Getting Somewhere Even When I’m Standing Still


On her tippy toes, belly bent over the edge of the sink, she reaches with all her little girl might and cranes her neck just to get a sip of water. She doesn’t sigh or complain.

This is the last hurdle before nap time and sometimes I find myself wanting to flush the toilet for her, to dispense the soap and roll her hands over one another to suds up, to put a neat little blob of toothpaste on her brush and circle it over the surface of her teeth, to lift her to the faucet and hold back her hair while she rinses her mouth…all to get to the goal, and fast.

But when I notice those tippy toes and all that effort done so lightheartedly, I slow myself to her pace and think of her in process. She’s stretching far, but not beyond her confidence, mastering this task even before her little frame has grown into it. The meeting of basic needs brings its own sense of accomplishment to the three-year-old mind, Maslow’s hierarchy re-arranged. The training isn’t a bother to her; it’s a joy, a little bit of self-actualization.

She has me rethinking my definition of the goal. I’ve long felt myself responsible for pushing us toward nap time or meal time or bedtime. But when I take a closer look at all these things between our stopping places, these things that often feel like nothing more than tedious routine, I start seeing them as little goals in themselves…goals that we are meeting.

Small-scale or not, these are hard-won successes: a child who can pretty well brush her own teeth, wash her own hands, and get herself dressed. (She even cleaned up all of the play dough on her own before lunch today!) Focusing on the progress makes me feel more happy. It makes me feel less hurried. It makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere even while I’m standing still.

I see the results of patience, the discipline of empowering a little person to do something and then standing back and watching her do it happily in her own time and her own way, even if it means a little soap splattered on the drywall, toothpaste oozing from the closed lid and waiting a few minutes longer until we reach nap time, the thing I once thought was the goal.

When we get down and look at things from the angle of our children, we see that these incremental steps of learning are the stuff of life. When we wish the tediousness away, we are little by little wishing life away, just like writer Gretchen Rubin used to do when she had to take her daughter to school via the city bus.

My daughter will get faster at these simple tasks. She will soon flip the light switch off from instinct instead of from command. But for now in the learning, this is the stuff of our life and this is my work.

When I see how hard she strains to be a little more independent and how very little she grumbles in doing so, I grow in empathy toward her. I start looking for more ways to walk alongside her in her development rather than prodding her fast toward her pillow.

I see her as a cheerful learner and that makes me want to be a cheerful teacher.

{Take a moment to observe your children or the other individuals you are serving today. In what ways are they putting their heart into their own tasks? How does that affect your heart for the task of tending to them?}

This post is part of my year-long theme for 2013, “A Cheerful Giver.” See my introduction about naming the year here.

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19 thoughts on “Getting Somewhere Even When I’m Standing Still

    • I need to start differentiating between when the kids are working at a task to the best of their ability and when they’re just dragging their feet. I guess the thing is I need to assume the best about their intentions first and then pay attention to know if I need to step in with a little external motivation. ;)

  1. I got up at 4:30 this morning to go take care of three little Crosses. I wasn’t sure how the morning would go… my unenergetic, middle-aged self getting 3 preschoolers ready and transported to the right places. My first pleasant surprise was to see Barkley bounding about with his nub of a tail all healed up. I had prayed for him (yes, a dog) over Christmas, but was afraid to ask if he was going to survive his infection. Thank God for caring about our four-leggedfriends.

    But the thing that I really enjoyed this morning is that I got some snuggle time with your tippy toed daughter’s cousin when she woke up an hour ahead of her brothers. Priceless moment before all the hustle and bustle.

    • 4:30?!! That is quite a feat. I thought I was pretty amazing getting up at 6:45, but really it was just because I was too hungry to stay asleep. ;) Anyway, glad you were rewarded with a joyful bulldog and cuddly baby this morning.

  2. oooh this post is sooooo good. I never thought of things that way. That perhaps the drops of oatmeal down the chest or the grains of rice strewn across the placemat (and the floor) are actually markers of progress. Such a great perspective shift. I can’t wait to read post about cheerfulness (as being joyful is something I wish to cultivate this year as well).

    • Not that I can expect myself to revel in this every moment, but with these flashes of perspective I hope to at least MORE OFTEN see the tedious things as progress. Grace for the kids, grace for me. :) When you think about cultivating more joy in your own life, are you mostly challenged in that area as far as motherhood goes or in other areas of life as well? Would love to be thinking of you as I work through this stuff for me.

  3. I was feeling this way at night-that I was constantly pushing toward bedtime, and any delay in that was frustrating because it was cutting into my writing time. I hated feeling that way, and I’ve been getting up early so in the evening the time is just for family. I love seeing babies up on their tiptoes. It’s my favorite!

    • My protectiveness of my alone time and writing time is definitely a big factor in my hurrying the kids to bed. As much as I know I need that good self-care time, I also have to keep reminding myself that the writing is my secondary calling and the kids are my first. Such a struggle sometimes!

  4. What a beautiful post! And, of course, the photo tugs on my heart strings because I recognize those full-effort tippy toes in my own little ones. Thank you SO much for this perspective–just what I needed to help my impatience in our current routine.

    I also see the struggle for myself. The goals I wish God would just help me along by saying “cheese” while He brushes my teeth or lifting me up so I didn’t have to strain so. But it’s all part of the growth. It’s all more important than simply arriving at the goal.

  5. I think I need it in all areas of my life but where I am most concious of it is when I am mothering. I suppose that motherhood is a litmus test of sorts for me. It makes me concious of the tension in my life–I am not in control but I want to be. Yet, I do not want to miss these precious moments with my sweet babies. It is a conflict between clutching control/order and letting go/joy. Does that make sense?

    I believe my greatest struggle is in that I am a very observant and detail oriented person. It is easy for me to see faults and be “real.” Yet focusing on those things is what leads me to despair instead of joy.

    I enjoy chatting with you about this. :)

    • I feel like I could have written your comment myself. The desire for control and never really having it, being an observant and detail-oriented person (I either do a job to the hilt or let it go to pieces if I can’t do it perfectly), plus throw in my idealism (and the corresponding disappointments) and it’s no wonder I struggle to be lighthearted!

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