My high school choir sang “Seasons of Love” from Rent in our final concert junior year. I’ve never seen the musical and I don’t know anything about the plot, but I can still list out the lyrics I sang in harmony almost fifteen years ago—
“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights? In sunsets? In midnights? In cups of coffee?
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?”
Lately, I feel like my day is broken down into numbers. 12,363 steps on my Fitbit. Five hours, twenty-three minutes of sleep. Two tenths of a pound lost. One potty accident from my three year old. Three midnight wake-ups from my toddler. 25 minutes of reading aloud from my first-grader. 84 minutes until bedtime. My planner is scribbled over with checklists and details, carefully plotted into hour-length time slots. We have thirty minutes to eat breakfast and get dressed in the morning, two and a half hours to myself in the evening if my kids’ heads hit the pillow right at 7:30 and I want to have a full night’s sleep before they wake up again.
When the numbers add up, it’s a good day. When they don’t, I’ve failed.
I question sometimes if this counting and measuring is a product of our social-media fueled society or my own neuroses. I’ve always had a knack for turning something fun into a high-stakes goal—rather than simply taking time to journal at the end of the day, I set a timer for ten minutes and cross it off my to-do list. Rather than reading whichever book strikes my mood, I make lists and put them in order, rarely deviating from the plan.
But honestly, the first hours and weeks of motherhood were all about measurement, and it hasn’t slowed down. How far apart are your contractions? How much does the baby weigh? How many hours of sleep are you getting? How long did you breastfeed? How much weight have you lost? How many minutes of screen time have they had today? How many summers do you have left before the kids leave home?
When I look at my days as a string of Prufrockian coffee spoons, stress tightens around my happiness like a noose. The sippy cups and dirty diapers and snack bowls of crushed goldfish amount to nothing much. The litany of mistakes I’ve made—the times I’ve lost my temper or prepared a carbs-only meal or found a LEGO in my child’s mouth—is damning. I don’t measure up, not to the thin mothers on Instagram with their rose gold palettes, not to the warnings and admonishments of the American Academy of Pediatrics, certainly not to my own standards, despite knocking them down several levels with the birth of each additional child.
But sometimes, usually by accident, the day shifts into something more. I’m snuggling with my three year old as he drifts to sleep and I stop thinking about the cleaning I need to do once I escape his room—instead i’m feeling his limbs grow heavy and hearing his breathing slow. I’m reading to my daughter and she is laughing and pointing at the animals on the pages, and I go right past our usual two-book bedtime routine and read to her for half an hour, savoring her delight and her growing ability to communicate. I’m listening to my six-year-old explain his future plan to make scary movies, and for once I don’t tune out his lengthy explanations but fully engage, marveling at his creativity and the way he is becoming his own person.
Even as I type this, I am measuring myself—I should be having more of these moments. I’m sure there are opportunities I’m not taking advantage of, precious instants passing me by.
But I’m going to resist the urge tonight. I’m not going to set a goal to tally up more tender moments. I’m not going to make a complicated chart to improve my ratio—just how many of my yearly allotted 525,600 minutes are well spent?
Instead, I’m going to take them as they come. When I come across a beautiful minute, I’m going to turn it over in my hands like a seashell. I’m going to marvel, and sense, and enjoy—and then I’ll set it down and walk across the sand in search of another, not to collect or weigh in my ledger of good vs. bad, simply to experience, to live.
I don’t need to tally or categorize my 525,600 minutes—I just want to be present in as many of them as possible.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Measuring Up."