A Family and Imperfection Writing Contest
All I Have to Do Today
by Jenny Roth
Last April my third daughter came in to the world during an unexpected spring blizzard. I know that sounds odd, but if you live in South Dakota a “spring blizzard” is a thing sometimes. My family operates a cattle farm, and April calving season is always a busy time as they work around the clock checking pens for things like a mother cow that needs help with labor, or a newborn calf that needs to get warm in the barn. So when Mother Nature decided to dump piles of snow and freezing winds on us during this time, my family and many others in our area had to work even harder to keep their cattle, and therefore their livelihoods, alive and well.
The timing was less than perfect, but my sweet, tiny Vayda also decided to make her entrance in to the world during this busy, stressful season. My husband, having gone down this road before with our other two daughters, knew I would need his help at home in the days following Vayda’s birth. He tried really hard the day we got home from the hospital to act like he was not at all concerned about the farm and cattle. But his jaw clenched slightly as he glanced at the whiteout conditions outside our window, and I have loved him long enough to know what he was thinking.
“You need to go help at the farm, don’t you?” I asked on our first morning home as a family of five.
“I don’t want to….but..…I think I better.”
Before I had a chance to change my mind I quickly rambled “You better go, they need you there, don’t worry about me, I can make it until nap time for sure, and if things get crazy, I will just put on a Dora the Explorer TV Marathon.”
So away my husband went to work outside in the miserable cold for who knows how long, leaving me alone for the first time with our 3 ½ year old, 1 ½ year old, and 3 day old daughters. I think I had about 45 minutes of sleep the night before, and did I mention the winter we were having in April yet? It was producing serious cabin fever, the kind that makes your kids spider man the walls. I knew I should be stressed to the max over being home alone with all three kids so soon, but strangely I only felt 30% terrified of my situation. Maybe after you have so many kids nothing scares you anymore, or maybe I was too tired to be thinking straight. But what I really think changed my heart after Vayda’s birth was a voice in my head that said “You just have to love them, that’s all you REALLY have to do today.”
I have no idea where this idea came from but I do know that it changed my life completely. Before Vayda was born I was the kind of mom that started checking items off of my to-do list the minute my feet hit the floor in the morning. Totally awesome pinteresty learning super sensory projects for my preschool and toddler completed, check! Homemade laundry soap, dish soap, hand soap, sunscreen, and bug spray made, check! Shopping lists completed, meals planned, laundry started, dishes done, bathrooms cleaned, check! I ran around my life trying to stay busy in fear that if I was not busy every waking minute, then I was not successful and therefore lazy and not contributing enough to my home and family.
Thankfully, Vayda’s birth changed me. I did not see it coming. When I read the positive pregnancy test the day before my second daughter’s 1st birthday I spent a long time crying in to my bathroom sink.
My mind raced thinking “I cannot do this, no way no way no way, this was not part of my plan. I cannot handle another baby I am swamped already.” Having another baby was not on my to-do list, and to say the least it completely freaked me out. Eight months later though, our healthy baby girl was born. I looked at her and expected to feel anxiety, exhaustion, stress, and overwhelming fear at what lay before me, but by some miracle instead I felt a calm like I have never felt before…with all those other things too….just smaller and hiding behind the dominating calm. Then I heard it “You just have to love them, that’s all you REALLY have to do today.”
So that first day at home when my husband left to work his butt off, I took a deep breath and repeated it to myself “All I have to do today is love them” and then for the first time in a long time I gave myself permission to do just that. I quieted the nagging checklist in my brain and sat on the floor and read books with my girls instead of tackling the dishes and laundry and unpacked hospital suitcase. I allowed myself to do nothing but listen to my girls and talk with them and push the hair off their foreheads and look at their beautiful curious eyes when I answered their questions. I let myself hold and feed my baby in a rocking chair while the other two giggled beside me at their favorite cartoons. I was tired. I was also overwhelmed and nervous about being a new mom again and adjusting our lives to a baby. On top of that, I had to constantly ignore the fear in my mind that said “Look at all these little kids; you are in charge of all of them….forever!! How are you possibly going to take care of everyone and everything?”
Even though it was hard, tuning out the to-do list and fears and changing my heart towards my children led me to see what kind of mom I really wanted to be. I realized that loving my kids and husband was what I was meant to do, and that I actually enjoyed doing it! I stared at the new black haired baby in my arms and cried because how wonderful is it to be given a gift like that? To spend months worrying the worst is before you and that surely you will fail, but to see that instead you are right in the middle of the goodstuff, and the best is just beginning, if you just let it.
I started doing things I never would have before. After breakfast the next morning my biggest girl brought me a book and asked if I would read it to her. Before, I would have told her as soon as the breakfast dishes were done, I would read with her. And maybe she would have waited for me or maybe she would have found something else to do I don’t remember, because I was more worried about checking the dishes off my list at that moment than her. This time I read with her and really felt her cold toes on my leg and sleepy head on my shoulder. There is joy in mothering if you can look past the dishes and see it.
I let so many things go in the first few months after Vayda’s birth. Except for the suppers generously made for us by close friends, my family ate a steady diet of macaroni and cheese, frozen pizza, cereal, and sandwiches. I had previously been cloth diapering my one year old, but after 20 minutes of trying to cloth diaper her and the baby I realized I did not have the energy for this extra chore, and I let myself let it go and switched to disposables until further notice. I did not worry about making my bed every morning, I did not care if I had my hair in a ponytail every day, and I took a nap every afternoon snuggled down with my sweet daughters around me while the lunch dishes remained on the table.
The most amazing part of this all was that my family did not care one bit about my lack of task completing. I don’t even think they really noticed, and somehow, the things that needed to get done just eventually did. It wasn’t true that I didn’t have anything important that needed to get done, it was just that I truly put loving the people in my life first on the list, and the rest just came later. My family did not care what they had for supper, how neat the bathroom was, if their diapers were organic cotton or what have you, they just cared that I got up every day and loved them. They wanted me to be happy, because like the saying goes, the mama’s mood affects everyone. Allowing myself to be happy and enjoy the day allowed them to do the same without having to tip toe around a stressed out perfectionist mom.
Vayda is almost one year old now, and I still often have to turn off the type-A get it done instincts that I have and remind myself that jumping on the trampoline, walking to the park, and listening to my husband tell me about his day is my job, and I love it. The chores will wait, time with my husband and daughters will not. So now when my house is covered in glitter, the laundry pile is half way up the ceiling, and I have a strong desire to scrub the play-dough off the kitchen floor just as my two year old tugs on my leg and says “mommy, can you draw me a dinosaur,” I take a deep breath and remember what I REALLY have to do today, and I hold my daughter close and as we draw together.
I’m Jenny Roth, a wife and stay at home mom to three young daughters. In my previous life I loved concerts, running, camping, and reading great books, and I still tuck these things in around raising my family when I can. I have not written a thing since my college thesis and found it both therapeutic and terrifying to put my heart out there in words, so thank you for this contest and taking the time to read my story.
I asked each of our Writing Contest judges to share her thoughts on the winning entries.
Here’s what they had to say about Jenny’s story:
Korie: “Thank you for writing. I felt encouraged by your story, and have found myself repeating your mantra. It’s the reminder this list-maker needed.”
Korie Buerkle is the mother of two imaginative young children, and the wife of the talented graphic designer and amazing stay-at-home dad, Brandon Buerkle. She is a Children’s Librarian and loves creating storytimes and book clubs when she is not doing other administrative things that are not as much fun.
Meghan: “What a perfect thing to tell myself over and over on those hard days! It’s so true, but difficult to distill down the important things in the midst of all the details. Loved this message!”
Meghan Rogers-Czarnecki works at her family’s independent bookstore, Chapters Books and Coffee where she loves chatting with customers about good books as well as their personal stories, which are often just as compelling. She spends way too much time reading, negotiating with her three children, and cooking to have any left over for cleaning her house, so imperfection is near and dear to her heart.
Aj: “Grace. This essay conveys such grace in the midst of chaos, a grace that I find myself wanted to live into.”
Aj Schwanz is the Chief Manager of Consumption for her tribe at their humble abode in Dundee, Oregon. She writes single-sentence bios for herself and then gives Beth Woolsey permission to write the rest. Beth and Aj share a deep love of well-written words which they usually find in YA fantasy novels and occasionally on a completely inappropriate Canadian television series about the fae underworld, about which they text regularly. Whereas Beth just Makes Up Crap on her blog, Aj worked Real Jobs in the Writing World as a Young Adult librarian and as an editor for Barclay Press.
P.S. I neglected to include our judges’ thoughts when I shared our first two Writing Contest winning entries. So sorry! You can see them now – and read the great stories by Jen Hulfish and Lora Lyon – on their guests posts: Between Our Naked Toes and Who Are You?
And we would love to hear your thoughts, too!
One of the hardest parts of writing is wondering how our soul-baring will be received.
Your feedback and encouragement are enormous gifts.
Old Wood Pencil image credit gubgib via freedigitalimages.net