I thought it would come easily. I spend all day, most days with my kids. I know what I imagined our days would be like. But the reality is quite different.

I thought I’d spend hours reading aloud, doing crafts, playing games and generally bonding with and enjoying my children. Instead my days are often filled with barked orders, rolled eyes and silent tears of frustration. There are certainly magical moments, but most days they are few. From the opening argument over breakfast food (apparently by not providing sugary cereal I am certifiably the worst mother ever and want my daughter to starve) to the first chore conflict of the day (did you know that emptying the dishwasher qualifies as slave labor?), and we haven’t even begun the painful slog through school work.

I thought the happy moments, the playing and cherishing would happen naturally. But the reality with kids, especially my gifted, creative, troubled and not quite neurotypical ones, is that life takes over. The urgent little foxes of daily frustrations and difficulties consume all the available time and energy. I blink and bedtime is upon us and I just desperately want them to go to sleep so I can have a moment to think again.

It isn’t that I have to try harder, or do better or even be someone different, though it often feels that way. I just need to be more intentional. That word, so loaded with implications for lists and tasks, shoulds and oughts, but all it really means is deciding what matters most and doing that above all else.

Not always first, or even best, but making those moments of undivided focus or deliberate gratitude a nonnegotiable. To tell her I love how creative she is, even when it’s 10:30 PM and I don’t really want to see another comic book she’s drawn, I want her to go to sleep. Applauding his new found skill of cutting and resisting the urge to immediately to point out the collateral damage that litters my living room floor. Holding this last little one extra tight, giving an extra hug, kiss or cuddle if only because I can. Doing it now, not later, or when I have more time or if they would just be easier to love.