Holding Space (The Motherly Art of Doing Nothing and Everything)

Originally published Sunday, 09 August 2015.

This post originally appeared at www.carajoyner.com

I'll never stop being surprised by how much of my energy is spent trying to get my kids to sleep. Seriously. Who knew so many hours would be spent simply doing that one thing? It's 11:30AM. All of my people woke up just after 5:30 today, which means I've been jumping back and forth between kids for the past four and half hours trying to convince them they were ready for a nap. As of 10 minutes ago, all three are knocked out. However, it should be noted that I hear footsteps in the hall. I'm going to pretend I don't though. They'll find me eventually.

And it's not just sleep, is it? It's baths, play, everything related to food, witching hour - whoever claimed this to be a single "hour" was delusional. Or they forgot that we can count. Witching hour begins at 4pm and ends whenever all small people are asleep. It's a full quarter of the day, at best - so. much. time. just making sure they don't hurt themselves. I am a full grown adult women with a college degree and a job history that includes directing hundreds of teenagers at one time. Yet somehow, I can't figure out how to put laundry away without my two-year-old scaling the wall to the fireplace mantel. True story. I include them in chores and cooking and I let PBS babysit so I can have a few minutes of stillness, but it doesn't change the fact that an inexplicable amount of time is devoted to watching and waiting...especially when all three are awake together. There's just no point in convincing myself I can do something else. It's watch and wait.

In birth work, we call it holding space. As a doula, there are moments at a birth when I'm very busy - massaging a tired back, changing out cold rags, cleaning up, fetching water, whispering affirmations, offering suggestions, reassuring dads, answering questions. And then there are times when I'm not doing much of anything. Just sitting there on the floor. Standing nearby. Maybe my hand is on her back, firm but still. No words, just rocking slightly and smiling back at her.

The idea is that we (doulas) are holding room for a laboring woman to do her thing by creating a safe place for her to move, moan, cry, sleep...whatever she needs. We're protecting that moment for her, supporting her by being fully present.

That's what these days feel like. Wading through thick hours of trains and snacks and matchbox cars, lying in a bed and pleading with my eyes for them fall asleep, holding space for them to be curious little boys.

I seem to have a vague recollection of how I once imagined this stage of life. I think it involved smiling over a hot cup of coffee (hot, HA!), watching my kids play peacefully on the floor, working at my desk or reading a book or making dinner while they roamed, independent and content. It did not involve three hour bedtime shenanigans, smashed blueberries under my feet or staring at the clock with desperation because, heaven knows I love my children with a fierceness I can't put into words, but the road between 5:00PM and sleep is LONG.

I imagined I would give birth to these wild at heart babies and that I would give them all of the things they needed to play and thrive and learn through experience, and that they would do those things while I did the other things - like the laundry or the meals or the working-from-home things. I had no idea how, during this stage, so much of what I'd "do" would be holding space, nor could I have conceived just how exhausting that task would be.

And yes, you know and I know that these years are devastatingly brief. I have not once looked at my boys and wished they were older. Not for a second. I am kind of obsessed with this season and I'm immeasurably grateful for the chance to be with them for so much of it. All of that's true. But reflecting on the swiftness isn't what I need reminding of, because honestly, I can't escape being aware of that reality. It's the music underscoring the minutes.

Instead, I'm learning the importance of staying faithful in the small things. The unloading and reloading, the folding and putting away, the sitting and waiting and talking and watching, the wiping and cleaning and sweeping, the giving up my need to do and the being patient and still, the holding space for them to be.

To this sisterhood of weary women, rocking babies and gathering legos and eating frozen pizza for the third time this week, our presence is what's needed. Our faithful presence in the moments that feel small, that is enough. Even when we're absorbed in exhaustion, we're holding space for something sacred. Carry on mamas!