My day starts with coffee.
Alarm goes off, I think about staying in bed but know that I really need my Alone Time before the kids get up, so I roll out of bed, put on my robe and slippers, and pad down to the kitchen.
Often, my husband has already made coffee, but sometimes I get there first and I do it.
Either way, a few minutes later I’m sitting in the living room with my coffee, enjoying a bit of silence before the alarms go off in the kids’ rooms. (For some of the kids, the alarm wakes them up. For others, the radio going on lets them know they’re allowed to come out of their room.) Sometimes I read, sometimes my husband joins me and we have a chance to have some actual meaningful conversation instead of the business we usually conduct (who needs to be where when and who is taking whom there—whew!)
Last week, I had an hour between dropping my kids at preschool and needing to be back to chaperone a field trip. Not enough time to get home and get stuff done, but too much time to sit outside the school and wait.
So, I took advantage of the time and for one of my favorite hobbies: thrift store shopping. I showed up just after my neighborhood Goodwill opened and headed first to children’s shoes (where I picked up a pair of like-new pink Keens for my daughter) and then over to kitchen wares.
Some days I hit the thrift stores and don’t really find anything, but this was not one of those days. I hit the jackpot! A lovely vintage cape in fall colors marked half off, a beautiful travel tea mug with a built-in strainer for loose tea, and some adorable napkin rings for my mounting collection of mismatched fine china were just a few items I picked up.
But my favorite find of all was this glass French press.
For some reason, when I have my coffee in this vessel, it reminds me that aesthetics really do matter. The feel of it, the fact that I need to take a bit more care than when I’m pouring from a metal carafe, the look of it – such beauty in the shape and transparency and the curve of the handle. I take a moment to select the mug that I want for the day—a scripture mug? The charming clay mug that was a gift from a dear friend? One of the owl mugs my daughter insisted on getting my husband and me for Christmas last year? The mug from my mom that reads, Good morning, Christy—I’ll be handling all of your problems today. – God?
Taking a moment first thing in the morning to remind myself that my heart, my mind, and my aesthetic preferences matter before doing the daily deep dive into tending to others (school lunches made? backpacks ready? everyone dressed? breakfast on? shoes tied? got your coats? is today show-and-tell? did you remember your project? etc.) can make such a huge difference in my day.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not above skipping the beautiful French press and slopping instant coffee into my mug. But those are not my best mornings. Those are survival mornings (and we all have those).
But I don’t want to make it a practice of just surviving the day.
I want to flourish. I want to thrive.
# # #
I recently took a trip with friends to Amsterdam. For 72 hours, I drank a lot of coffee in sunlit cafés and enjoyed long, lingering adult conversation. I walked along the canals and people-watched and danced to my favorite band.
It was such a gift.
But I can’t rely on those moments to sustain my sense of well-being. I need little gestures in my day-to-day life that remind me that I am not just a caregiver, not just a need-meeter, not just the shuttle driver (therapy! gymnastics! dance class! more therapy! swimming lessons! PTA! teacher conferences!), not just the mediator between squabbling siblings…
I am a woman who loves beautiful things and coffee and silence and solitude.
And sometimes a $7 French press from Goodwill makes all the difference in the world.
# # #
It took me a while after becoming a (foster) parent—a couple of years, in fact—to realize how important these little gestures would be for my sense of personal well-being. For a long time, I just gritted my teeth, put off those little moments and pushed through. We became parents of two children ages five years and five months overnight—there was a lot to do. I dug deep, wore clothes I could sleep in and go out in public in, cleaned compulsively in the middle of the night, and became an organizing fanatic—desperate for some sense of control in the midst of utter and complete chaos. I accomplished a lot that way, and I kept it together.
But I wasn’t flourishing.
And it wasn’t sustainable. Burnout was imminent if something didn’t change.
# # #
I’m working on a new program right now—a book and video series—that is called “The Flourishing Foster Parent.” It is born out of my struggles for the first few years, and the hard lessons I learned. I hope to have it ready by January—fingers crossed! It will be my best effort at helping new foster parents move past the season of surviving foster parenting and into the practice of thriving for the long haul. I am creating what I needed in that first year.
I pray it will help many. Too often we become satisfied by just getting through the day. But we weren’t made for that. We were not made to live in survival mode. And no one thrives and grows and flourishes when survival is the long-term goal.
# # #
Large, time-consuming, expensive opportunities for self-care are great and necessary every now and then. You need to plan for those and make them happen.
But they are not sustainable for the day-to-day.
Day-to-day flourishing lies in finding ways to fill your cup in small and sustainable things. For some it might mean getting to yoga a few times a week or showing up to a monthly support group come hell or high water. It might mean setting the alarm thirty minutes early so you can have some peace and quiet before things get cray-cray. It might mean seeing your doctor and being surprised when she suggests trying an antidepressant (and following her advice). It might mean hiring two babysitters for the evening, because that’s what it takes so you and your husband can go out on a date.
And it might mean treating yourself to a classy French press and making your morning coffee a more meaningful moment.