Parenting,  toddlers

Try to Be Here

These days are so long, and they’re so similar that sometimes – more often than I care to admit, really – I lift my head and look around on a Thursday afternoon and wonder how it isn’t Monday still. Didn’t we do all this on Monday already? Has the sun really risen and set three times since then? Have my legs been shaved this week?

They don’t notice. They don’t seem to have any real sense of the passage of time. Joey goes wild with satisfaction when I acquiesce to his demand for a bedtime “two minutes later than John Paul’s.” Sure, kid, whatever gets you through to quitting time.

But they don’t have a real grasp on ‘hurry up’ or ‘slow down’ … and they sure as hell don’t have a handle on ‘Mommy needs five minutes more on the phone, please go restart Curious George and teach yourself how to read.’

I am bad at slowing down. I’m also bad at surrendering to the pace of a toddler driven day, marked by periods of intense involvement with a wooden train set and periodic fraternal sparring over said vehicles. One more drink. Hold me. I want up on your bed. I don’t want to go potty. I just peed on the floor. Don’t get my hair wet. Hold me. Don’t look at me. Et cetera. 

I don’t know whether this is a terrible thing to admit, but I hate reading aloud to my children. I hate reading aloud, period. To revisit the same Curious George (why is that monkey such a fixture in my life?) story over and over again is a special kind of hell for me. It’s definitely a death to self. But it’s an unwilling death, not freely given. I feel acutely that my life is taken from me, in these moments, rather than freely surrendered. And that sucks. Because I want to love my children better than that. I want to give them the best of me, and to give it willingly.

I want to want to sit cross-legged on the floor reading the same book over and over again and marveling over his delight with the cadence of the story. But those moments are fleeting, and the feelings they invoke are unsustainable. Most of the time I’m lucky to keep myself from swearing in front of them or raising my voice to a full-on yell. I try to kiss them often, and squeeze their fat little thighs while telling them how precious they are. But I also spend way too much time on the computer while they’re awake. I say terrible things about their behavior while I’m on the phone with my mom (who always admonishes me) and to my sister (who sympathizes with me).

In short, I’m failing them. Every day. I’m also serving them the best I know how… most of the time. I’m trying to teach them to love Jesus: we go to Mass and I sweat and wrestle and threaten and coax. And I pray that something is soaking down deep into their little hearts, and that it will grow and bloom. Today we took Aunt Claire to St. Peter’s and we stumbled into Mass on the St. Joseph’s altar, in Italian. Against all better judgement we stepped behind the velvet rope and joined in. Because it had just started and I needed the Sacrament today, just like Christy wrote about.

They both fought me most of the time, escaping from the pew, flirting with nuns, running away from me and climbing into the stately wooden confessional and kicking sandaled feet gleefully against the penitent’s kneeler. In short, they were toddlers. As we were leaving the basilica, threading our way through massive crowds of sweating tourists, Claire asked ‘was that normal?’ And I could only laugh.

Oh yes, it was normal. It was every day. And it was awful. And yet, completely what I expected. These years are hard. They’re fleeting and precious and something I’ll ponder in my heart when I’m 50 years old, I know…but they’re hard. And I’m just trying to live in them, to be in them, to not constantly try to escape from them. Because I know, if my vocation is here, then my salvation is here. And I mean that in the least saccharine way possible. I firmly believe these children will get me closer to Heaven than any other thing on this earth. And yet, I want to run from them. Often.

I hope if the internet is still a thing 10 or 15 years from now and they happen to stumble onto something I’ve written about this time in our lives together, they’ll see how loved they were, in spite of the insanity and proliferation of bodily fluids. More importantly, I hope they’ll remember a sweet, patient Mommy who didn’t mind reading one more story or getting one more glass of water at bedtime, rather than the yelling, un-showered Mommy who is threatening to lock herself in the bathroom with a laptop and a bottle of red wine until Daddy gets home.

I hope they know how much I love them. And I hope they don’t feel ignored or hurried or slighted or a million other emotions I unwittingly inflict on them on a daily basis.

I hope I can learn to be here. Because, in the words of one of my favorite saints, “We have only today. Let us begin.”


  • Laura

    Oh man, me too. Life with a toddler can be so darn tedious! I saved this post to read again on the days where I’m counting the hours and minutes til bedtime, especially when Mary wants me to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider for the umpteenth time. Thank you for sharing so well.

  • LeighAnna

    I feel like I’m seeing a vision of my life in a few years… down to wanting to lock myself away with a bottle of wine and a laptop. It sounds like we have similar temperaments! I just hope you know that when you share these kinds of posts, it gives us to-be and new moms hope that dealing successfully with toddlers is possible, and that it really is worth it. Even the bodily fluids. 🙂

  • Becky

    It is really hard and I found that it was even harder when we were together All The Time. It’s hard to appreciate anything if you are immersed in it every second. I think it’s really hard when you go at mothering from a philosophy that it should be your primary occupation- it’s not a wrong way of looking at it but it is hard. I am perpetually surprised at what a difference in my mothering just a few mornings “off” can make. I am still very much the primary caregiver but that touch of breathing room makes all the difference. I have just enough time to miss them (which happens in 3 hours or less) I really wish you could find more support in Italy although you could be facing the very same issue in the US. We really weren’t meant to do this alone but society seems to think we are…

  • Laura

    Oh man, me too! Life with a toddler can be so tedious sometimes. I saved this post to read again on the days when I’m counting down the hours and minutes til bedtime and my daughter wants to read a Boynton book for the umpteenth time. Thanks for writing!!

  • Francine

    Yes! I was just thinking about this today! I try to remind myself that there will always be things to do, but they’re only little for so long… although some days it does seem like forever.

  • Nichole @ Yackity Shmackity

    Loved this post. I’m so right there with you.

    I feel like I’m failing my kids most of the time too. When I’m with them, I’m wondering when I’ll get a moment for myself. Then when I’m away from them I feel guilty. I love them more than anything, but they’re the most difficult thing I’ve dealt with, ever. My uncle told me it takes eight years to become an expert on anything. So, I have four more years to go before I get the hang of this parenting thing. Until then I expect to keep slamming my head against the wall.

    Mother Teresa is one of my favorite saints, too. I don’t think she ever said anything that wasn’t surprisingly simple and inspirational at the same time.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for being real, hilarious, humble and endearing allat the same time. I trad your blog over the millions of other Catholic Moms out there because I can relate and yet still want to be more like you at the same time. Please don’t ever change. Or if you do, don’t reveal it in your wtiting 😉

  • Claudette

    I am a voracious reader, I love books and I want my children to love reading too. but reading out loud to them… I hated it mostly, so I invested in a leappad and never looked back. They still learnt to read and my joy now is buying books with them and seeing them engrossed in a good story… while I have my nose buried in my book, thank you very much. I tell myself i’m raising independent children he he ..

  • mindyz

    Wow! Thank you for this post! I mirror so much of it, my children are older and I am fighting different battles but yes, I feel/felt the same way. My daughter is my spur right now, 11 almost 12 and F*U*L*L of ATTITUDE! There are days when I just don’t know how to handle her tornadic moods. I will be praying for you and please pray for me. 🙂 Patience and Grace,please *hugs* from Missouri!

  • Amanda

    I feel like you were inside my brain these past few weeks and many other random weeks since becoming a mama. What came to mind while reading it was my old spiritual director (You know, back in the day, when I had time to make it to spiritual direction every week). Any time I would share something I was struggling with she would always gently and excitedly say, “What a grace that you can see this! What grace! The Lord is truly with you!”. Where I would just stare at her blankly. As many times she would remind me of these graces, I slowly but surely realized that He was with me, even though I felt like such a mess. I was right where I needed to be in my mess with the grace to see that things were messy. Prayers for you and thank you for a post for this mama’s heart.

  • Christy from fountains of home

    Aw, Jenny! I’ve been there. I’m still there most days. I just snap-showed on two of them for not getting out the door quick enough. I want my “nice” mommy time to outweigh the “yelling/nagging/impatient” mommy time one day soon!

    And you’re so sweet about the link, I’m glad you liked it!

  • Sarah Marie

    Bookmarked. For when I need to know there are others who struggle with the push and pull and general heart shaping of this vocation. Sanctification hurts! I’m crazy blessed by the honesty of this post. You are awesome.

  • onecatholicmama

    Thanks for sharing…I totally hear ya. Especially on the reading aloud. I hate reading stories aloud. I rush through them. I yell too much. I’m too impatient and anxious. But, when it all comes down to it, I love them fiercely and all I can do is my best and work to persevere through the tough times.

  • Meg Hunter-Kilmer

    You’re a wonderful mom and your boys are blessed to have you. But it does get so hard and I’m totally with you on reading aloud. I’ve found a couple that I actually enjoy, though. For me, it’s about challenging rhythms and tongue-twistery words. Then I’m not slogging through moronic prose waiting for plot developments, I’m enjoying the act of saying the words. A.A. Milne’s poetry is pretty good for this but my *favorite* is Bubble Trouble. Find a screenshot and tell me you don’t want to practice reading that! Maybe it’ll help the reading aloud feel less like death?

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