Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone?
In the span of less than a year, I became a parent, left my job, and moved from a big city to a small town of about 3,500. I traded in my life of happy hours, high-end restaurants and theater performances for diapers, baby food and story time at the library. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything in the world, but it’s been a pretty dramatic lifestyle change. From my new vantage point I can see with new clarity all the things I took for granted in my “old” life.
I now work from home part-time, and most people think they’d do the same in a heartbeat if they had the chance. But working from home has made me acutely aware of all the things that are awesome about working in an office – the morning chats with coworkers, the potlucks and holiday parties, the lunchtime gossip sessions. Having coworkers that you actually see and interact with socially is such a basic fact of office life that it’s virtually impossible to appreciate until it’s gone, everything from serious heart-to-hearts to just debriefing after last night’s episode of the Walking Dead (ok fine I never watched that show, but it’s all I heard about around the office the next day). The social aspect of work fades into the background and out of notice. The annoying things about our jobs, meanwhile, always seem to take center stage: that project your boss just assigned you, the arbitrary new process for filing TPS reports, the jerk who didn’t clean up after himself when his soup exploded all over the office microwave…
I would never be so foolish as to complain about working from home. My daily commute is from my bedroom to the office down the hall, and I participate in conference calls without having to change out of my PJ’s. But when I see people complaining about their jobs on Facebook, I just want to scream through the computer “enjoy it while you can!!!” I realize that people have legitimate complaints, and venting is way healthier than punching the photocopier. But what a shame to completely overlook all the fun parts of work life because they’re perpetually trumped by the annoyance du jour.
As mindful as I try to be about the “grass is always greener” trap, I find myself falling into it all the time. Take the Facebook posts from my single friends. Scenic hikes, impromptu beach weekends, winery tours, street festivals – my friends seem to bounce from awesome event to awesome event without a care in the world. Us old married couples with kids watch their fun, spontaneous lifestyles with envy, our schedules now fixed firmly around nap schedules and bedtime routines. Meanwhile, these friends probably have NO idea how awesome their lives appear to us. Being able to just do the things they want without too much thought (and without having to find a babysitter) is such a basic part of their existence that they don’t really think about it. They may well be looking at the Facebook feeds of the Married with Children crowd, feeling frustrated that they too can’t seem to find “the one.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting more out of life – to find a romantic partner or a better job. But we could easily spend our single life focused on wanting to be married, our married life focused on wanting to have a baby, our family life wishing we could be carefree again, and old age missing the time when we were young and healthy. Life is just too short to waste our time and mental energy on what we don’t have.
For new parents I think it’s especially hard to keep this in perspective. As soon as you have a baby, parents with grown children seem compelled to remind you to be grateful and treasure every moment. They warn that our children’s lives will fly by at a speed we can’t conceive of. As well-intentioned as this advice might be, it’s hard to take to heart when you can’t remember the last time you showered, your sleep never lasts more than 3 consecutive hours, and life feels like a never ending cycle of feedings, changing poopy diapers, and cleaning up spit-up. The newborn phase is brutal, and taking a broader perspective is damn near impossible in your zombie-like state. When my son would only sleep in my arms instead of the crib, I’d keep thinking about the sink full of dirty dishes and mountain of laundry I should be dealing with. Looking back, I wish I’d been more able to put those worries aside and fully appreciate the joy of having a tiny, precious creature curled up on my chest, his breathing syncing with my own. These older parents realize how fleeting such moments really are, and don’t want us to miss out on one ounce of that joy.
Toddlerhood means tantrums and endless battles of will, but it also means unprecedented levels of cuteness and laugh-out-loud moments (like when my 1 ½-year-old would look through a cookbook exclaiming “Ooooh!” and kissing the page if a dish looked especially tasty). When kids hit school age, it brings book reports, school projects, and a new role for us as chauffeurs to endless sporting events and practices. But it also means a greater level of independence and fewer limitations on the things you can do as a family (like eating out without constant fear of an imminent meltdown). And when they become teenagers? They might not talk to you, but hey, at least you’ll probably get more sleep. Every phase of childhood comes with its own joys and frustrations. It’s up to us which we choose to focus on.
Easier said than done, of course. The basic facts of our life that are certainly worth being grateful for – having a roof over our heads, a kitchen full of food, some good friends and family that love us – are so utterly basic that they fail to register most of the time. Hearing as a little kid that there were starving children in Africa probably didn’t make us any more appreciative of Mom’s tuna noodle casserole. We don’t think twice about our daily hot showers until the hot water heater breaks – then that first shower after it’s fixed feels like the MOST A-MAZ-ING THING EVER. I swear to myself I’ll never take hot showers for granted again… which usually lasts about 3 days. I have to remind myself often to pause and take stock of my blessings, even the ones that are usually invisible.
So for those of you without kids, have an extra drink for me the next time you’re at happy hour. I’ll be snuggling with my hubby, contentedly watching Modern Family reruns in my sweats.