Dear World: I’m in No Hurry Today
Roll with the punches.
Go with the flow.
Never miss a beat.
These are things I am good at doing. When crisis strikes, I just bow my head, clench my hands and teeth, and simply plow through it. I’m good at bouncing back, even after really severe blows. Come what may, I keep my smile in place, my eyes focused forward and just wade into the deep waters. I used to tell myself, and think in my head: “this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through, I’ve got this covered.” Seeing my children suffer nightmares, or feel anxious or afraid if I leave their sight (my youngest will not go downstairs if I’m upstairs or vice versa), seeing them struggle to just breathe or seeing them scared is just about the only thing that breaks my stride, causes me to feel panicked and desperate. Everything else is manageable. Everyone around me can be going off the deep end and, unless the emotional, physical or psychological well-being of my children is at stake, I’m usually “cool as a cucumber.” My perception of what real pain is differs from others.
This is something else I am very good at. I make schedules out for each day of the week, every hour of every day is planned. “Free time”, time for the girls to choose activities, is scheduled three times a day, once in the morning and twice in the afternoon/evening, conveniently around the time I need to prepare meals. Each subject in school has its own slot. Now, I’m really flexible. If someone calls and says, “hey, wanna meet at the park in an hour for a play date?”, I’ll jump on it and say, “sure!” if at all possible as that involves socialization for my home schooled children. Or, if Breathe says, “I need a little more alone time”, then, okay, I’ll adjust things so that she can have it. Or if I call out the next thing on the list, let’s say, a board game and they both want to do something else instead, well, that’s okay. Basically, then, my schedules are like drafts—incomplete, un-finalized ideas of what each day will look like but I’m really flexible because, as long as we’re being productive (productive; verb which, in my head, means doing anything that strengthens mine or the girls’ appreciation for life and each other, NOT necessarily just “producing or learning something”), I’m cool with it. The schedule is my back-up plan, a way of ensuring that each day is a day spent living life and creating memories rather than allowing things like video games or TV to steal untold hours of my children’s childhoods. I run the Life race too: nourish and strengthen my relationship with God, be the best mother that I know how to be, maintain financial security, create home security, educate properly, volunteer to the fullest of my ability, exceed the expectations of my family and friends, prepare healthy, home cooked meals for the children most every night, don’t forget to dress decently and get my hair styled and cut regularly, never miss a doctor’s or photographer’s appointment, seek out and organize as many speaking opportunities as possible throughout the year, research, edit, photograph and write a new book at least every 2 years, maintain monthly letters to the girls in addition to this journal, etc., etc., etc., all while remembering to be prepared for the unexpected, to live optimistically while preparing for the worst.
It’s just a blessed wonder any of us can breathe.
Today, right in the midst of a terrible day, I heard a teeny tiny voice whisper softly: “Five seconds. Take five seconds.” And I did. I was not alone, I was not at home, but I just closed my eyes right where I sat and tried to focus on my breathing. When I did that, I realized I wasn’t breathing. Not really. Instead, here’s what I was doing, really. I was taking a breath and then literally holding it for a couple of seconds before releasing it and doing the same thing over and over and over again. I don’t even want to talk about the reasons why I was doing that, or try to understand why I thought holding my breath for a couple seconds consistently would help anything. What was the point? Was all the oxygen I wasn’t getting going to expand into a bubble that could protect me from all the unpleasant things happening? I don’t know. But, whatever, when I caught myself breathing in mid-sized breaths only to hold it for a couple seconds over and over again, something snapped inside me. I don’t know how long I sat there with my eyes closed, consciously teaching myself, once again, how to breathe without stopping, how to breathe in and then breathe –out– immediately and then do it again and again, the way you’re supposed to breathe. I don’t know. What I do know is that, when I opened my eyes again, I was calmer. I was still sad, and I still wanted to hide from the rest of the day, but I wasn’t as trapped as before. I didn’t feel claustrophobic, or like I was in a very dark tunnel anymore. And I remembered that the world wasn’t going to end today. I could chill out, walk away, and no asteroid would fall on our heads. Maybe not today but it was going to be okay again.
A little later, my girls and I went outside with a ball. God bless that toy—balls really are the best toy. We threw it to each other, rolled it, bounced on it even. There was no one else here except the three of us, and we were laughing. We put on a circus, we painted our nails in the “rainbow” style, I gave Elephant in the Jungle rides even though doing so is probably going to break my back pretty soon. At one point, I bent over to retrieve the thrown ball and I saw a blade of grass. It was so, so green. And it made me want to cry. I decided then that the rest of the world was going to wait until tomorrow. The rest of today was mine and the girls, and we were going to go slow. We were going to forget… everything. We were going to see what new discovery we could make before the end of the day. I had things to do… I was supposed to go grocery shopping, for example. But it was going to wait. Breathe was supposed to have a test today. But it has been postponed until tomorrow. Alight was supposed to take a bath but, she didn’t want to, so she’s going to wait and do it tomorrow. Suddenly, the only thing I cared about was getting away.
We laid on our bellies in the grass and smelled it. Literally. It smells funny, did you know that? It’s actually kind of musky and… fresh. I knew that, I’d smelled grass before. But I think maybe I’d forgot because it took me by surprise. We have a rose bush in our yard, and I had each of the girls pick a rose from it and inhale its scent. Sweet. We set up the easel outside and let them paint pictures where they could smell the fresh air and they had to squint their eyes to see in the bright sun. We went for a long walk and, when we got hot, we poured water from our water bottles over our heads without even caring what we looked like as we walked down the quiet sidewalks in our neighborhood. We stayed outside until the heat made our skin moist and flushed. And, when we went back inside, we were happy. The girls had been happy most of the day, but I hadn’t been, so I cherished the bubble of peace that settled in my chest. It felt like my heart had more room to beat; there was space again for discovery and exploration; space for thought, room for memories and healing.
I put the world on hold today. In so doing, I was reminded that sometimes I get distracted, I think too much about what I “ought” to be doing and what others’ expectations of me are. Keeping up with the world wears me out, to the point that when a day like today comes along, when a day where it just feels like I’m being pushed around by the clock, by the phone, by feeling as though I’ve failed because I can’t do everything “just right”… I want to hide. But I don’t. I don’t hide. I don’t hide because I have two little girls who see worms as fantastic and curious creatures. I don’t hide because I have little girls who think bouncing down the stairs on their bottoms is the best way to get downstairs. I don’t hide because I want to see the same awe in the world as their eyes see and, in order to do that, I have to live, not just breathe air.
I never forget that I have a bazillion responsibilities and I have to make sure that they all get taken care of. But I also have to remember that I’m a human being, not Superwoman, and that those who see life as a game in which the objective is to obtain wealth, fame or even “perfect” families are missing the point. Life is not a race, I’m not in a competition, and even if I don’t do everything the way others’ think I should doesn’t mean I’m wrong. I gave my girls’ unique names, names that I had never heard of before. I didn’t do it to make a statement, I didn’t do it for recognition. I did it because I wanted them to each know that they are truly special individuals, that they don’t have to conform in order to be accepted, that they —mean— something special. If, in math, the problem asks me to give an equation that equals five, both 3 + 2 and 2 + 3 are correct; indeed, 2 + 2 + 1 is also correct as is 4 + 1 or even 6 – 1 or 7 – 2. In fact, I stink at math and i could give you multiple ways to come up with the answer 5. All would be right. If the goal, then, is to seek healing from crisis, it doesn’t matter how I do that, as long as it produces the desired result. There’s no time limit to pain. Just because Suzie feels better in five months doesn’t mean Sam will. Maybe it’ll take Sam a year before he reaches the same place in his recovery that Suzie reached in 5 months. Who cares, as long as they both heal? If my daughters learn to read and do math, if they learn about science and history, if they make friends outside the home, then… what difference does it make if they’re in a traditional school or not?
Life is supposed to be about people, not about the marvelous things they can do. Life is supposed to be about embracing those we love and learning how to compromise with those we don’t understand. Life is supposed to be about seeing how bright a green the grass is and taking the time to appreciate that rose that is just beginning to bloom. I heard a woman say today: “Man, I’m not ready for this heat.” I’m not either, but it’s here, so instead of mourning for the typical, cooler Spring we’ve enjoyed in years past, isn’t the point to be grateful that we’ve got warmer temperatures at all? I’m sorry, World, but I don’t agree with all the hustle and bustle. I’m sorry, World, but I just can’t seem to feel impressed with how much money you’ve made. I’m sorry, World, but I just can’t to understand why we throw gallons of glitter on some people while forcing others to live in shadows. I’m sorry, World, but I don’t care how long the textbooks say it’s supposed to be before I stop missing things or wanting to cry—-I’m not a mannequin, I’m a real person and, as such, simple biology says I’m different than you are. My chemical make-up, my emotional response, is different from yours. If that makes me inferior, then…. then so be it. But forcing myself and my children to adhere to your schedule rather than each of ours is ridiculous, exhausting and unhealthy.
As I write this, I hear crickets outside my window. Mosquitoes, those terrible insects I hate, are flying around my bushes too. Butterflies are breaking through their cocoons and I’ll see more of them flying around in the coming months. Life is springing forth all around me. My children are laughing more and settling into life, we’re making new memories each day. Easter is upon us, reminding us of the miracles of forgiveness and life. When I turn the faucets on in my bathroom, I’m greeted by the sound of water as it gushes forward and I know that in lakes and oceans and seas all across the planet, waves are crashing onto the shores full of vacationing, happy people who are busy taking a break from stress and the daily mill of life. They are right to do so. Life is about more than success and success isn’t measured the way the government or Wall Street thinks it is. Indeed, ask ten different people what success is and you’ll likely receive ten different answers. For me, life is remembering faith, family and love. Life happens when we throw away the clocks and indulge our sudden interest in the feel of grass between our toes or staring at the cloudless sky. Life is seeing a butterfly and spontaneously deciding to chase it. Life is wading in a creek, seeing a frog and getting soaked trying to catch it. Life is the triumph we feel as our children close their eyes to sleep, saying groggily, “I love you, Mommy.” Life is the sense of peace that comes when we tell the world we’re not going to be rushed through another day but are going to take time to listen to those around us, to see what’s happening as natures changes, to greet strangers with smiles and warmth.
I was in Kinkos this evening because I had to fax something. The total came to $5.80 cents. I had a fifty dollar bill I didn’t want to bust. The debit card was in the car. So I emptied out all the change I had with me, certain the fifty dollar bill I had was destined to be broke. My change came out sixty cents short. As the cashier and I mourned over the absence of sixty cents, a stranger walked up behind me and allowed two quarters and a dime to spill out of his hand on the counter. Then he continued walking by, without saying a word. I turned around to thank him, saw him walking on by, and felt my heart stop. “Hey. Thank you.” I said, happily and warmly. He turned and winked. “Sure thing,” was all he said before he walked toward the computers. I paid for the fax and then the girls and I headed out. We made it almost all the way out the door before I stopped, sighed and ushered them back around to the computer area. “Sir,” I said, walking toward the man who gave me sixty cents so I wouldn’t have to bust a fifty dollar bill. He looked up. “I just wanted to say thank you again.” I said. He looked taken aback and shrugged. “Oh, you’re welcome,” he said and smiled. “I had it leftover from my own twenty.” I laughed and nodded, repeated my thank you one more time and then the girls and I left. As we did, Alight said, “What did he do that was so good?” She already knew he’d given me some change. So instead of telling her that, I said what came to my mind first: “He was just nice.” We won’t see him again, don’t know his name, but he helped my daughters learn to believe in strangers and he helped me feel better about being me. Such is the power of grace. Such is the power of strangers. Such is the power of a moment spent living unhurried.