Word of the Year – Why Staying Present is Hard

Today I’m linking up with Honoré at Morning Glory Studio to share some thoughts about my Word of the Year. If you haven’t read my introduction post to my Word of the Year – Present – then feel free to start with this link.

I’m most concerned with staying present through the chaos at home. I get so tempted to focus on cleaning and tidying and I’m worried that I’m missing out on a lot with my children. I should say here that I do not have high standards when it comes to a clean home. While my surroundings really affect my mood, I can tolerate mess throughout the day when I know that it can be relatively quickly tidied away before bed.

And I know that messes happen when you have three children 6 and under. I totally get it and can work through those messes without an issue. There’s an extra challenge in our home: autism. My middle bug is obsessed with ripping paper. We’ve found some work arounds that seem to help, but there are times when nothing scratches his itch and he goes crazy looking for paper to rip and it seems impossible to redirect him. In anticipation of this, I’ve had to rearrange our bookshelves to ensure that only board books are within easy reach of him. Of course, he’s a pro at dragging chairs around to use as ladders so he requires nearly 100% supervision at all times.

When my middle bug is home, this is what the dining room typically looks like:

I can’t believe I’m sharing this picture on my blog! Totally not cozy! But truly, this is the typical state of my dining room, especially since I’ve imposed my rule to only vacuum once a day (because before this rule, I was vacuuming 3-4 times a day and it was bonkers). All that paper on the floor drives me crazy. Just looking at this picture makes my skin crawl. I can’t stand it.

Sometimes he sneaks by me with a paper book while I’m washing dishes or cooking something. He loves to run upstairs to his room and do this:

(notice the missing paint on that corner on the left? That’s because he likes to eat those corners. He’s done it to nearly every one in our house. Don’t worry, we get his lead checked regularly and he’s within normal limits.)

And remember this ripped page out of my notebook? Nothing is safe!

This behavior still drives me crazy, but I don’t get mad about it anymore. My word of the year in 2019 was ‘Pause‘ and practicing that skill was more important than I can describe. Now when I walk into a room and see something like this, I can take a breath. I can think about my reaction. And I’ve learned to circumvent my crazy thoughts and immediately replace them with, “my relationship with my child is more important than any material object.” Full stop. End of story.

But like I said – my skin crawls when I see those messes. They feel so overwhelming and difficult to work through. During the week, I vacuum in the morning right after he gets on the bus to go to his therapies, so I have about 3 hours of clean floors before he gets back home. I vacuum in the mornings on the weekends too, but that feels totally useless because the floors are a disaster again within the hour.

But giving myself the rule to vacuum only once has given me permission to sit in the chaos, as difficult as it is. And it’s also helped me stay calm when these things happen because instead of creating another mess that needs to be cleaned, we’re only adding to the one before — which I’ll clean the next morning and be done with (until, of course, the next mess comes along).

So my goal during the next year is to find a phrase or a mantra to insert into my internal script when my skin starts to crawl and I get the itch to stop what I’m doing with the children and start to clean. Of course, I do my best to involve them in the tidying process, but my middle bug rarely imitates anything so getting him involved is really difficult.

This weekend’s On Being episode was the perfect thing for me to listen to while I was finishing up this blog post. Krista Tippett interviewed Alison Gropnik, a child development expert. Here’s a few lines from her interview that resonated with me:

“And caring for children is such a profound thing, because on the one hand, it’s the most grownup, responsible, caring thing that we do, but on the other hand, it gives us a chance to be in that expanded universe. I say, you walk down to — going to get a pint of milk with a 3-year-old is like going to get a pint of milk with William Blake. Suddenly, you realize that this three blocks of completely ordinary suburban street has become, literally, invisible to you, suddenly you realize how rich it is. [laughs] There’s dogs, and there’s flyers, and there’s potholes…

…. And again, I think because women have been the ones who’ve traditionally been most engaged in that caregiving, that whole side of thinking about caring for children as itself a profoundly spiritual experience in both senses, both because it involves this kind of altruistic, moral relationship and also because it gives you a chance to be in this world of open awareness.

…. And I think it’s been really invisible in the tradition, because it’s been women with children who’ve been doing it, and even among women, the women with children have been so busy raising the children that they haven’t had time to write about it and talk about it and do science about it and do philosophy about it until relatively recently.”

Alison Gropnik, On Being

I’ve often said over the last few months that I’m finding being a mother to be “profoundly spiritual” – I’ve used those exact words! So I was thrilled to hear someone else say them.

Over the next month, I’m going to nail down a few key phrases to help me get through these difficult moments. I hope to be able to share them with you on the last Tuesday of February, which is when we’ll link up again!


Do you have a word of the year? How is it going so far?

21 thoughts on “Word of the Year – Why Staying Present is Hard

Add yours

  1. I am so honored that you shared this peek into your world. And I agree, mothering is a spiritual experience and I’m happy to say that it continues to nourish my soul even though our daughters are terribly grown. I look forward to hearing how you find ways to be present, to show up for your family and for yourself. P.S. I am also anOn Being fan.

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    1. I’m happy to hear from another On Being fan! I’m glad to hear that the learning continues to be nourishing throughout your and your children’s lifetimes!

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  2. I don’t see messes, Katie. I see a safe place where your children can be children. I don’t know how you get anything done with 3 young children! You are absolutely an inspiration! And, I look forward to seeing where your word takes you this year!

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    1. Thanks Kat! I’m also looking forward to this year. I hope by next January, staying present is as natural to me as taking a pause is now, thanks to all the work I did last year.

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  3. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share this with your readers, Katie. It takes guts to not pretend that everything is perfect. You are an inspiration, and as another commenter said, creating an environment of safety and warmth for you kids. And carving out self-care time for yourself, which is so important. Awesome job.

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  4. I am in awe of your patience and commitment – and the love which spills out through the gaps in the words. This must be so hard, especially when it affects you physically. I have a friend whose son needs to do the same – torn paper everywhere – because it soothes him. I also find it hard. (The only way I have found of coping when I am there, is to visualise a soft blanket around me, so that the itchy-scratchy feeling can’t get to me). Your quotation by Alison Grotnik is so very affirming; I am going to copy this down and share it with my daughter who has a little baby. Thank-you for such a thoughtful and moving post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard of anyone else who has the paper ripping compulsion – thank you for sharing! What a relief! The soft blanket visualization sounds great. Sometimes I just pretend like I’m swimming in the paper to make a joke of it. If I can genuinely laugh about it, then I can get through it.

      I’m glad you found the Alison Grotnik quote helpful – it was a great interview!

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  5. Katie, Momming is the world’s hardest but best “job,” and I have absolute confidence that you are the best and doing the best for your children. I appreciate your sharing your challenges and most of all, your approach. Know that in the years to come your children will fully appreciate Mama’s love, caring, guidance and composure. You are giving them a “present” that is incomparable.

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