Lying on my back, I stare straight up at the ceiling squinting from the overhead light. I keep my hands folded in my lap while my mouth is propped open and the dentist maneuvers any number of loud and pointy items inside my mouth. I hear a scraping sound and every once in a while the dentist says under his breath, “Why won’t this come out?”

I have the same question, but can’t move any muscles to make a sentence. I wonder how long I’ll be here with only the TV in the background and the blue walls to occupy my mind.

The minutes pass by, slowly. Finally, I hear a pop and the dentist’s words, “I think I got it.” I see him turn his head to the assistant and hear him ask, “Have you seen this before?” I can’t see the assistant’s face or expression, I only hear his one-word response, “No.” I feel my eyes pleading with the dentist to figure out what’s in my mouth and to get it as far away from me as possible.

“Now that we got that out, we can start the cleaning of the tooth.” I nod my head slightly and close my eyes as the noises begin again.

After almost an hour I feel the release of the mouth guard and I slowly regain feeling in my jaw and close my lips.

“If I’m right, what they used to fill the tooth,” he rattles off some name and numbers that I can’t recall, “was banned in the United States 30 years ago.” Great, I think. That stuff he’s referring to has been in my mouth for close to 20 years. “It has been known to cause facial paralysis.”

I stare back at him, “Did you get it all out?”

“Yes, we did. It wasn’t easy. We’re going to put some treatment on the tooth and you’ll need to come back in a number of weeks to finish the procedure.” With that he pats his hands on his legs and moves to the next patient.

I found myself at the dentist thanks to an unseen infection deep in my roots. While I served in the Peace Corps I had a root canal in Senegal that almost 20 some years later came to haunt me. By the time I arrived at the specialist, after feeling a small bump on my gums, an infection had been in my root for a number of weeks unbeknownst to me.

Now that it’s December, I can say that all is well with my tooth. And it’s no small privilege that I have the means to cover the expense. What this brings up, however, is that as the year comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the other things that seem to be under the surface, not visible to anyone but me, yet, unlike my tooth, have been transformative in positive ways.

Here are a few things that have been bubbling under the surface making my life a bit richer.

Deep Breaths
My two year old has a temper. Whether it’s because we won’t let him throw a ball inside the house, we’re out of apple sauce, or he wants to run around with no pants, at any moment he can be on the floor crying. Recently after one such meltdown I found his older sister next to him on the floor patting his back repeating over and over to him, “Take a deep breath, Isaac, deep breath.”

Take a deep breath - the words I’ve been offering to my daughter, but more importantly, to myself. This year began with a desire to breathe more deeply. To find moments of respite in the midst of toddler tantrums, feeding, cleaning, driving, and managing life. To be still. The breaths started slowly, one breath at a time, one minute at a time. I used to think I needed the perfect spot to sit with a candle and peaceful surroundings, but that only kept me from actually taking the time to breathe. Finally, once I just sat in the middle of my life, whether in the living room amidst the toys or on our bedroom floor, the breaths came. Now, I find myself breathing in and out in the morning before I wake up, in the car waiting at a red light, or before I’m about to lose my patience with the kids. In these unseen moments of deep breathing, I’ve felt a sense of calm that I’m eager to claim.

“Read books, Mama! Read books time!” Charlotte and Isaac chime in unison. Charlotte grabs the white blanket, the soft one, and pulls it over her legs on the couch.

“Sit next me, Mama, read books!” She points to the spot on the couch next to her and the stack of books.

“Alright, let’s read books,” I say plopping myself next to Charlotte while simultaneously stealing a portion of the blanket to cover my legs. Isaac quickly follows suit and nuzzles his way under my arm leaning into me. Both kids eager and ready for books. On the couch in front of a window looking toward the town park, we sit and read. I see their enthusiasm and joy. I see their blossoming love of books and learning, a lifetime of stories to nourish their souls.

I see a year of books, stories, and the joy found in sharing them together.

As much as I’d like to be, I’m not the crafty mom who knows how to occupy all hours of the day for two children under 5. But I do know how to read with my kids. So that’s what we do. Looking back over the year I see us on the couch searching for Goldbug in Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, chugging along with the Little Blue Truck, and singing along to nursery rhymes. Whether we’re on the couch or on the floor, we’re together, and filling our days with stories, and it’s in many of these unseen moments, that I’ve felt the most at peace.

Less Screen Time
I remember getting my first cell phone my freshman year of college. I was living 2.5 hours away from home and the phone provided a connection to family. And that’s all it was for - phone calls mostly with my parents. I remember tossing my cell phone on my bed before heading out to class knowing that I wouldn’t need to use the phone. Fast forward 20 years and I can’t fathom tossing my phone on my bed before leaving for the day. Long gone are the days when I just used my phone for actual calls. Yet, I crave to use my phone less. I know what science and research say about the use of our phones and social media on our attention and ability to focus. I desperately want to focus more but keep stumbling back to my phone and all that it can do. Yet, I have made small inroads this year with many months at a time only using my phone for calls and text messages. Many days I leave my phone in our home office behind a closed door and only look once the kids are in bed. It’s a daily challenge, but underneath it all is a desire to be more present, to think more clearly, and to live more fiercely right here and now. It’s in these unseen moments away from the phone and looking towards others that I’ve felt present in richer ways.

So, here’s to 2019 - a year of noticing that the small unseen things have the power to transform; one breath, one book, one person at a time.

**This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "2019."

**Photo created by Phoenix Feathers Calligraphy for C+C, 2019