I awoke in my parent’s guest room, sandwiched between my nursing infant and my affectionate three-year-old. I’d spent most of the night bed-hopping and I was beyond exhausted. Bleary eyed, I climbed out of bed and into an overstuffed chair. My mouth was sticky, and my stomach rumbled while my two children fought for space on my lap. My preschooler loudly demanded a book, waving it in my face.

“Read it!” She insisted as her sister kicked us both, shifting our balance precariously.

“Enough!” I said, sliding my three-year-old to the floor abruptly. “I can’t do this! Get off!”

She ran to her grandma in tears. My angry posture quickly deflated. I sat on the floor, took a deep breath and opened my arms.  

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“Sweetie, come here. I will read to you, I just can’t do it on the chair. There’s not enough space for three people.”

She turned away from me and sobbed into Grammy. That same Grammy scolded me for my outburst before I left the room, angry again.

I needed a time-out and I knew well enough to take it.

New spaces, new schedules, and new faces throw everyone off. When we leave the comfort of our routine, meltdowns happen for mama, for baby, and for everyone in between. Fortunately, I see melting down as a means to melt away and I have come to recognize the benefit of letting feelings have their space. Through our tantrums we toss our stress, our fears, our old ways of being to the side.

This overnight trip to grandma’s house was guaranteed to be sleepless for me and overstimulating for my kids. We went anyway. My adventurous spirit refuses to stay home even though traveling with children is a promise for pain. I’ve learned that friction in unexpected places often reveals the very wisdom my soul is craving.

This time proved no different. As I cooled off away from the crowd, shame, and embarrassment, and regret lampooned me. Why was I so reactive? Why couldn’t I keep it together?

“The next time you lose it, thank your Creator. For all of it. All of it.” A friend’s post was exactly what I needed. Grace had found me via Instagram.

I started immediately.

“Thank you, God,” I said out loud, as I looked around the room. My eyes landed on my beautiful eight-month-old and my heart swelled. “Thank you.”

For the rest of the day, when I felt tested: “Thank you.”

When I felt overwhelmed: “Thank you.”

When I felt annoyed: “Thank you.”

When I felt overjoyed: “Thank you.”

Again, and again, and again, I came back to gratitude.

Driving in the car with a screaming infant: “Thank you for the healthy baby and her healthy lungs. Thank you for my ability to hear her, the fortune to have my own transportation, and the blessed lack of traffic.”

When my preschooler refused to sit still with her lunch: “Thank you for this opportunity to share a meal in the sunshine. Thank you for the chance to watch her dance as she munches just the fillings of her sandwich. Thank you for this food. For this day. For this moment.” On and on I went. Challenge after challenge, I did my best to be grateful for all of them.

With the girls in bed, I reflected on the day with surprising sadness. I was proud of my efforts but my teething infant had occupied my arms all day and left little room for anyone else. I longed to cuddle my preschooler but didn’t dare risk waking her.

I needn’t have worried. She woke me a few hours later. Desperate for her mama, and disoriented as all get out. She peed on me as I rocked her back to sleep: “Thank you. Thank you for this chance to be tender with her. Thank you for this chance to treat her with respect and kindness and dignity. Thank you for this chance to remember what kind of mama I really am.”

A few hours later, I found myself rocking that big little kid back to sleep yet again, and saying “thank you” for another chance to hold her. For knowing what my heart needed and for delivering it so promptly. As the rocking chair creaked back and forth I said “thank you” again. This time to myself. If I hadn’t made the decision to stop being angry and start being grateful, I would have totally missed this moment – so full of grace, and sweetness, and connection.

It’s those moments of incredible clarity for which I am most thankful. For the lessons, big and small that make me a more present parent. Our meltdowns melt away our patterns, and programmed responses and make room for us to rise again. Sometimes, it’s not until you feel empty, that the wisdom can soak in.

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Lisa Norgren

Lisa Norgren is a writer, living in Ann Arbor with her family. She collects tattoos, teaches yoga-with-cats, and grows out her body hair for fun. Lisa's work has been published on Scary Mommy. You can catch up with her on Instagram.