The Beauty of the Little-Big Stuff: One Mom's Journey to Finding the Extraordinary within the Ordinary

Brenda Donoghue

“Hey mom, don’t I look shiny? I love this stuff!”

My youngest strutted into the room with his trademark impish innocence. His hair and body, covered in a thick, greasy sheen of Vaseline. His older brother and I were stunned speechless.

My kids are gross, a bit warped, and, in general, have terrible timing. They are also hilarious. Even when they don’t mean to be.

Nothing is worse than that moment, already well past bedtime, when your kid suddenly appears before you looking like a slimy creep straight out of a horror flick.

If I had a dollar for every minute of sleep lost to their shenanigans, I’d surely be a millionaire. Instead, I have permanent dark circles and “highlights” of prematurely gray hair.

A Vaseline bath isn’t his only late-night parlor trick. Not long after that stunt, he slathered his body in his older brother’s Axe lotion. I smelled him before I saw him. Proud as a peacock, and completely oblivious to the overwhelming stench, he presented himself like a gift… and slunk away for an unscheduled way-past-bedtime shower.

Another time, he chattered a constant stream of consciousness until well past bedtime. When he should have already been fast asleep, he was singing made up rap song lyrics.

“Billy, you need to stop. You’ve been nonstop all night,” I warned, as I counted the minutes until the house would be quiet.

“What?!?” he said, punctuated with an affronted gasp.

“You can’t take away my passion, mom, Talking is my passion.”

And with one firm shake of his head, as if that settled the matter, he continued singing, barely missing a beat until his eyes shut mid-song and his body found sleep.

But even while calculating the fastest way to curb the latest curveball and salvage a reasonable bedtime, I am grateful when I pause to revel in their chaos (while still whining inwardly, of course).

Parents have a unique ability to feel two completely opposite feelings at virtually all times. On any given night, exhaustion and exasperation walk hand-in-hand with wonder and glee.

And, needing to rush through the busy daily grind hooks arm-in-arm with wanting to slow down to enjoy the unassuming extraordinary moments of our everyday. And therein lies the struggle.

But, as time marches on all too quickly, I’ve learned that neither ball field accolades nor epic vacations hold a candle to finding the true gems hiding in plain sight within the ebb and flow of our daily grind.

Embracing the extraordinary within the ordinary is where it’s at. It’s the golden ticket to getting blissfully lost in all of the little-big things, as they occur. It’s the quiet beauty that lies within my daily routine.

These dark horse memory-makers softly beat in my background. They clutter my memory’s highlight reel, stealing the spotlight from even life’s major events and milestones.

I’ll never forget the little-big moments that, thankfully, stopped me in my tracks and pulled me in to see the world through my kids’ eyes.

“Hey, do you think I’ll ever end up in Juvy?” I heard my son casually ask his older brother as I drove through town finishing evening errands. They were still young enough to be in their car seats. I glanced in the rearview mirror to catch my oldest looking off through the window, very carefully considering the likelihood his younger brother would ever end up a juvenile delinquent.

“Um...noooo...probably not.” he assured him. But he didn’t sound confident.

And then, as if this were all a perfectly normal conversation, they went on to quietly discuss what foods and activities were allowed at juvenile jail, in the event either ever did end up there. I’ll never forget another such moment cushioned between homework and dinnertime on one busy weeknight. Had I not stopped to pay attention, I could easily have missed it.

“Mom, when I was 5, Eddie told me the bathroom sink water was pee. And so, I didn’t wash my hands for a long time.”

Eddie wouldn’t look up, but I saw the slightest hint of a smile on his face. Though, he tried really hard to hide it.

Or the time, years ago, when I caught my oldest red-handed, getting ready to whack his brother. He froze mid-punch when I caught him in the act. I was consumed in the whirlwind of evening activities and switched gears to discipline, half my focus still on cooking dinner.

“But my lifelong dream is to become a professional boxer,” he said, with complete sincerity. He trudged over to time-out with puppy dog eyes when it became clear I didn’t buy it. And his brother, the victim of the assault, rushed to his side, as they commiserated in hushed whispers about me - the bad guy.

These, and so many others, represent the moments that fuel the dynamics within my family, and shape our relationships. They represent my everything, holding far more value than the busy tasks that consume me on any given day...and are far more desirable than fresh, well rested eyes and non-graying hair. They represent the very extraordinary subtly tucked within my tedious, unglamorous ordinary.

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that I’ve also missed many such moments, or only tuned in to pieces of them as they unfolded. It’s only natural. It’s difficult to tune in when life’s many distractions spread you too thin.

But holding on to pieces of distracted memories alone is a meager consolation prize. My mind’s eye can never quite grasp those things that I never quite held.

Although I’ve always understood this lesson to be true, there is no better teacher than life experience. Lately, time has ruthlessly swapped out my present for far too much past. My babies have become tweens and teens before my eyes; Act I of their childhood is solidly behind them.

And so, I will continue to linger in as many little-big things as I can, while I can.

The to-do lists will have to wait.

Because time waits for no one.

Brenda Donoghue juggles a full-time career with raising two boys in Central Massachusetts. Her writing is inspired by occasional flashes of insight during the chaotic grind, which she strives to navigate with humor and grace.