Pushing Boulders: How to Be Happy with the (beautifully) Mundane

The pile of diapers grows, the acrid smell of urine overwhelming the small room, windows shut against the changing tide of seasons, the cold creeping into our bones moment by moment.

The pile of diapers in a water resistant sail bag (never intended for this purpose) will create a little spot of damp black mold on the unfinished floorboards if I don’t get to them soon.

I get to them when the stench becomes unbearable or when the several reusable diaper covers become unusably moist or when the diapers start to spill out onto the floor creating a second damp moldy spot.

Our washer is always going, now child locking it to prevent little fingers from switching normal cycles to extra long ones.

The septic people said to space out the wash, maybe do a load every other day. The septic people said it shouldn’t overflow onto the overgrown lawn but we should watch our water consumption anyway. The septic people obviously don’t have a baby with wet diapers piled in a bag, dirty clothes peeled off of a tiny chubby body and tossed on the floor, stained sheets and wet bath towels and crusty bibs and sticky cloth napkins and dishtowels soaking up spilled tea to launder.

The laundry is only one of many tasks that feel endless. Wake and breastfeed and put the baby on the potty and put a diaper on her and strap her into the fraying stroller and do animal chores: feed and milk and move the goats, let out the chickens and turkeys and give them their grain, move the sheep from paddock to paddock and feed supplemental hay when the grass is yellow and crisp not green which means all summer.

Back inside we make breakfast and straighten up the kitchen and change the diaper and breast feed and go for a walk to put her to sleep and make lunch and go potty or change the diaper and check on animals and garden and check phone and feed her a snack and change the diaper and play and play and play and make dinner and do animal chores again and give her a bath and breastfeed and read three night-night books and sing her to sleep in a clean diaper and fairly clean pajamas.

And in between all that we try to catch up on emails and phone calls and work. There are two of us at home most days but still the hours zip by and the floor still hasn’t been swept or vacuumed or even cleared of the wooden spoons and toys and dirty clothes (see above) and stray pieces of half eaten fruit.

I never thought my life would be so messy and yet so structured. One could say monotonously so. Or comfortingly so, depending on the day.

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I recently saw this Camus quote in the window of a shop getting ready to open for business and my first thought was wonderment at how the hell anyone had the energy to run a small business. But my second thought was that I love this quote no matter what the original context. It is my new mantra as I slip on my work boots and stumble through my Groundhog Day existence of parenthood and farm chores and modern day screen-based minutiae. Life.

I don’t see this as punishment, of course, this beautiful life I have longed for and created. Yet sometimes, especially when I’m woken up at 5am again by cries and groping hands and a mouth on my breast (not in a romantic way, let me tell you), I wonder what the hell the purpose of my life could be when every day is pretty similar to the one before and there is no defined goal in front of me other than keep the small human alive with the rest of the plants and animals.

Calendar pages are flipped, crows feet settle in more deeply around my eyes, the purpose of life stays blurred or it is sharply defined depending on whether my eyes are open to the present moment or closed and wishing for another adventure that doesn’t feel so boulder-ish (as if that truly exists- even in my adventuring days I was wishing for something different).

When I look up at the jagged skyline of evergreens, when I nestle my shoulder and head against a goat’s warm belly as I milk in the early morning, when my daughter smelling of apples and milk grabs a book and climbs into my lap, when my husband wraps his calloused hands around my shoulders as we watch the sun set over our farm, when I breathe in deep and feel this body that gave birth and works so hard every day, I remember that this is all there is and I stop wondering and wishing.

I am too busy being, my strong arms firmly pushing against stone, my strong legs walking up and up and up. If only I could remember this beauty more often. If only I could remember that I love my boulders.

Because really, Sisyphus-all, why would you want to stop pushing? What would happen when you reach the top of the mountain with the boulder? You would sit on top and admire the view? Forever? And then what?

We humans crave stability, repetition, tasks. We need to be pushing something somewhere at all times.

My favorite boulder is 25 pounds of joy and annoyance, laughter and screams, and I will happily allow her little fingers to wrap around mine and let her lead me to the mountaintop, over and over, the beat of the washing machine full of dirty diapers echoing our footsteps.

Jenny Goff is a sailor, farmer, chef, and writer living on an island north of Seattle, WA.

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