One day last week at Disneyland I found myself squished into a bathroom stall with my four-year-old son Jacob, waiting for him to finish. As I stood there, thinking about all the fun I was missing, a phrase passed through my head: living the dream.
Now, it’s true that you won’t find parenting on a list of glamourous (or well-compensated) jobs. And it’s also true that even in parenting terms, waiting in a public bathroom for a four-year-old to finish up isn’t exactly the most exciting way to spend your time. All the same, when that phrase passed through my head, two things happened. First, the more cynical and sarcastic part of me gave a little chuckle. But then a second part of me spoke up and reminded me that I was with my child, on a family vacation to Disneyland. It’s a place that many people would really love to be. I really was living the dream.
It’s easy to focus on the drudgery in life. It’s even easier to focus on the drudgery in parenting. The sleepless nights, the messes, the noise, the bodily fluids – they can all wear you down. You may miss the life you had before kids, which now seems so much easier in retrospect. You may long for the ability to visit the bathroom by yourself, or read more than one paragraph in a book at a time. No one could blame you if sometimes you just long for a break.
Travel has many downsides, as well. Many of them are similar to parenting – sleepless nights, noise, and sometimes even bodily fluids. No one will tell you that being away from home is all sunshine and roses. It’s normal to wonder why you signed up for this, anyway, when your whole family is tired and cranky and hot and you’re standing in yet another line-up.
On the other hand, the truth is that many of us dreamed of one day having children. I certainly did. And most of us don’t plan family vacations in the anticipation that we’ll have a terrible time. There are tedious and annoying parts of life, no matter how you slice it. But if you spend all your time and energy thinking about those, you can miss the fabulous and amazing parts of life that are happening around you. The parts that you’ve been imagining for years, since you were six years old yourself and thought, “If I ever have kids, I’m going to take them to Disneyland, and we’ll go on all the rides, and it will be lots of fun, and I’ll be so much nicer than my own parents.”
Once I had my little revelation standing in that bathroom stall, I was once again able to see the forest for the trees. I remembered that, in fact, I was doing something my whole family had been looking forward to for ages. And while every moment may not have been sheer bliss, on the whole I was very lucky and I was enjoying myself quite a lot. That attitude re-adjustment really did make all the difference.
How do you re-focus yourself when you start complaining about petty problems? I’d love to hear!