Photo by Robb Duncan of Pixxil Photography

Small One woke up at 6:10am today, Husband got up next, played with him, fed him, I think. I don’t know because I was asleep most of that time until almost 8am when I got out of bed. Even two weeks ago, we could not have done this without me lying there, racked with guilt that I was being a bad wife. Husband works hard, he has a job that places high demands on his intellect, his management and his skills, and he excels in all departments. Before we started our married life together, I thought he would come home to a clean apartment and wake up to a warm breakfast because I was going to be awake before dawn.

It didn’t happen. It is not happening. Instead for the past two months and what looks like the foreseeable future, Husband wakes up with Small One and cares for him while I get some extra sleep. Many days we have breakfast together as a family, but on a few days like today, I sleep until Small One’s morning nap at 8am, which means yes, I wake up and then have two more hours to myself. And yes, Husband goes to work where he has not time for himself until 6:30pm when he leaves to come home so he can spend a few minutes with his son before putting him to bed.

Making room for love in my heart and in my life has not been an easy journey. People talk about falling in love or being in love or just loving another person in ways that make it sound like a natural process human beings go through. Maybe it is for some, or maybe I’m a little abnormal in this way, but I didn’t just love people, and when it comes to the topic of romantic love for a man, I didn’t want to go there.

There’s no need to go into the complex reasons, the simple ones are obvious enough: Trust is hard. Relationships take work. Work is hard. Life on my own was easy, enjoyable even. “‘Til death do us part” is a long time. My commitments tend to have a four-year time limit. And the list goes on.

I can’t remember why I made room in my life for love; it wasn’t a conscious decision but one that evolved over time before I met Husband. Perhaps it’s the reason I didn’t run screaming when we stood at the bookshelf during our second meeting. I didn’t stay long, just five minutes. But it was enough for significant memory to form, an impression of him was made in that moment and a real connection ignited.

I think about this when I watch single people, men and women, and observe the choices they make. I read about university hookup culture and delayed marriage, and I think, What would happen if we opened our hearts to real love? Isn’t pining after a cheap version of it a sign that we’re afraid of the real thing? 

I think about it when I think about my own life and marriage because making room for love isn’t a one-time decision, it’s a path I am forging, and it means daily decisions that cuts a bit of the brush out of the way, taking one step forward tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that and so on. Love is costly, when Husband leaves in the morning for work, he has been awake for several hours with our son, meeting needs only to turn around and face a long day of thinking, working, acting. All of this costs him something but he pays the cost because he loves me. There is room in his life for me, for his son. And I make room in my heart for him by receiving the ways he wants to love me and serve our family.  

Making room for love is one of the costliest decisions I have ever made, and from watching Husband’s life, I would say it is one of the costliest for him as well. We navigate our marriage daily through the joys before us, the traps laid by our enemies and the follies of our own selves, and there have been many conversations, tears, an ocean of grace, forgiveness upon forgiveness upon forgiveness, laughter, peace, agreement, humility and passion. But in paying the price, I have discovered this basic truth: Love’s expense makes it worthwhile. We treasure the people and relationships that cost us everything. 

He began as a small seed, bedding down in the lining of a wall, flooding my body with hormones within days of the beginning of his life. It happens quickly, the way a baby takes up space, filling the uterus, pushing its walls out and above the pelvic rim, into the abdominal cavity, shoving organs out of the way, legs and arms beating the drum of his coming arrival. Before I ever had to make room for a baby in my life, I had to make room for him in my body, and I was given no choice in that matter. He just took over.

I wish I listened to what my body was doing for those nine months because it would have better prepared me for the first few months of Small One’s life. Children take up space, real physical and emotional space, and I can happily throw my heart, time and plans open and submit to this takeover or fight it the whole way. 

For the first few months, I kept trying to have the same life I had before Small One existed. Frequent trips out, complicated cooking, lots of time online until I discovered that I was just trying to escape facing the deepest truth about motherhood – loving my child means sacrifice for me. It means my life has to change.

I’m not sure where these ideas came from . I suppose on one side there are people who say that we can’t lose our identity to our children, we can’t let them sideline our careers and plans. But I can’t say that the Christian subculture I came from gave me a better set of ideas – don’t be a child-centered family, I could take my children anywhere, she told me, they were so well behaved, children need to know that they aren’t the most important thing in your life, your marriage is more important of course.

So here I am, almost one-and-a-half years later and finding myself somewhere in this middle ground of making room for him, my son who comes alive with joy when I play hide and seek or run after him or growl at him during meal times. 

I made room for him physically through breastfeeding, even when it was inconvenient for me, even though it took an emotional and physical toll that at times were too much to bear, but I made room for him in my body. I make room for him physically now through generous cuddles, rough and tumble play, and carrying him even though he’s getting older and heavier.

I make room for him in our home by letting him open drawers and take out things (that eventually he has to return), by having few places and things that are “no no nos,” by giving him a space of his own for creation, reading and play.

I make room for him in my schedule by playing to his strengths – not many trips out to shops and meetings, lots of time in the park, time out of the stroller, walking while holding my hand, meandering wherever he wants in the park, picking up leaves. I keep my days as simple as possible so that when he is awake, we spend our time together. I have one chore per day (laundry on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, admin on Wednesday, and so on) plus our daily meals and trips to the grocery store for produce. I have days for the computer and days off, I blog, I check email, we Skype with family, I read and that is basically it.

I have tried to simplify my life as much as possible because it gives me freedom to enjoy my days with my son. He’s involved in most of my home life. He washes the dishes with me, sweeps the floor with me, unloads the washer and loads the dryer. All of these tasks happen more slowly than it would if I did not have my little helper, but I make room in my day, in my schedule for it because this is the best way to teach my son the good nature of work and to include him in my life.

I have not trained Small One to be good in public, to sit quietly while I chat with a friend and drink a coffee, to “behave” in church. When I want to go out, I time it so that Husband is home or I get a babysitter. Small One and I do go out and sit in cafes, sometimes with friends, but these outings happen twice a month or so. It is not our norm. Why? Because in my inching daily toward knowing and understanding him better, I do not believe that these are the things that he loves, and so I make room in my life, I make allowance for that, not because I want my life to rotate around my son’s but because I love him and desire to create an atmosphere for him where he can thrive.

Am I losing some things because I have chosen to spend this season of my life this way? Obviously, the answer is yes, and I don’t need to write a list because most of you can guess what those things are. But here is my bottom line. These years with Small One are few and precious, and I will not miss a moment of it because I need to have a cleaner apartment, more loads of laundry finished and have “my life” on “my schedule” in “my time.” No. I have made the decision to radically slow my life down to make room for him, and it gives me the daily freedom to enjoy him, to enjoy being a mother and to enjoy this season of life.

It started in the summer when I read Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider and thought to myself, We have too much stuff, I need to clear everything out. It continued in the early fall as cleaning out our apartment – or trying to, anyway – helped me to see the clutter in my soul and schedule, so I did an internal clearing. The momentum picked up when I read Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne and saw how simplicity in my inside and outside can impact my son’s life. And I suspect that November will be no different, being thankful for all things keeps me focused on the simple, the small, and now I’m re-reading the Little House on the Prairie books and yearning for a simpler world.

I’m trying to think through these things this week, to “make room” in my life for more intentionality, less stuff, more deep investments, less shallow, more time, less plans.

So here’s the thing. I love stuff. Clothes, memorabilia, books, decorations that look good, photobooks, kitchenware, dishes. Oh dishes. I have to stay away from those aisles with beautiful plates, cups and serving bowls because they bring my little heart so much joy. I love buying books for Small One and toys that he will enjoy. I love a variety of music. I love making plans. I love knowing a week in advance what I will do during the weekend, what will happen this time next year, what will we eat for Christmas dinner. I like knowing with whom I’m catching up, where, when, how.

But all of these things that I love take up space, very literal space but also space in my mind and in my heart. You know where I’m going, I think. If it needs room to exist in my life, it is taking that space away from something else. 

Silence. God. Time. Blank walls. Husband. Thinking. Quiet. Small One. Peace. Joy.

When my life is crowded with things, people and plans, there is no space for the deeper things of value to thrive.

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday of all time, and before we start with the question-asking and finger-pointing, let’s go through my cultural history.

I am not a United States of American.

I am not so into the random, colonial slaughter of native peoples.

I really do not like candy corn.

I believe that pumpkin and sweet potatoes are some of the most wonderful veggies around, and their versatility in the dessert department only makes them that much more wonderful.

I think that if sage stuffing were involved in more matters of international relations – pork-free stuffing, people – we would be well on our way to world peace.

I spent a few Thanksgivings in the U.S. and enjoyed it, but it has only been in the last few years that I grew to love and appreciate this holiday. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a naturally thankful person, I guess you could say I err toward the melancholy and moody way of looking at things. People don’t come to me to look for pep and cheer, but when it comes to intensity, there’s no shortage here.

Thankfulness only survives because it is a discipline I choose to make a part of my life. It is the daily choice to see my circumstances differently, and it is the daily choice to hunt, to investigate, to aggressively search for the gifts God is giving me.

We invest daily in lifestyles and attitudes, and when we see something “big” in our lives, it is probably the thing that received our greatest investment of time and energy. I hope that one day a lifestyle of thankfulness will be so dominant in all areas in my life because I spent the years planting the seed, cultivating the soil, watering the plant and weeding the garden.

These are the years for this work because these are the years that are not easy. There is nothing easy about pregnancy, post-pregnancy, baby and growing baby on top of marriage, moving, learning languages and a host of other things. But cultivating an outlook of thankfulness when life is not easy gives me fuel to keep me going because joy is the cleanest, greenest, purest fuel of all. The best thing to keep my life going. The best gift I can give myself. The best gift I can give the people around me.

So for this November and every November to follow in our family’s lives, we celebrate Thanksgiving, reminding ourselves that today we can choose to be thankful and culminating in a Thanksgiving feast. Yes, we are a German-Sri Lankan/Filipino/American/Australian family. Yes, we live in Switzerland. Yes, we celebrate a wonderful, unique United States of American tradition even though we are not from the U.S. ourselves.

It is good to take a month of the year to remember that there is always a reason for which to be thankful

The centre piece on our dining table for the month, the Thanksgiving Tree, an idea from a very creative and clever friend. We write what we’re thankful for on the leaves and hang them on the tree. A daily reminder that all is well. 

When I look back on my life, I see pages of history littered with vows I made. I will never… I hope to… No one will… This will not….

The words that we speak and the vows that we make are powerful things. Yes I have often used it for harm in my life, but today how about I do something good? Would you like to join me?

I’m closing this month of looking at comparison by making these vows.

I am thankful for myself, for the unique way that God created me, formed me and gave me a purpose.

Today I will choose joy by being finding the reasons to be thankful in all my circumstances and relationships.

I will choose peace by accepting who I am and the stage of life I find myself in. There is no need to look at anyone else.

I will choose my future by dreaming my dreams, not the false ones created by comparing my life to other people’s.

I will choose the relationships I have, not the ones I wish I had with the people I wish they were. I will choose to see the good in the relationships I have, the unique ways these people bring joy to my life and I to theirs.

I will choose freedom, I will excel in my skin because I don’t need to live my life according to an artificial standard.

I will not make my child the collateral damage in the comparison game with other parents. I will accept him as he is, and I will give myself the freedom to parent him in the way that is uniquely suited for him.

Today I will choose not to compare myself to other people. I will choose to embrace who I am, who you are and the life we have been given, for it is good. 

Thanks for joining me as I wrote almost daily in October as part of The Nester’s 31 Days challenge, check out my posts here, and head over to the Nesting Place for other great 31 Days topics.