Revering the Crayon Marks: An Essay on Rediscovering the Joy of Parenting

by Susie Cortright

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"Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired."
Mother Theresa *

This was one of those relatively rare - but still very real - days as a stay-at-home mom in which I feared the best I could do would be to fake a smile and turn my back, when necessary, to count to ten.

It was on this particular day that the girls and I were heading to a distant store to pick out just the right Christmas gift for someone. My 3-year-old was passing the time by speaking every thought that occurred to her. At this particular moment, those thoughts revolved around the time of day.

"If you get up early enough, it's night," she announced.

"Callie gets earbubble," (that would be "irritable") "right before her nap."

"Daddy comes home when it gets dark."

I answered yes to all of these things, only half-listening. Then, making a distracted attempt at conversation, I asked her, "What's your favorite time of the day?"

Silence.

"What did you ask me, mommy?"

I repeated the question. "What's your favorite time of the day?"

Silence again.

I looked in the rear view mirror. Her blank stare told me she thought my question was absurd. After a time, she answered:

"This one."

Now Cassie does enjoy a good long car ride, so I asked her the question again as she was getting ready for bed that night:

"Cassie, what's your favorite time of day?"

The answer was the same: "This one."

Ah. This one. And so should it be for me. How I wish it were. How I wish I could recognize the peace and joy in every single moment with my kids.
You see, my daughter is better than me at something I long to be good at. It's what Richard Foster, author of Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, calls the Prayer of the Ordinary.

"We are Praying the Ordinary," he writes, "when we see God in the ordinary experiences of life. Can we find meaning in the crayon marks on the wall made by the kids? Are they somehow the finger of God writing on the wall of our hearts?" In the same chapter, he writes: "It is in the everyday and the commonplace that we learn patience, acceptance, and contentment."

That, I'm sure, is true. Particularly that patience part.

My fear is that, like everyone with adult children tells me, the time will go too quickly, I fear that I'll wish for it back, even those mealtimes interrupted by the whisper "Mommy, I pooped." Even those whines for another Go-gurt. Even the stray Legos I nail with my bare feet. I fear that I'll soon pine for all the time I've ever wished away.

And yet, though I'm infinitely conscious of trying to freeze those moments -the good and the bad - in my memory for some distant future, it's hard. It's hard to see Foster's crayon marks on the wall as anything but crayon marks. Crayon marks that I will have to scrub.

I'm experiencing a crayon mark of sorts right now. As I jot notes for this column at the kitchen table, my 3-year old is sitting on my lap, trying to push my pen along the page with her Three Little Pigs book. She has just dragged her grape lollipop through my hair and wiped her nose on my sleeve. "Mommy, make your pen go ALL the way along the page," she orders, scooting it along and making my thoughts an illegible mess of ink.

For a moment, I have an unbecoming and out-of-the-blue urge to chuck her beloved book across the room.

And it is precisely times like these when I need to indeed see the crayon marks as something left by the finger of God. To feel a sense of reverence for my every moment of my life as a mom. To once again find meaning and glory in my daughter's cherubic yet filthy face.

But for this, I need some kind of tool, some trick for the heat of the moment. A trick to bring myself back in an instant to the kind of mother I long to be, the kind of mother I sometimes know myself to be, and the kind of mother I want my daughters to remember me to be.

At this moment, I have a little talk with myself. Cassie and I end up tucking our feet under a blanket on the couch and reading the very book that I wanted to hurl. And I enjoy it. I always do if can just sink into the moment and remember what a little miracle I have here on my lap.

Perhaps that tool, then, is surrender.

Or maybe it's distraction. The same trick that all moms learn when their youngest is about 18 months old. When Cassie was that age, and she'd get angry and frustrated, distraction worked wonders. When she was 2 ½, distraction worked wonders on MY anger and frustration. Sometimes, the best tool for me is to change my scenery…to get my mind on something else.

Perhaps that tool is compassion. Compassion for our children and a conscious understanding of what they must be feeling at certain times in their precious and sometimes bewildering lives.
And compassion to ourselves, which we can show by not over-scheduling our lives to the point where it's impossible to get down on the floor and play for 20 minutes, if that's what it takes. Or to call your own mommy just to chat for 20 minutes, if that's what it takes.

Perhaps that tool lies in the realization that our lives are long and full and that there will be plenty of time to do what we need to do when we no longer have little ones pulling on our pant legs.

Perhaps it is the tool of single-tasking. So we don't feel distracted all the time. This is the tool that involves downshifting out of overdrive, because it's in overdrive that we talk too much, eat too much, think too much. Enjoy too little.

Perhaps it is the tool of shifting your awareness. A conscious committing to memory of the ripe physical sensations of motherhood: The feel of your baby's marvelous, heavy head on your chest. The smell of Cheerios on her breath. This is how we bring ourselves back--gently--to the gifts that are under our fingers and, oftentimes, directly underfoot.

Perhaps it is the tool of solitude. So that, by enjoying the pursuit of something, solo, we may return to them renewed--and without resentment.

Perhaps it is the tool of being honest and talking it out with other moms. It helps me to remember that we're all in this together. Most days we are genuinely loving it. Some days we are genuinely faking it, just as generations of good moms before us have done.

There is a certain solace in this story told by my mother-in-law, whose three children would describe an ideal, involved, committed, and very loving mother. There were days, she says, when her face hurt at the end of the day from smiling. A clear and present sign that her smile was, for days at a time, forced.

But her kids didn't know. With grace, neither will mine. And tomorrow will be a different kind of a day, with new tools to look upon those crayon marks with the reverence they deserve.

Copyright Susie Michelle Cortright
Editor, Momscape.com

*Note: I found the quote that begins this column in Mimi Doe's new book Busy but Balanced, a terrific read filled with good suggestions for parents. 

About the Author: 
Susie Michelle Cortright is the founder of Momscape.com She is a writer and full-time mom whose passion is helping women celebrate and embrace their role as mothers. She lives in  Breckenridge, Colorado, with her husband and three young children.