"It doesn't get better than this" is the parenting mantra I've been waiting for.
Some days are hard. Like, really hard. Some days I am so tired I wonder how I'm going to make it through the next 12 minutes, let alone the next 12 hours.
My 14-month-old daughter, bright and curious and perpetually in motion, is still not sleeping through the night—a biologically normal, if occasionally maddening, state of affairs. And mind-boggling exhaustion combined with the relentless demands of toddlerhood mean that my patience often wears thin far sooner than I'd like it to.
I count the minutes until naptime or bedtime, and then, even nestled right next to her… I miss her. I see how quickly the days (and nights) are speeding by, how much she has grown already, how many firsts are already behind us, how many sweet moments have already been forgotten amidst the routine hum of everyday life.
And I need steady ground.
I need a way to gently remind myself in the hardest of moments that this—the harried, weary weeks and months and years when she needs me the most—is the really good stuff.
Enter my new favorite mantra: "It doesn't get better than this." In an instant, these six words shift my mindset just enough to see the child in front of me, to bask in her enthusiasm or tune in to her frustrations, and remember the mother I want to be.
It prompts me to see details that I might otherwise overlook. The sticky smallness of my daughter's hands as she hands me an old, stale Cheerio from the floor. (Whoops.) The way her long, dark eyelashes brush her cheek as looks down, intently pulling tissues from a full box.
The glee that spreads across her face, lighting up the single dimple at the corner of her mouth, when she hears the glorious clang of a pan on the tile floor. I don't want to forget these things—or worse, fail to notice them at all—because I'm stuck in a mindset that is focused simply on getting through the day.
It propels me to get out of my comfort zone. She wants to go outside… in the rain? She wants to practice climbing down the stairs… again? Why won't she just lay down so I can change her diaper? Why won't she go to sleeeeeeep???
When I remember that this is the good stuff, it makes me more inclined to see things from her point of view, and to stretch myself to accommodate what she needs in any given moment.
She wants to splash in some puddles? If that isn't what childhood is for, I don't know what is. She isn't in the mood to go to bed? Inevitably she will do something adorable that makes me glad I accepted her wakefulness. Even in the middle of her really big feelings, bending my will to see what things look like from her perspective almost always makes it easier to connect with her from a place of empathy, rather than frustration.
It helps me zero in to the present moment. Wise men and women have been telling us for centuries that the present moment is all there is. We don't have yesterday anymore, and tomorrow is not yet here. This second is literally all we have.
Vietnamese Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls it our "true home." On a very fundamental level, whatever is going on at this moment is the very best of life—because it is life. And when I stop to consider these truths, spending this fleeting instant with my little girl is, generally, exactly where I want to be.
It reminds me how far I've come. For as long as I can remember, I wanted life to be steady and predictable. In my 20s, when I was running around doing the messy, harrowing work of "finding myself," I dreamed of the day when I'd have the white picket fence, the daily routine, a simple life. Most often, that vision came with a husband and a gaggle of kids.
Life would be busy, but so fulfilling. This might not be everyone's vision of paradise, but it was mine, and now I'm living it. Remembering that this is exactly where I've always wanted to be is a powerful way to recenter myself and get grateful for the sweet being in front of me.
It helps me to remember not to blink. Everyone says it, or some variation of it: The days are long, but the years are short. It goes by so fast. Don't blink.
For parents of very young children, sometimes those words can be truly exasperating. But sometimes… we get it.With any luck, someday my husband and I will be sitting on some beach somewhere, hand in hand, contemplating our newfound empty nest, and my heavy heart will look back over the decades, satisfied that I enjoyed my children enough while they still needed me so desperately—and that I soaked up every last ounce of my parenting journey before the bulk of it was done.
Time will tell. But, at least for today, through the ups and downs and countless cups of coffee, I will remember: It doesn't get better than this.