“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by us standing in our own sunshine.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Back in March of this year, I wrote a post called ‘The Year of Meryl” (see full post here http://wp.me/p1ZHOE-7B) in which I proclaimed that starting in September of 2012, with both children on the same school schedule for the first time ever, I was reclaiming my life, my time, my purpose. I was going to strive for balance between the things I have to do (i.e. chores and errands) and the things I want to do (such as write, exercise, and think deeply about important issues). More importantly, my plan included doing the things I want to do without feeling like a “time thief”- stealing five minutes here, and five minutes there in order to fit in those meaningful activities. I envisioned myself saying goodbye to chaos and ushering in a new era in which I had time to do housework, get fit, be social, and think intellectually. ‘The Year of Meryl’ was meant to be a time to rediscover what is meaningful to me- not me the mother or me the wife, but the me who was once a musician, a political advocate, a traveler, an educator. And I thought the universe was just going to hand it to me on a silver platter.
Not so much.
On the first day of school, I loaded my kids onto the school bus, watched the bus drive away, and did a little happy dance, even while other moms dabbed melancholy tears from their eyes. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary that day, but the feeling of freedom I had for the rest of that day made me positively giddy. The giddy feeling lasted until that afternoon when my 4th grader got off the bus, walked into the house, and burst into hysterical tears. My nine year old has been dealing with an anxiety disorder on and off for the last few years and had been pretty well managing it for the prior 9 months. But something about the first day of school this year, brought her anxiety back full throttle and it threw the household into something of a crisis mode. My primary job the past few months has been to reconnect my older daughter with the resources that were helpful and necessary in managing her anxiety the last time it tried to take over her head and her life.
September and October were jam packed with meetings with teachers, school administrators, private psychologists and a psychiatrist (during those same hours that I was going to be writing, exercising, and thinking deeply). For two months it meant using all of my super mom (and my husband’s super dad) powers to even get my daughter out of bed and to school in the morning, and then wondering all day if I was going to get a call from the school that she had experienced another anxiety attack. It meant helping her to battle the worry monsters at night until she finally (far beyond bedtime) fell asleep. It meant trying to not take it personally as my scared, angry, and frustrated child took most of her emotional turmoil out on me because on some level (I hope) she knew that my love is unconditional. It meant extra hugs and snuggles for my younger daughter who felt a little neglected by all the attention that big sister was getting.
Where did this leave me? Too tired to think deeply. Stealing time to fit in exercise and writing.
I could say ‘The Year of Meryl’ got off to a rocky start, but if I am being really honest with myself that’s not really true. It’s just that it was naive to think that just because my kids are both away from the house at the same time, that the time without them is any more mine as it was last year or the year before that.
Or maybe the better way to think of it is that the time without them is JUST as much mine as it’s always been. I’ve just never thought to fight for it before.
Whether or not you have children, life is busy and something is always there to pull you away from the things you love. In the past, I have just resigned myself to the idea that my life is no longer my own and figured I had no control over it. I let what was happening with my daughter completely take over my own life which I have now learned is not necessary. Just because my nine year old may feel anxious and sad and angry does not mean that I also have to be feeling anxious and sad and angry. My first success in ‘The Year of Meryl’ has been learning the lesson that it is okay to decide to be happy even if people around me are not. I can take care of my sad, anxious, and angry child without being sad, anxious, and angry myself.
It took me a couple of months to figure this out and in part I have learned how from my 5 year old. My 5 year old wakes up every morning and says, “Today is going to be the best day ever.” It doesn’t really matter what is scheduled for the day. There is no reason for her to believe she is going to have a bad day, so she assumes she is going to have a great one. And she does- pretty much every day. Her kindergarten teacher called me one day in late October to share that my little girl had fallen on the playground, landed on her face, and her lip had started bleeding. He went over to make sure she was okay but she just stood up, brushed herself off and said, “these things happen sometimes.” He told me that in that moment he thought yes, that’s true but for a five year old to think that way is pretty impressive.
Her days are not perfect. Like everyone, my five year old faces her own version of adversity throughout the day. She just doesn’t let it bother her or keep her from having the best day ever. I decided to try to be more like my five year old. On October 31st I made the last minute decision to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the month of November. Participants are tasked to write 50,000 words in 30 days giving them a jump start on that novel they have always wanted to write. I wasn’t sure I could do it- in fact before I even started I was rationalizing to my husband why I wouldn’t be able to complete it, but at least I could try. I woke up on November 1st and decided I was going to write 1667 words that day. Somehow, I found time for it that day, and every day in November. Nothing else in my life had changed except my attitude. Proving to myself that I could accomplish a goal I had set for myself despite the other things in my life that I was dealing with was huge. The writing I was doing (while mediocre at best-it’s hard to write for quality when you are writing primarily for quantity) completely energized me. I started waking up happier. When waking up my older daughter for school (a task which was arduous at best) instead of pleading, threatening, and physically dragging her I simply turned on some upbeat music and danced around her room. Her little sister would join me and eventually big sister couldn’t resist joining us for our early morning dance parties. Are there still some rough mornings? Of course. I just don’t let them dictate the rest of my day anymore.
Learning this lesson was not part of my original plan for ‘The Year of Meryl’ but sometimes the Universe knows what we need better than we do.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go have the best day ever.