I was walking out of the thrift store, arms bogged down with all my treasures (and a firetruck… and a filthy Scooby Doo vehicle… because that’s the only way I got my two toddlers to participate in my thrifting adventures.)
I let a nice, old man go in front of me in the checkout line because he had one item, and I had about a million.
He smiled, and he thanked me. Then he said, nodding at the kids, “Things will get better when they’re about 5.”
I was friendly and chirped, “Great! Good to know!” Big smile on my southern lady face, of course, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
But, then I got in the car, and his words started to push into me.
First, they came through my ears, of course, as words tend to do. But then they made their way down, trickling through my neck like water that was just a bit too cold. Once the words got to their final destination in my chest, they started simmering, kind of pounding along…
Why did it irk me so much?
You see, my kids were really good in the store. I was considering it a bit of a mom-win, actually.
I let them each select a toy right when we walked in. Then, I used my favorite mom-threat of, “I will give your toys to the trash truck to eat (nom nom nom) if you don’t follow me around and be good.”
Expert level parenting, clearly.
All that to say, his comment sparked some self-reflection.
If they were good, did that mean that I wasn’t?
Did he overhear me snap at them in the store? I don’t recall doing it, but is that somehow my normal state now?
Or, did I just seem exhausted, eyes darkened from writing alone at my desk while everyone else slept the night before?
Or maybe I just seemed…off. Off in a way that I definitely feel and yet still cannot quite make it through the fog to really describe or articulate.
Perhaps there’s another explanation:
- I was just being typical way-overthinking-things-Cat
- Maybe he was just trying to be nice.
- Maybe he’s right.
- Maybe he just tells this to all moms of small kids who seem to have ants in their pants in the checkout line because they are so very very very excited to be getting a $1 firetruck and $1 filthy Scooby Doo van.
Or, maybe it’s the phrase “It’ll get better.”
God I’m starting to really hate that phrase.
It’s a phrase I used to cling to back in the early days of having infant twins.
I would have clawed my way up a mountain with my bare hands just to reach for and touch those sweet words all strung together like beautiful twinkle lights… It gets better.
But now, I’ve realized there is really isn’t anything better about the future than there is about today.
Each section of life, each season, each hour, each heartbeat, all comes with its own flavor.
Plus, I think I’ve made myself pretty unhappy lately reaching for the idea that something better is on the horizon. When I look forward too much, it puts me in endurance mode. If it’s going to get better sometime, someday, then I just need to fight my way through the tough parts so they’ll hurry up and be the past.
I guess I’m wondering if there is a better way.
What if, instead of telling each other, “It’ll get better,” we tried something else?
What if we just let ourselves feel whatever moment or emotion is there and really examined it… kind of soaked in it a bit… maybe let it burn if necessary and stopped trying to ignore it?
I’ve learned that sometimes when you try to ignore the hard things in life they start knocking on your door. You can put whatever music or podcast in your ears to pretend it’s not there, but the banging will get louder and louder and louder until you address it.
I think those of us who parent young kids spend a lot of time waiting for it to get better. When they’re infants, you’re waiting for them to sleep through the night. When they’re a little older, you’re waiting for them to be potty trained. Then, you want them to be in school. And then you’re tired of driving them to practice and rehearsals and you can’t wait for them to get their own car. And then… they’re gone.
They will be gone someday.
So, this is why I’m going to strive to change this mindset.
The it-gets-better mindset has gotten me into a bad pattern. It’s put me in a habit of using my strong work ethic to power through some hard days. It makes me ignore things instead of addressing them.
Please notice I’m not saying I’m going to cherish every moment or soak in all the beauty of their childhood.
I’m just going to acknowledge whatever is happening in the present and try to photograph it in my mind and hold it there tight for a moment.
Because they weren’t bad in the store today. They were sweet. They were happy. They were thrilled to be getting a toy. They were bursting with joy so much they could hardly keep still.
It was me who looked like I needed to hear it gets better.
It was me.
And I’d like to change that.