Recently I was at the pool with my three children and for the first time in my life a mom looked at me and asked, “Does it get easier?” This mom had two young children crawling all over her in the water. I was sitting on the edge of the pool with my feet in the water, ready to pounce if need be, but not actively a human jungle gym.
My kids still aren’t terribly old, but I blinked and somehow I’ve become one of the more “experienced” moms. When I drop my youngest off at preschool I don’t have any other kids to haul around, no baby carrier, no toddler in my arms. This happened so fast. Only a few years ago, I was the one trying to figure out how to carry multiple children at once, the one longingly looking at the moms with school-aged children and wondering if it really does get easier.
It does. It doesn’t get easy, but it gets easier.
This encounter with the pool mom reminded me of something I wrote a few years back when “easier” was still just a dream. This was also a time when I had reached a decent place with my body image, something I still work on but has also gotten easier over the years…
Persevere Through the Poop
Let’s set the scene:
My husband is away on a work trip. I have three kids 4 and under. I live a 14 hour flight away from my family. And my 2 year old has just wiped his poopy butt with a toilet bowl brush.
Oh wait. He has also smooshed the brush into the not yet flushed poop, dripping brown water all over the toilet and bathroom floor.
Meanwhile, my infant is crying because he is tired and MUST BE HELD NOW, and my 4 year old is having a tantrum over something I don’t even have the energy to ascertain.
Are you freakin kidding me?!
And now my 2 year old, who is also naked, is skipping around the house with post poop joy, still clutching the toilet bowl brush that has now transformed into a pirate’s sword.
My infant is kicking in my arms as I scurry around the house trying to get that blasted brush.
I finally get the brush. I wonder if I should serve up a consequence for this situation. But I also have to clean up the situation. And listen to an infant scream at me because I have put him down to take care of the situation.
Meanwhile, my 4 year old is off crying and banging doors because I have neglected to listen to her about whatever it is (I haven’t been listening).
I yell, elongating every word, “I GIVE UP!!!!!!” All three kids pause in surprise at mommy’s outburst. And then start crying in unison.
Those words felt good. Felt final. Felt foolish.
Because I can’t give up. I’m responsible for these little terrors and can’t hand them off to anyone right now. I must raise my frustration tolerance. The realization is annoying in its truth. I don’t have a choice.
One stupid step at a time. First step: Wipe my boy’s butt properly and plop him in his room while mommy cleans up the poop. Next step: pick up crying infant and take poop boy out of his room. Final step: walk us all to my daughter’s bed so we can group hug.
Not a perfect solution. But I can breathe again.
We are not born with perseverance. We have to learn it, often over and over. If I’m honest, I think this sucks. I don’t want to learn perseverance. I want to have what I want right now, kind of like a toddler.
Unfortunately, my life requires grown up actions. Most of the time I can’t give up with the kids. When my husband is home, I gladly pass the metaphorical and too often literal toilet bowl brush to him, but soon enough, it’s my turn again.
I’ve found the same is true with my body. I can give up, eat the bag of truly delicious dove squares, swear off exercise, wallow in self-disgust, but soon enough, I realize even if I “give up,” I still have to cart my body around until I die. Bodies, like kids, aren’t going away.
How Do I Enact Learned Perseverance?
I steal a tip from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and change my mantra from “I can’t” to “I don’t like it, but I can stand it.”
Note, this is not the same as saying “aren’t I lucky.” I don’t always need to force gratitude when I am genuinely pissed off. To be honest, sometimes I’m saying those words through gritted teeth.
I’m not asking you go from “I can’t take these kids anymore” to “aren’t they angels.”
Similarly, I’m not asking you to go from “I really don’t like my belly [or any other body part] to “my belly is lovely and beautiful, let me put on a bikini right now.”
Learned perseverance means finding a way to plow through the muck. You don’t need to pretend the muck is a meadow, but you can’t let it become quicksand either.
What other choice do we have? At least we learn, even if we don’t always want to, we can persevere through the poop.