I just laughed out loud. My 14-month-old daughter came stumbling around the corner, pushing her little plastic shopping cart. It caught me by surprise because she’s been sick with a virus called "roseola infantum" all week. Does that sound threatening or what? Her activity has been limited to pointing and saying "this!" in a tiny, hoarse voice. But now her wobbly legs and wide grin tell me she’s on the mend.
It’s just one of many moments of joy with my baby. But I must admit, if I’m not careful to smile and pause, these magical moments can pass without notice. When I’m changing my baby’s diaper while hearing my toddler say, "Mommy, watch this!" for the 100th time before breakfast, I can get a bit numb.
Motherhood is hard work, especially when your children are small and need your constant help to eat, play, sleep, and of course, go to the bathroom. But I’m told over and over to enjoy these years because they go so fast. And I believe it.
My 3-year-old Ethan talks about piloting an F-16 aircraft. He says matter-of-factly that when he’s in pilot school, he will be too busy to see me anymore. But for now, he’s calling on me to scoop him out of bed, fix his broken cars, and read him yet another story about a race car, train, or construction vehicle.
A few weeks ago, we were sitting in church. Communion was being served. Ethan leaned towards me and whispered earnestly in my ear, "Mommy, someday I want to work in the church." I was so touched by his desire to be involved in ministry. I fast forwarded the tape and pictured my size 3T son all grown up. A future pastor, worship leader, missionary, or teacher. My heart soared. It was a Hallmark moment and I was proud to be a mom.
On the other hand, I have days when I feel utterly frustrated that it takes this same ministry minded toddler ten minutes to pull up his pants. Or five minutes to finish that
last dastardly sip of milk. I can hear the unpleasantness in my voice, "Ethan, finish that milk RIGHT NOW!" Yet in these times of mommy fatigue and frustration, I must remind myself: these are the wonder years. Don’t let exhaustion rob you from enjoying them.
So when it comes to cultivating joy while mothering a baby and toddler, here are five things I want to purpose in my heart to do:
Remember where I’ve come from. Before my first was born, I sat through infertility seminars and had surgery to remove a fibroid from my uterus. When I finally became pregnant, I felt like the luckiest woman in the world. After having Ethan, I became pregnant again but lost that little girl at 26 weeks. But on her due date, I found
out I was pregnant again. My husband knew it would be a girl. And he was right. Nine months later, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl and named her Noelle Joy. Her middle name says it best: her birth has brought our family great joy. Every child is a miracle.
Remember where they’re going. I’m going to blink and my kids will be in college. The busyness of washing bottles, sippy cups, finding toys, cooking oatmeal, and doing laundry won’t last long. When else am I going to have tiny feet to put little socks on, and round Buddha bellies to wash in the bathtub? This is my special time with my kids. And when strings turn to wings and my children become adults, I want them to remember home as a place of joy.
Celebrate the silly. I heard best-selling author Julie Barnhill talk about the importance of laughing with your children. She actually instructed us to tell knock-knock jokes regularly to our kids. So being the rule follower that I am, I googled knock-knock jokes and guess what? Any knock-knock joke works with a toddler! I want to laugh out loud with my kids about the silliest things. To find something to celebrate every day—like turning a mundane trip to the grocery store into a great scavenger hunt.
Cherish each memory. When my baby girl said "ma-ma" for the first time, I wrote it down in my journal. Now before you start getting the wrong idea, I’m not the mom who has every word their child has ever uttered documented and sorted by topic. I probably write in my journal an average of once or twice a month. I’m much better at taking pictures. My husband says I’m the paparazzi. I love looking at old albums or reading journal entries because it brings me back to those memorable times with my kids. Noelle’s baby dedication. Ethan’s first train ride. The first time the kids hugged each other. The Bible tells us when the shepherds came to worship the baby Jesus, Mary "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." And I long to do the same.
Meditate on meaningful Scriptures. I have found a very easy way to meditate on Scripture is to sing it. Ethan has the most wonderful children’s music CD called Seeds of Purpose. The song lyrics are pure Scripture. One song taken from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 says, "Be joyful always/Pray continually/Give thanks in all circumstances." When I hear Ethan singing these words, I am so blessed. In God’s presence, there is truly fullness of joy.
Psalm 113:9 says, "He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children." Being a mother is not burdensome; it is a source of great joy according to God’s Word.
Of all the jobs I’ve had so far in my life, motherhood is by far my favorite. Where else can you radically touch someone’s life, one diaper change at a time? Of course there are days I wish I could leave "my work" at the office and take a break. But when I’m overwhelmed by the dishes in the sink or my untouched to-do list, I will think about my baby pushing around her little plastic shopping cart. Joy abounds in the smallest and biggest of things during the wonder years, and I don’t want to miss a moment.
Arlene Pellicane is the author of 31 Days to a Younger You: No Surgery. No Diets. No Kidding (Harvest House Publishers). Before becoming a stay home mom and author, Arlene worked as a features reporter for The 700 Club and an associate television producer for Turning Point with Dr. David Jeremiah. As fun as those jobs were, nothing compares to parenting her three young children. Visit Arlene’s website for tips on looking and feeling younger (without botox or diet pills!).