Plan How To Treat Yourself. When you’re exhausted, well and truly exhausted, you don’t even know how to treat yourself. Someone may advise you to take a hot bath, and you just want to cry because that involves getting up, undressing, filling a tub and on and on…
Or maybe you can’t do it at all. We have a glorious claw-foot tub that I can’t use most nights, because I am home alone and I don’t want to have to jump out if Felix needs me. I treat myself with food, I can’t lie. I don’t even care. I do. Last night after Felix fell asleep, I sat in blissful quiet and scooped a spoon of Nutella straight into a container of cherry frozen yogurt. It was grand. Obviously we have to consider our health, but treat yourself, damn it! Eat good food slowly, enjoy and be in the moment, and without guilt. Be gentle to yourself and your spouse and just let go a little bit in the knowledge that tough weeks (or months…) happen, and they aren’t forever, and eat the damn Nutella.
Slow Tip 4: Simplify Your Home I am personally finding life to be nicer with less. We have a little thimble of an apartment to begin with, so limiting our material goods is a goal for me. I also try to think about the placement of things, and make changes to better the family. Felix loves books and reading, but I made the executive decision to move all his books out of the living room this week. I filled the shelves with simple toys: blocks, stackable items, some wooden cars. This has provided him a new opportunity for some independent play, and my sanity is saved from being frantically asked to read “Put Me In The Zoo” nine times in a row.
Slow Tip 5: Every Moment Is Fresh When I’m running on empty, it is so hard to be that mindful parent I aspire to be. This week, Felix is testing me by resisting diaper changes. He kicks and kicks his little legs as I try to fasten the diaper closed. In the moment, I try to figure out what all the gentle parenting books would advise and I draw a blank. Finally, in exhausted frustration I clamp his legs down and sharply say “Stop! Stop it! DO NOT KICK ME.” Felix’s face twists and the bubbling cries begin, or even worse, he quiets himself in steely defiance–a teenager at 16 months! My heart races and I feel such disappointment, why can’t I control my own child? How can I teach him gently? Well, maybe I already have. I move forward, continue to diaper him and say something like “I know you don’t like this, but I need to care for you and keep you clean and healthy because I love you.” Then we practice saying “all done!” The moments aren’t always perfect, but we can only do what we can do. We can’t dwell, we just need to move forward and treat each new moment as a new opportunity. I can still be the person I want to be.
So, nothing earth-shattering in these tips…but sometimes it just feels good to know you aren’t alone, and you are also being given permission to just BE. Let go of what feels unnecessary in your life, focus on the positive connections and the little daily tasks that satisfy and make your home happier.
Cheers, mamas and dadas. We can do this, and we can come out the other end as stronger and better selves!