Motherhood and Fractured Moments

One of my biggest worries as I entered into parenthood was that I would lose perspective on the breadth of my abilities, and the height of my goals. While this has certainly been an issue, it dawned on me recently that an even greater challenge than keeping track of the big picture is handling the smallest one.

I've had a terrible time trying to deal with fractured moments--not being able to put my attention on just one thing, but in one moment trying to meet the different demands of two children while also trying to accomplish something else, like making dinner or answering the phone. That's what really exhausts me. And it doesn't take very many of those moments for me to end up feeling that my day has been one of total insignificance and that my failure to deal elegantly with such little things speaks volumes about my inadequacy as a mother.

It's been very helpful to remember what I learned about atoms in high school--about how tightly bound together they are and how much energy it takes to break them apart. Applying that perspective on atoms to my moments, the whole picture looks different. It must take an incredible amount of energy to go through a day with one's attention constantly divided, living fractured moment after fractured moment. Yet that is the norm for parenting, particularly for mothers of young children. Rather than berating myself ("How could I be so tired after accomplishing so little?"), I could respect the effort involved and be awed that there was anything left of me after such an output of energy. That perspective also helped clarify the direction I needed to take--to reclaim my moments, to notice them, enjoy them, and keep them whole.

While I don't have total control over all of them, I have a lot more than I ever realized. For example, if I'm trying to work and the baby is due to wake soon, it is possible to perceive each of those moments as divided--between my work and my need to listen. But it's also possible to not listen for whole moments, to claim that time fully for my work, and then to listen. It often feels like I'm not spending very much time enjoying my children because I'm always managing so many conflicting demands. But even during the busiest times, there are many moments I can take just to enjoy. Not every one of them is consumed. I can stop folding the laundry to notice how beautiful my son is--to have that moment fully with him--and still not get behind with the housework.

One of the wonderful things about this perspective is that it offers abundance in a place where all I've been feeling is scarcity. There are so many moments, hundreds of thousands in every day. Though my attention will still be divided by necessity some of the time, I have a choice about how I handle many of these moments. There are lots to reclaim and lots to enjoy. I can do things one moment at a time, each one fully, rather than endlessly suffering one fractured moment after another.

A further implication of this abundance is that I don't have to get it right the first time. I can blow my moments, forget them, misuse them, make mistakes with them and still have lots left. The tendency toward panic and desperation is interrupted. I get to relax into each one more.

It's not that hard. All we have to do is remember. And the rewards are so great. The smile of a child, a touch, a laugh, a look of proud accomplishment, an interlude when nothing special is happening but everything is just right, a time when communication is clear and deep. These are the treasures of parenting. These are the moments that we have kept whole.