When I was in my twenties, my gaze was always focused on the big things—finding the “perfect” partner, the “to-die-for” job, the “huge” book deal, or getting into the “best” graduate school. Little things didn’t matter much; they were unnecessary distractions that I treated as rounding errors. I either ignored them or focused on what came before or after. Looking back, I can see that how deeply I was affected by films and operas. I was always waiting for the sweeping climax that would bring resolution, on a grand scale, to my life. I was young and eager to fit together the largest pieces of the puzzle of life, foolishly believing that the remaining bits didn’t matter.
But now that I’m well into my thirties, my view has switched. It’s as though someone pulled the telescope out of my hands and replaced it with a microscope. Now my life is all about the small things. My emotional landscape hinges on soft washes of color applied with the finest brushes. Faint details can render me feeling exalted or defeated. One stroke can make or break the image that I call my life.
This week was no different: The small things figured most prominently. My daughter Ayla learned to say “Up a tree,” her first three-word sentence used in the right context. She says it in our secret language—everyone else hears “Uh-tee” but I know she’s telling me that the chipmunk (“mah”) went up that tree. Ayla also learned how to wash her body in the bath. She waits for me to pour some baby wash into her hand and then scrubs her belly in large, rough circles. Tiny things, right? Nope. Only a parent knows that it’s northing short of a miracle when your child’s brain, muscles and synapses work in unison toward a common goal.
An even more infinitesimal highlight was when Ayla leaned over and kissed my entire face, articulating each kiss with a “mwa, mwa, mwa” sound. In that moment, my heart sung in sunny, optimistic chords. The joy of being kissed by your child, with such relish, brought to mind the beauty of the sun interacting with a cloud—and showering the earth with a spray of sunbeams—or the awe inspiring fan of mist that results when a thumb and water-hose meet at just the right angle.
The low points were just as microscopic. I’ve been struggling to organize a childcare coop with some local parents, and this week brought a few unexpected delays. In a year, I’ll look back and wonder why these events nearly crippled me. But right now, creating a childcare model that matches my aspirations for Ayla’s care means everything to me. The critical email I received from a prospective employee made me doubt my vision. A promise to participate in the coop that was nearly revoked filled me with despair—would I be able to find an adequate replacement? Or more importantly, did I have the will to keep trying until we finally got this Utopian model to work?
Ten years ago, I would have swatted away both setbacks like a fly that got through a hole in the windscreen. In my twenties I would have declared both individuals “crazy” for not wanting to participate and immediately replaced them. I would have stayed focused on the big picture, the grand payoff at the end.
But parenthood has turned everything upside down. The supposedly big news I received this week—that I finally found a publisher for a leadership book I’ve been writing with a friend for nearly four years—barely made an imprint on my emotional landscape. “I can’t deal with this now,” were my exact thoughts after receiving the great news. Most writers live and die for each book deal, and I was no different pre-Ayla. But now I know that I can’t tackle a book until I’ve got the small details worked out. Until I know that Ayla is well cared for in my absence, I won’t be able to write anything of value and offer it to the world.
Some days I wonder whether our perspective keeps shifting, from large to small and back again, or whether it grows more refined over time. Do the big things cease to matter at a certain stage in life? Is God really in the details? Objectively speaking, I know that I haven’t got any of the “big” things right. The perfect job, relationship and book continue to elude me. But in those small spaces of time in my day when I’ve got nothing to do, I feel a big happiness well up inside me, that reminds that I must be doing something—however small—just right.
To read more from Taz, please visit her Labor of Love site.
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