Being as I am, I’m always alert for lessons and opportunities for growth. Being an optimist, I’m generally looking to the bright side. Nonetheless, recently I’ve come to wonder “maybe this is just hard and there’s nothing else to face…” Maybe this period of life is just that: challenging. Maybe the search for the abundance herein is a varied form of self-deception or denial of a truth about my current adaptation. Then I snap out of it and something akin to “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” surfaces. It is as it is – and we imprint our own stamp of reality into it. I can live a “this sucks” mantra or I can live a mantra of “Wow!” What an eye-opening medley of aches, pains and wonder!” Quite often I vacillate – although recently I’ve settled into a graceful acceptance of being sick and run down, with a taxed nervous system and beleaguered sense of energy. Vitality is at a low point – and this simply requires greater measures of self-care and mindfulness.
I often feel my motherhood journey is akin to a marathon. The endurance test feels never-ending. Just when I think I’ve crossed a hurdle, mastered a lesson, or entered the realm of sleeping through the night again, I’m thrown a curve ball and instead of catching it head on, I find I’m ducking with an internal dialogue of “no…really…this can’t be happening again!” Into my 6th month of pregnancy, I keep getting sick. Over and over again. Literally. One illness falls, another rises. Just like the passing of empires, so it is with my immune system. There is no supreme ruler, no greater order. All systems in chaos and collapse, I try to regain my footing and health only to find another invader in my midst. My husband and I have taken to laughing as we imitate being stuck in a boxing ring with punches thrown. “Wait! Is this really my third respiratory illness this month? No, it’s the 4th! Wait! I’m finally better! Oh no – is that a stomach bug coming on?” Like a comedy of errors we fling through our days, pans clanking, dishwasher running, laundry becoming a mountain that Rowan likes to practice summiting (then destroying), we accept our lot and marvel it takes sometimes hours to help our toddler slow down for the night… The amazing thing is to find that I’m even too tired to reach a breaking point. Coughing up a lung, I somehow manage weaning my son this past month (in all its painful and emotional complexities). Limping down the stairs (the pregnancy back and body pain has set in) and carrying a stroller, I somehow manage to catch my son while he is falling head first. The full grocery cart careening towards the car and off the curb, I somehow catch it before it both crashes as well as sends food flying. These are truly small wonders. I’ve taken to marveling that any parent can somehow hobble through a day with any degree of sanity, patience and grace with a 2-year-old who never stops moving! The other balls to juggle don’t stop flying at us, and meanwhile we have to be sure our children aren’t going to run into the street or fling all boxes of cereal bars off the shelf!
It’s not that I don’t see all this in context. How utterly easy my life is compared to the woman with seven children in the Congo, pregnant and carrying 50 pounds of water on her head for a 3 mile walk from a clean water source (not to mention civil war looming). How absolutely marvelous it is to be pregnant while taking care of a toddler! How easy it is to get in a car and drive to a grocery store or turn on the faucet or load the washer/dryer. When caring for another human being, life simply becomes a more defined melange of pleasure and pain, joys and hardships, the peaks and valleys of a day so unpredictable that I am forever alert, awake and on my toes.
And what of all this? We choose (most of us) to parent – so why all the fanfare per the usual travails? In my family its become a crux point for identifying the abundance in a time where it’s too easy to fall into scarcity mentality. “We’re so tired! There’s never enough resting time!…There isn’t enough time!…We’re getting old!…Why are we so sick all the time?…What? Another day with three hours gone by trying to facilitate sleep?…We need to go grocery shopping! There’s no food in the house!…Wait! We have no money either??…and forget about exercise!!” In a (rare) quiet moment of reflection a few weeks ago, Chris and I shed light on how utterly absurd we are, and what a danger it is that all of a sudden 10 years can pass in mid-life and you’ve missed soaking in the treasures of this phase of life. We can root ourselves in scarcity mentality and let this be our compass (which only bogs us down into a further degree of sludge), or, we can do that proverbial “counting of blessings” and look around with fresh eyes. We can keep our days in context relative to the whole (*and remember those with far greater challenges than we’ll ever know). We have it so deliciously good! A son who doesn’t like sleep is also a son with an unprecedented passion for being awake (smile). There is plenty of time for what is important. Time just IS. Its how we live it that is essential; Needs are met. Health may or may not return right now, but that is simply the order of things. We live. We die. Some of us choose a path of parenthood and throw ourselves into residual chaos for a period of time while we try to usher forth decent human beings in a cultural context where communal support simply looks different than it perhaps has from an evolutionary perspective. There is more work to be done outside of home and away from the household, but no less responsibility at home. Sometimes help feels scarce, but then I have to re-think the configuration of profound resources I do have. Some things have to go on the back burner: like sanity as I knew it before, like a pain-free back, a snot-free head. And, so what? Make way for a beautiful kicking newborn, the adventure of a toddler turning the living room into an obstacle course, and ultimately: a whole new “normal.”
It continues to be a slow process of letting go into what is. My son crashes a plastic tow truck into my foot during an attempted downward dog. He reminds me to not take myself, or any of this, too seriously. Yes, I’m living a unique and precious human, American life. My needs and feelings matter, but there is also something to the etching away of my attachments to “health” “sanity” “rest” “exercise” and all the rest. If I pay close attention, it’s almost as if the process of these years of parenting has made me more malleable, more fluid, less bent on structure and order and more opaque. Things pass through me differently. Sometimes I’ve interpreted it as aging, heaviness, a weight of continual and unlifting responsibility, where the air alone seems to offer more resistance for me to work through. Other times I feel I’m being set free into an unchartered territory of lightness, where my body, along with my patience, thresholds and norms, are stretched and pulled and worked on such that I feel ultimately my unavoidable, liberating, eventual decomposition into something new and unimaginable.
The wonder of mid-life is upon me: Abundance of a life stacked up coupled with turning a brilliant corner where I can choose to set myself free into the profound rite of passage journey that children offer up. Like screws coming loose, a new lid opens and a marvelous view prevails.