In some circles, there are obvious markers of success. Things like graduations and job offers and promotions. The new car, those ballet flats from J.Crew. Finishing the manuscript, maybe. Sending your portfolio off to that gallery.
If you are a parent of small children, it’s simpler.
Or it’s incredibly more complex.
What was the metric for success before? A paycheck, a project completed, a good review? Yeah, now “success” means producing one or more full-grown persons, well-adjusted, with good eating habits and work ethic, who spend their days pursuing things like goodness, kindness, justice, mercy, self-control.
Success is nothing less than the complete creation of an adult human being or six. And when will we know if this has been accomplished? Probably not until we’re dead.
So we focus on the simpler things.
For example, at this moment my toe is throbbing. This is because there is something on the floor by the bathroom sink—I don’t know what that is, maybe a piece of driftwood? From—I don’t know where, maybe the backyard? My toe has collided with it three times so far tonight. But I do not turn on the lights, because the baby is sleeping in the next room.
Yes, my toe may be bleeding, but I repeat: the baby is sleeping.
That is the stubbed toe of success, my friends.
Earlier today, five of my six children were strapped into car seats with sticky fingers and (organic, all-natural, vitamin-C fortified) lollipops. We had been out all afternoon, I had not misplaced even one child, and yet the three-year-old did not relish the thought of driving back home.
This may have led to me offering a lollipop to anyone who climbed in and buckled their own belt.
No, it’s not a bribe, it’s a REWARD. An ORGANIC, ALL-NATURAL, VITAMIN-C FORTIFIED reward.
Diverting a meltdown in the library parking lot: that is a successful organic lollipop.
Yes, there are better small successes.
A quiet hour in the afternoon with a square of dark chocolate and a cup of tea. Dinner plans, thought of before 5:00pm. Being flexible and patient, speaking gently and practicing thoughtful conflict resolution all day long. I hope you have all of that, and soon.
I hope I get some of it, too.
But there are days where I make dinner and take one bit and think: Huh! This tastes like sweat and rosemary. Not good.
There are days that we get all the way to our destination before I discover that someone (the three-year-old) has dispensed with their socks, someone (the three-year-old again) is wearing a pajama shirt, or someone (also the three-year-old) has a hairdo best described as “mohawk made of those stickers from the grocery store cashier.” Not great, maybe.
There are days where I fall into bed and wonder: Did I brush my teeth? But GETTING UP and TRYING TO REMEMBER both require too much energy, so I just HOPE REALLY HARD that I did.
In a world like this, you cannot wait for perfection before you declare success.
You have to keep an eye out for the small stuff.
Success is sweet, and today it smells like a grape lollipop. I will take it.