“Today is the first day of November,” Ian said.
He and his younger brother, Leo, were seated at the breakfast table, munching on their Cheerios. I bounced around the kitchen, waiting for my hot water to boil and scooping yogurt into tiny bowls. The baby was still asleep in her crib upstairs.
Ian began explaining that it was time to switch his kindergarten classroom calendar from a pumpkin to a turkey when Leo suddenly burst into effusive cheering.
“NOVEMBER?!” he yelled. “November! It is my November!”
Many of the conversations in our house revolve around the calendar. Since Ian began kindergarten last fall, singing the days of the week and counting up to the 100th day helped orient him to the changing seasons and progressing weeks. He loves to tell us the number of the day, and make comments about the weather and changing seasons. Leo tries to join the conversation, but at three years old, his own sense of time has not quite developed.
Multiple times a day, he asks, “What is today, Mom?”
“What do we do on Bensday, Mom?”
He knows Sundays are for church and Saturdays are for college football, and he would like every day to be Playgroup Day. Like many toddlers, he always wants to know where we stand in relation to Christmas and his birthday, which falls on November 17.
We have a lot of summer birthdays in our family–July 12, August 8, and August 26–and waiting for November through all those other birthdays was like torture for poor Leo. We might as well have been moving in slow motion, as far as he was concerned. And so, when Ian announced on that morning that November had finally–finally–arrived, Leo could not contain his excitement.
“My November, my November, my November,” he chanted, bouncing up and down in his seat and sending Cheerios flying.
“Today is my birthday, Mom?” he asked. Oh boy.
The New Year had just begun, and I filled in my calendar the way I always do each month. At the same time, I could feel the weight of the cold, gray, snowless days begin to press down on me. I sighed before remembering that it was the perfect time to engage what has become an important practice. I flipped to the next blank page in my notebook, and I titled the page: “Things I’m Looking Forward To This Winter:”
I began my list.
1. Lighting candles.
2. Planning the New York trip with my sisters.
3. Trying out my new pressure cooker.
4. Watching new episodes of The Good Place.
I stopped. “What else….?” I wondered. I tapped my pen on the table beside me.
Winter is challenging for me, particularly this gray and dreary swath of time after Christmas but before the tulips begin poking their heads out of the thawing earth.
We moved to Michigan from Florida in 2015. I gave birth to our second son the week before Thanksgiving, a few days before our first snow descended. Just over one year later, I gave birth to a January daughter as the temperature plunged below freezing; my husband snapped photos of the snowy rooftops from our hospital room window.
In between those two births (“Are they twins?”, an elderly woman recently asked me in the bookstore), postpartum depression fell over me and snuffed out whatever light the Michigan cloud-cover had not yet extinguished. Our third winter in Michigan was the first I wasn’t pregnant or recovering from childbirth, a newborn in my arms.
On the one hand, winter is a great time for snuggling up with an infant. On the other hand, it is a long stretch of gray days that often feel much too cold for venturing out. That January baby just turned two, and I’m no longer trudging through the snow with an infant carrier, but these long winter days haven’t gotten much easier for me.
In July 2016, in the middle of my yet-to-be diagnosed PPD, our best friends Courtney and Andrew came to visit us with their daughters. The trip buoyed me in a moment when I desperately needed it, but I was so sad when they left. A dear friend asked, “Well, what are you looking forward to next?”
In that moment, she threw me a lifeline I didn’t know I needed, and a new practice was born. I call it “the spiritual discipline of anticipation.” You won’t find it in the table of contents of Richard Foster’s book, and I don’t think Paul mentions it in the epistles. But this simple act of noticing what I’m looking forward to has become a means of recognizing God’s gifts and cultivating joy.
As I’ve worked hard to maintain my mental health since my depression lifted, I’ve learned that it’s a bad idea for me to wake up in the morning and think, “What am I going to do today?” While I’m sure some people revel and rejoice in potential serendipity, open-ended days leave me feeling like I’m floating through outer space without a tether. I become anxious, uneasy, and even depressed. If I don’t make the effort to plan for what will make today unique, my mind allows the days to melt into a puddle of sameness, stretching endlessly before me. If I don’t take control of my thoughts, I see only more diapers to change, more dishes to wash, more sibling squabbles to referee. Rob Bell has said, “Despair is a spiritual condition that tells you that tomorrow will be exactly the same as today when we know from observing the world that this is simply not true.”
So, at the start of each new season, I turn to the next blank page in my notebook, and I make my list. I anticipate to remind myself of the truth.
At first, I wondered if this continual emphasis on literal and figurative looking forward would make it difficult for me to enjoy the present, but I’ve found the opposite to be true.
As I’ve learned to joyfully anticipate each season and important calendar dates, I’ve also learned the value of looking forward to the smallest pleasures: a cold glass of iced coffee in the afternoon, lighting a candle while I cook dinner, a new episode of my favorite podcast, picking up holds from the library. The spiritual discipline of anticipation taught me to appreciate these tiny gifts in the midst of ordinary time, which might otherwise become commonplace or unappreciated. And when something I’ve been looking forward to transpires–even in the middle of meal prep on a Monday afternoon–I am more grateful for it.
I listened to Leo chant, “My November, my November,” and laughed at his exuberance. (That boy’s joyful laugh makes me smile on even the worst days.)
It was as if he believed the entire month existed entirely for him, like a present wrapped and waiting with his name on the tag.
I would do well to do the same: to look at the day ahead as a gift, a party, a treasure trove of riches given intentionally and joyfully to me.
My today, my motherhood, my life.
Featured image courtesy of Lindsey Cornett
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Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.