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     Have you ever had one of those eye-opening moments where you take a step back, look around you, and say to yourself, "How did my life come to this?"
     Oh good, you do this everyday, too? At least it's not just me!
     I mean, I love my life... seriously, I do. But during my days of Peppa Pig and peak-a-boo, I find myself contemplating earlier times. It wasn't that long ago that I was agonizing over which college to go to - which major to choose - which jobs to apply for - which man to marry - how many kids to have. I don't know that I realized it then, but my life would actually continue to exist once those big choices were made. Graduating, getting a job, and acquiring a family didn't, in fact, end my existence. However, the big choices in life have now boiled down to Gerber's chicken and apples or banana-mango-carrot - signing up for swim lessons on Tuesdays or keeping them on Thursdays - name brand face wash or settling for the DG brand. 
     For so long it seemed that my entire life was moving with such momentum, such intensity, in a direction that was still unknown.... and that was exhilarating! The highs and the lows of waiting for acceptance letters, final grades to be posted, promotions to be announced, proposals to be made - those feelings made me feel so alive, so anxious, and so ridiculously real all at the same time. I almost wish I could go back in time and whisper in my 18-year-old ear, "Don't fret about those extra-curriculars toooo much, girl. They won't help you budget the grocery money or plan a 7-year-old's Frozen-themed birthday party." 
     And it isn't just the major life choices that seem to have fallen to the wayside. As a working woman, a therapist, I found great joy and accomplishment in helping others - in figuring out how to work with each client to move the puzzle pieces of their lives around in a way that would allow them make sense of it all. Sometimes... sometimes I find it a little less than satisfying to work my current puzzles, puzzles like how to rearrange my entire to-do list around a baby's napping schedule (a schedule that seems to change daily), how to get a household fed, all the kids to pee, the dogs to pee, and the baby's diaper changed in a 15 minute time span before gymnastics, how to spend as little money as possible on Christmas without forgetting to show appreciation to my kids' teachers (God knows they deserve it for all my kids put them through!) and our mail woman (who blessedly allows extra time for me to come to the door, knowing that I have a baby and three dogs to manhandle with each knock, while she hand-delivers the Christmas gifts that I was too busy to go to the stores to actually purchase - and on the rare occasion that I'm not home, she clears away the muddy boots and left out toys to leave my packages on the dryest part of the porch), or how to sew the continuous holes and popped-off-buttons that my oldest son accumulates with each outfit he wears (this puzzle is particularly challenging because I am no seamstress!!).
     Wyatt is now 7 months old and our bank account is sadly dwindling with having gone the past 8 months on one salary. The time is drawing nigh for me to return to work. I will once again get to experience the joy of solving real puzzles - fixing real problems - experiencing real dilemmas.
     So, why am I so crushed to be handing off my diaper bag for my briefcase? Why do tears run down my cheeks at the thought of not doing hours of spelling words and subtraction problems each night? 
     Could it be possible that I've grown rather fond of the mundane? You'd think that after this week of cleaning up the big kid's throw up, the baby's throw up, the dog's throw up, the toddler's diaper blow outs, the baby's blow outs, and slipping in the dog's blow outs, I'd be ready to throw in the towel (that very dirty towel) and be hitting the pavement running to find a life that doesn't involve wiping anyone else's butt. Except I'd clean a million little dimply bottoms for the chance to hear my little man's first words - to be there to see him crawl after spending weeks on the floor next to him, showing him how to get up on his hands and knees instead of just power-humping the floor with all his might.
     Could it be possible that I'm still working out my own puzzles? Like, how to feel remotely sexy for my husband when my brain is screaming how shlubby and gross I am. Or how to get enough sleep to get through the day when the little people in my life need me so much in the nighttime hours. Or how to not lose my crap on the big kids when they daily test every patient fiber in my body. Or how to manage my fear that I will go to back work and no longer be good enough... for anyone. 
     I want to go back to that 18-year-old girl and hug her with all my might. I want to tell her that I DO understand her stress and the dilemmas she's facing - that despite our change of scenes, our decisions to choose one thing and leave the other behind is still very much real... and painful.  I want to tell her that it may not seem like it, but bedtime prayers and first kisses actually trump A+s and raises. And that one day she will find herself missing her college days and single life less and less. And that our puzzles will continually evolve as we move through life, but that we aren't defined so much by our ability to solve them as much as our courage to face them.
     This Christmas season, whatever it is you're facing, be it poopy diapers or company cutbacks or preparing for first-time parenthood or answering the time-honored question of "When will you finally settle down?", my prayer is that you will remember to love one another.
     Love each other well.
     While passing out good cheer, remember that the person beside you may have a puzzle that looks different than yours, but their puzzle, great of small, still requires a great deal of courage and probably a hug from a fellow puzzle-facer. So give the hugs freely this holiday. (And for God's sake, if you're the one with the dirty burp cloth on your shoulder, try to remember to take it off before the hugs this year, would ya?)