The “enjoy it” sentiment is thrown out to parents of small children with the casualness and regularity of the phrase “have a good day”, troublesome as it may be. I took it to mean that I should enjoy every single everything about mothering, and I viewed it as an achievable feat. As it turns out, it’s an unrealistic ideal. There. I said it.
I was stretched as thin as I have ever been stretched emotionally, mentally, and physically during my first year as a mom. Parts of it were still very enjoyable, but other parts, quite simply, were not. So the “enjoy it” phrase served in fine china atop a hand-tatted doily, “Would you like one lump or two of guilt added my dear?”. No thank you. You can swallow that down. I will not. I tried swallowing it, and I kept getting choked up on not being good enough. Not being strong enough. Not being made of the mothering stock that enables women to endure. Because not only was I not “enjoying” every single fucking moment? I was struggling. A lot. Feeling isolated. Constantly. And I was hungry. And I was tired. And I felt like I was going crazy. Maybe because I was a little.
And then something happened. I had a moment of real connection with my son. He was little, and I had him on the bed changing his diaper. He was maintaining eye contact with me, and we made faces at each other and cooed at each other and laughed together. It was five minutes of pure connection, and it energized me and lightened my spirits. I loved it. So I started to shift my focus toward connection moments rather than trying to enjoy every moment.
To have a moment of connection doesn’t mean having to sit on the floor with my child every time he plays, because connection can not be staged or forced. If junior is engrossed in play or in observation (looking out the window, watching television, and so on), then I try not to interrupt him. I let him play and learn on his own. Sometimes he even looks at me and says “no” if he doesn’t want me by his side during an activity. But other times, he wants his mom (or his dad or his grandma), and those are the moments when it’s time for me to walk away from the dishes or the laundry or my phone in order to engage, because connection comes through engagement.
One afternoon while feeding junior lunch I played a recording of “Maple Leaf Rag” on my phone. I love the song and started dancing to it out of enjoyment. Junior thought it was hilarious. There was eye contact and smiling and laughing as I danced around like a fool. I had played the song hoping for a boost of energy. I got it, but in an unexpected way: Connection. Spontaneous connection.
There have been multiple times that it’s happened while chasing junior around the house playing our own version of hide and seek. He loves the thrill of being chased almost as much as when I jump out and say “boo” when he finds me. Consistent connection.
One time a group of us, four adults and two small children, were standing in a circle doing the Hokey Pokey. Simple enough, right? But there it was, and all six of us felt it. Connection. Group connection.
It’s moments of connection that are vital to my relationship with my child and to my own well-being. As I look back on my son’s first year and a half of life, yes, I can recall the struggles. More importantly, I remember the moments of connection with him. I don’t know if I’ll ever “enjoy” remembering the staggering exhaustion or the pit of hunger that was a part of my first year of motherhood. But I’ll always look back on the connection moments with fondness and gratitude. And that is how I have figured out how to “enjoy it”.