I’m slowly reading Anne Patchett’s Truth and Beauty right now. There’s a line when she explains, “Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.” It made me smile as that’s pretty much a summary of this space for me – all of those things – a job, a talent, and a diary that works like an imaginary friend with a cup of tea. It’s cold and rainy here today, and I am dumping some thoughts in this space to shed a little warmth.
Jude stayed with his father last Thursday and Friday night because of a student holiday on Friday, so I only had Norah for part of this weekend. I decided to indulge us in a visit to a spot that resides deep in my childhood memories.
It’s sometimes disappointing to head back to a place you remember as magical – only to see it as less shimmery as an adult. But to watch your daughter experience it and be enthralled makes up for it. Babyland General is a Georgia staple, but without the nostalgia and place in my own personal history, it might feel more like an overblown gift shop. But last Friday, as we drove northward toward the mountains and found it perched at the end of a long driveway in the Georgia fall sun, it seemed pretty magical. We crossed the big covered porch to step into the foyer and sign the guest book. Within ten minutes, Norah had locked eyes with one particular doll she chose to name “Molly Lou.” An hour or two later, we left with Molly Lou, her adoption certificate, and one very happy three-year-old.
On the way back, we stopped at Mountain Fresh Creamery for an ice cream and a place to stretch our legs. These moments – these little seconds – why do kids give them their proper praise and we neglect to see the magic? Fall air and mountains in the distance and homemade ice cream. For just a minute, I took it all in. We are fools for not seeing the extraordinary sometimes. I’m working hard at this lately, letting my jaded nature fall away a bit to stop thinking ahead to the next thing and just breathe in these simple magic seconds. Tiny pieces of paradise given to me in the real world.
I’ve babbled on and on before about my love of John Keats, and the Keats poem that Anne Patchett’s title references ends with the famous line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Keats, of course, was dying of tuberculosis at only 24 and is said to have grown up knowing he’d die young. So much of his poetry is about the role of art and beauty and how they are the only link to immortality, the only real things in this temporary existence.
I think about this a lot lately. What is truth and how my version of “truth” in my story is different from others’ perceptions of me perhaps. We all see the world in our own ways, and none of us wear the same lenses. My kids will see these years with their own eyes, too.
Being human is a weird thing. On the one hand, we are not the same – no two of us alike. In this way, it seems there is no universal truth when it comes to seeing the world around us and living in our own skin. I’m getting better at leaving room for this and exhaling my need for control, knowing that I cannot determine someone else’s perceptions, and they cannot control mine. It’s my own skin I’m living in, my own story I’m writing. And you have yours.
But yet there are some truths that emerge for all of us, I think. The awareness felt in moments of stillness if you’re willing to sit with yourself without distraction. The soft response of your own heart that you sometimes have to strain really hard to hear. The tangible strings between a mother and her kids. The persistent effort life makes to reward you when you embrace the real and the authentic and stop clutching so hard at your identity. It’s all there when I take the time to see it.
As an English teacher, I know that words have power. I know that for certain. I see it everyday as what I read speaks to me like nothing else can, and I see it when I teach students to grow in their use of language and then watch them acquire power and personal agency as a result.
But I wasn’t really one for meditative affirmations in my former life. Was I too busy to think about it? Or didn’t think I needed anything to change or improve tremendously? Or I didn’t think they’d likely work for me anyhow? Probably all of those things. But these days, I am really seeing the power of words and thoughts in my own life, and I’m making them part of my everyday routine.
I purchased this set of cards from Your Joyologist a while ago, and it contains 52 encouraging affirmations. It sits on my bathroom sink, and I pick up one before bed at night and repeat it in my mind as I fall asleep. I wake to choose another one and repeat it to myself as I shower and get ready for the day. I grab them at random and assume that they each have a message for me that I’m intended to hear on that given day. So far, this has turned out to be the case more often than not.
Maybe I am a nutcase and a total hippie-crunchy-kale-eating-yoga-doing-affirmation-reading weirdo, but these work. They really do. The mind is a powerful thing, and I am seeing more and more that I can change the world around me in the truest sense when the thoughts in my mind change. Some would argue that this is stupid and I’m just imagining positivity because of the way my mind assesses my world after reading these thoughts… and to you I say, maybe so. But it’s working for me, and the good in my life just keeps growing when I tell myself it is there for the taking.
When I remind myself that I need to release what doesn’t serve me any longer (anger, resentment, self-doubt, judgment, fear) and make room for the good stuff, the good stuff appears. When I remind myself that there is a greater plan at work, I begin to see it unfold.
When I remind myself that I am enough as I am and I choose to love myself without the burden of demanding that I change to suit others’ desires and expectations, I feel more complete and stronger than before and others begin to see me as enough, too. (Or maybe I’m just empowered to shed anyone who doesn’t recognize my worth from my life. Either way, it begins with my assertion that I am worthy as I am.)
These cards get me started each day, but I also have a few mantras that I repeat when necessary and keep in my back pocket like a tool kit. I am safe. gets me through sticky situations with anxiety. I am enough. I am loved. gets me through moments of self-doubt. I am allowed. I am deserving. are reminders to me that good things can come my way, and it doesn’t mean the other shoe is about to drop. (Anyone else have that weird fear with joy and happiness? Like it’s too good to be true?) It’s hard to swallow the joy with simple gratitude and not look for the black cloud. I’m finally realizing that this way of thinking is rooted in a belief that I can’t possibly enjoy good things fully because I don’t deserve them. It’s like a big board game with a point system, and I haven’t done enough good things yet – haven’t acquired enough points in the game of life – to receive happiness without some kind of caveat. This has been a light bulb moment for me recently as I realize this. Joy is such a vulnerable feeling sometimes.
At the risk of losing any credibility I might have with any of you skeptical readers, energy is a real thing. We project certain messages out to the world, and we receive what we think we deserve. I’m seeing this without a doubt in my current life as I watch particular people and situations find their way to me. The sense of community I’ve watched unfold for the kids and me (as I wrote about in my last post) is a result of my desire to build my own life, and more than that, my belief that I am loved and valued by others despite a year prior to this that left me with many moments screaming just the opposite.
It’s the power of intention. And it’s becoming clear to me that what you intend is what you become. I’m beginning to see the power of having true intention in my life, in all my choices – big and small. It’s so tempting to do what you have always done, be what you have always been. It’s so tempting to act impulsively and resist the urge to think or pause or reflect. But the pause is where it’s at. It’s where the change happens. And as terrible as it felt to “start over” earlier this year, I’m seeing it emerge as a gift. I can carry on with intention and purpose and be whoever I feel I need to be, go where I feel led to go. I’m not weighed down with another’s expectations or opinions or doubts of me. Right now, I’m not sure where that destination is, but I know it’s somewhere good, and I know that intention is the only way to get me there. Autopilot never works for big steps in the journey.
I’ve had a few people comment here and there – either blog readers or friends in my usual life offline – who have complimented me for staying afloat with optimism and believing that better days are ahead. I do realize that so many people spend the first few years after a divorce flailing and confused and sometimes making some self-destructive and impulsive choices. And really the only thing responsible for my refusal to fall in that pattern is intention and a relentless determination to, as it says in the quote above, bring my blessings on myself and find them in the world around me. It’s my stubbornness really. When I attended the workshop with Jen Pastiloff in August, we talked a bit about the less “fluffy” definition of manifestation. And that is to “make shit happen” in Pastiloff’s words.
Sometimes the world throws a lot of sad and scary stuff your way, and you have to change the landscape. It’s not easy though. Nothing in your life will change unless you change your daily habits and empty yourself of everything you were before and then fill it back up in the way you want. When you go looking for happiness outside of yourself, or even worse in the exact place you lost it before, you will never find the real deal. Joan Didion says, “I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.” And I’m starting to get that feeling, too. With intention and purpose, everything about your world can change. I’m finally feeling incredibly lucky that my world exploded and gave me this beautiful season of in-between where I have no framework constricting me.
You have to work really hard to find the happy. But when you say it enough, you begin to believe it. And when you truly believe it, life begins to hand you some pretty amazing gifts.
It was quite a weekend. Soccer on Saturday morning, a quick stop at our favorite pumpkin patch close to home, and a neighborhood fall festival on Saturday afternoon. Life rarely slows this time of year. Fall is brief in Georgia, and it’s gone in a flash if you don’t squeeze out every last bit of it.
I love to watch them try and pick the perfect pumpkin. They all look the same to my jaded eyes, but my kids will grow attached to one particular one because of the shape of its stem or its particular size. It’s a meticulous process.
The weather was absolute perfection for us all weekend long. Chilly mornings and evenings, but perfect breezy sunshine during the day. You could tell everyone else was high on fall sunshine, too. Kids and parents alike. All smiles.
And it’s never a dull moment with these two. They are gaining on each other in the best way. I love watching them play together and walk at the same pace these days. Even though I am usually lagging behind a bit.
I had a hard time deciding what moment to record in my happiness jar on Saturday night. There were so many seconds I snapped in my head, stepped out of the frame to say pause, perfection. Thank you, God. I see what you did there, and I feel it.
Saturday’s lunch was boiled peanuts in a wagon. You know you are a southerner through and through when your kids turn down popcorn for boiled peanuts. I love sharing traditions with them, and I know nostalgia will tint their lenses as they grow older. And mine, too.
Sunday brought Jude’s birthday party. This kid is obsessed with Legos, so it seemed the obvious choice. He saw the idea in the pages of an Oriental Trading Company catalog a while ago, and I ran with it. It was cheap and easy, and he had a great time with his little friends.
I kept it simple with my favorite spinach dip, pizza bites for the kids, and a veggie tray. I ordered cups and napkins from Oriental Trading Company, and this cool Twister game which the kids used as a playmat on the back patio rather than a game, but who cares. The weather outperformed herself, and there was warm apple cider and good conversation and kids running everywhere. It was a perfect way to ring in Jude’s sixth year.
A friend of mine made the cake which totally stole the show. Jude added Lego men to the top before guests arrived, but the rest was totally edible with tiny fondant Legos. So cool, right? She dropped it off late Saturday night after she finished it, and the kids were already sleeping upstairs. So he came down the stairs Sunday morning to find it in the dining room and was SO excited.
It was a crazy weekend to say the least, but as I said on Instagram last night, the rearview perspective is always kinder somehow. I’m thankful for these familiar traditions and big milestones to remind me of how far we’ve come and what we have to celebrate.
Something clicked this month as life feels as normal as it ever was. We are a family anyway – just shaped a little differently than many others. I’m still sharing my same traditions and memories with my two, and I finally don’t feel like some huge piece is missing. The wheels don’t feel lopsided anymore. I can hold my own balance, and there are no empty spaces when I’m alone with these two. As I looked around at the happy chaos this weekend, I realize that we’ve created a community somehow. When I wasn’t looking, it emerged. My closest sphere takes the shape of just the three of us, but beyond that, there’s a bigger orbit we are a part of. I’m grateful for all of it.
Today you turn six, and this has been a huge year for you. Growing, learning, changing everyday. I wake every morning to realize there is a little person in my house. This might seem like a ridiculous observation to make, but when you are a parent one day, you will see. There is a transition that happens when you begin having real conversations with your child and see him through new eyes. You are your very own person with your own wishes and ideas. I love your independent spirit.
Though you are unique in your own ways, I see so much of myself in you. We understand each other in the easiest way, you and me. Hearing your teacher’s comments on how you approach school work and social settings, watching you interact with other kids, hearing your observations and insights – it all echoes memories for me and strikes a chord of familiarity. I sometimes wonder how I survived 28 years on this planet without you. We get each other without effort and understand each other even without words and explanation. There are different ways to love and relate to people, but I feel incredibly lucky that my firstborn has a soul that mirrors mine so closely.
I try to listen to you as intently as I can when you speak to me. This year has been the craziest one imaginable, and I’m haunted a little by the closing of my last letter to you when I described my gratitude for the simple, mundane worries that filled my day. In the weeks that followed that letter, our world exploded, and my worries have been anything but mundane this year. But weirdly enough, I am finding gratitude in this experience, too. It has brought us closer together, and I see you finding so much comfort these past few months as we sink into life in our household of three. I’m here to listen and to guide and mostly just to love you as the unique little person you are becoming.
I am the first to tell you – now and always – that I have nothing figured out. I am far from perfect and certain about next to nothing. But I know that I love you, and I am doing the very best I can. I’m finally realizing that one action alone is enough. There’s so much love between the three of us, and it kept us afloat even in the roughest waters this year. It will always be that way, no matter what lies ahead for us. That’s really the only thing I know for sure.
You have so many traits I love and admire: a persistent curiosity, an unfiltered joy, a generous heart, and such a fire for intellectual inquiry. You are a seeker in every way. Always looking to know more and to do more and to create something new everyday. Your teachers see this fire in you, and I can’t wait to see where it takes you. We talk a lot with the lights off as I get you and Norah to sleep at night, and you ask me big questions that have no solid answers. — Why does God make bad people, Mama? Where does imagination come from? How do we know we are safe from scary things? What if we aren’t? — Truthfully, I am horribly unprepared to answer these things, so we just talk it out as we lie there in the dark with your long arm thrown across me and your chin on my shoulder. There are some questions that simply don’t have any solid answers, and unlike most kids, you are okay with the ambiguity. You’re a little thinker in the biggest way. I pray you keep seeking and retain your introspective nature. It leads you to truth and beauty eventually, and our inner lives guide us when we let them.
It’s hard sometimes – when you tell me that someone hurt your feelings or I see ways the world seems way too harsh for your little spirit. I want so badly to somehow shield you from all of it, the future disappointment or heartache or the waking up to harsh realities you don’t yet understand. But I’m trying to remember that it is not my job to toughen you up for a hard world but to show you how to stay soft in spite of it.
I think the thing that keeps surprising me about motherhood is that it keeps giving back to me ten times over what I ever expected. You opened that door for me six years ago when you left my own body to join the rest of us, and it just keeps getting richer. This year especially, you have reminded me each day that I am enough as I am. That loving you and holding space for both of us to feel what we feel without judgment is the only thing I have to do to create the threads that bind our little family. We have years and years ahead of us, Jude. I just hope to continue doing the same thing as time rolls by – giving you space to grow and learn and emerge as your own person. I’ve watched that happen a bit this year with the new world of kindergarten in front of you. This is the year that you walked bravely forward to a whole new chapter. I feel lucky that I’ve got you beside me as I do the very same thing.
Happy birthday, Jude! Keep questioning, keep learning, keep growing.
** As most of my readers know, I write letters for my kids on their birthdays to give them when they are older. This will likely change one day soon as they grow and my letters become more specific when their lives grow more complex and private. But for now, I also post the letters here.
I spent the weekend in the north Georgia mountains with my closest friends. Fall is just beginning here in Georgia, and it still reaches close to 80 degrees on some days. But it’s close, and you can feel it. A chill in the mornings, and when the sun is dimmed by clouds, it feels like October. We are just on the cusp of something new.
It was almost dark by the time we got to the cabin on Friday. We arrived to turn on the oven and bake the dinner I’d prepped. We lit candles and opened wine and settled into the cozy space that was ours for the weekend. I never miss a beat with these few. It can be days or weeks or months between get-togethers, and it feels like it always ever did. After dinner, we explored the outside of the cabin a bit. Jittery like a little kid with all the darkness and isolation around us. I live in a fairly roomy area of the Atlanta suburbs, but even so, I can forget what it really feels like to be removed from lights and houses and shopping centers and restaurants until I venture somewhere like this.
We talked a lot on Friday about changes and thresholds in life. I read once that we have rituals for all kinds of experiences – weddings, funerals, birthday parties, etc. You use those rituals to remind yourself that a chapter is done and another is beginning, and sometimes if a ritual doesn’t exist for something you are encountering, you just have to invent one. We decided to create some rituals of our own this weekend as each of us, in her own way, is moving forward to something new and burning away the old. The landscape of fog and barely tinged leaves was a perfect backdrop for that idea. A moment to settle in to the reality of what is left behind and what is to come.
The second winery we stopped at was tiny and quaint, and they had a small fridge of cheeses and a fireplace when you walked in. After a little tasting, the woman who worked there suggested we buy a bottle and head around the back to the small “grotto” they have with live music. We followed her suggestion, and the rain scared away much of a crowd, so it was almost empty. We talked and laughed and just lingered in that way that wine and music and gray skies inspires. It was perfect.
After staying there for a while, we drove a bit more to find funky roadside pottery and fun spaces.
The very best parts of the weekend were those little nondescript moments though. Huddled in a cabin with rain outside and space to breathe. Space to talk and laugh and share without judgment or expectation.
A friend sent me a text last January with that Cynthia Occelli quote that reads, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the rhythm of seasons and the metaphor of growth in my own life. You go through periods, I think, when all you can do is the next right thing. One after the other. And you do the best you can, but it is painful and you feel buried, so to speak. Your shell cracks and it’s rough there for a while. It feels like complete destruction for certain. But the growth emerges eventually. Seasons change. Life moves forward. You find yourself different and bigger and stronger.
I’m still so uncertain. But I know I’m bigger and stronger, and I know love exists in so many forms. Joy exists in so many places. And nothing feels better than a new season.
If you are sensitive to the f-word, click away right now. Really. I am begging you, just stop reading.
I ran across this hilarious but also insightful essay this week, and I had to share here. As an English Professor, I can recognize the value of a powerful word when it’s used correctly, and this essay uses f*ck 127 times to desensitize us to it and to further illustrate its point. It’s a masterful play on language, and if you can see it for what it really is, it is some amazing life advice.
Click here to read it if you’d like, and then come on back over to finish my words if you want.
Gloria Steinem once said, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.” I’ve got so much to unlearn, and as I look at how I’ve changed in the past year and the ways I still need to change as I move forward, there is a lot left to do in that regard. I’ve unlearned a lot already as I’ve written about before. But there is still work to do.
I’ve spent so much of my life caring about things that do not matter. At all. It is what we are socialized to do in the First World — and especially as women in the First World. Do my shoes match my shirt? Do those draperies look wrong on that window? Is this meal good enough to serve company? Does she think I’m weird? Is he satisfied with my response to that question? I’m seeing now that I have had an almost constant soundtrack of questions and concerns in my mind for pretty much my whole life and definitely my past 15 years.
Last fall, my life blew up. And my past year has been learning to stand on my own feet and to separate my worthiness from someone else. Those lessons have been hard-won, and I feel proud to have seen them emerge for me. If I have one resolution for the next year of my life, it is to give less f*cks about nearly everything – or as this particular essay explains, to be careful how I allot them. In short, I need to stop caring so much about stupid stuff that is not worth my time.
This is happening on its own already. As my time and financial provisions and general life situation has shifted, I have started to care a whole lot less about stuff that doesn’t matter, simply because I do not have the time or brain room to devote to it. Do my kids clothes match? I don’t give a f*ck unless it’s picture day. Is my house messy? I don’t give a f*ck as long as I can find what I need. Does every single meal on my table include a variety of fruits and vegetables? I don’t give a f*ck as long as most of them do. This is a far cry from who I was a year ago, and it’s not the result of some impressive soul-searching and fantastic personal goals. It’s just life in this season with one working parent and two little kids. In short, they are taken care of and clearly thriving. I am, too. We do what works for us, and I really don’t care about the rest. I don’t have to validate myself with anyone’s stamp of approval. And I don’t have time or energy to do that even if I wanted to.
When it comes to parenting and explaining myself to my ex, I am pretty good about not caring too much. But it’s with the rest of the world that I still struggle. It’s natural, and as Mark Manson reminds us in his masterful essay, “The point is, most of us struggle throughout our lives by giving too many fucks in situations where fucks do not deserve to be given. […] Fucks given everywhere. Strewn about like seeds in mother-fucking spring time. And for what purpose? For what reason? … This is the problem, my friend. […] Indeed, the ability to reserve our fucks for only the most fuckworthy of situations would surely make life a hell of a lot easier. Failure would be less terrifying. Rejection less painful.”
As I type this, I am only four days out from my ex’s wedding which if I am being honest totally blows my mind given that I wrote this post one year ago and had no clue I was on the cliff about to fall off. No clue. My kids are in the wedding which if I am being honest totally stabs me and makes me feel like I could vomit all over this keyboard with its audacity to place these two tiny people who grew in my belly at the altar with the union that started as we all know it did. There will be a handful of people in that congregation who will watch him exchange vows that echo the vows he exchanged with me ten years ago when they watched the first time. How people can watch that with anything less than a bad taste and a bothered spirit is beyond me.
But here’s the thing I see happening. I am all out of f*cks to give. I have none left. I clearly gave a f*ck when I weeped for eight solid weeks every single day last fall. I clearly gave a f*ck when I sat in my attorney’s office and worked with a realtor to assure the easiest transition for my kids and me. But now? After a year of feeling broken and bruised and angry, I am all out of f*cks to give. What’s the expression? Not my circus, not my monkeys? Sure, I think you’d have to be completely insane to marry less than a year after leaving your family and without taking even a single week to live alone and reflect. But it’s not my circus. And can I be honest, friends? I can finally say that I don’t give a f*ck.
And Mark Mason reminds us, “Developing the ability to control and manage the fucks you give is the essence of strength and integrity. We must craft and hone our lack of fuckery over the course of years and decades. […] This is what is so admirable … The staring failure in the face and shoving your middle finger back at it. The people who don’t give a fuck about adversity or failure or embarrassing themselves or shitting the bed a few times. The people who just laugh and then do it anyway. Because they know it’s right. They know it’s more important than them and their own feelings and their own pride and their own needs. They say “Fuck it,” not to everything in life, but rather they say “Fuck it” to everything unimportant in life. They reserve their fucks for what truly fucking matters. Friends. Family. Purpose.”
There it is, friends. I care a lot. About a lot of things. My kids’ wellbeing. My own success and satisfaction. My friends’ needs and my extended family’s comfort. My students. My writing. My calling and my purpose and the ways that I manage to uncover those things as these years roll by. That swelling feeling inside when I am doing something that brings me real joy.
I care a lot about the things that matter and the things worth my time, but I am staring failure in the face now, and I’m seeing it’s about more than my own pride, as the passage above says. Everything unimportant is falling away, and much to my surprise, this includes things that seemed pretty insulting and significant a few short months ago. Right now, I know what’s right for me. If it insults my own soul, I dismiss it. (Thanks, Walt Whitman.) As for the rest, I can’t care right now. I just can’t.
I’m planning to spend the weekend burrowed in a mountain cabin with my closest friends. We planned this a while back to get me out-of-town for the wedding and get my mind on something else. But now that it’s here, I’m finding I need a lot less babysitting than I expected I would. I’m ready for a weekend of food and friends and wine and burning away the old to make way for the new.
I’m writing in some stolen moments this week to get a few things out. There’s a change in the weather a bit, and the academic year is picking up. There’s a change in me too, somehow. I feel life moving forward, turning a page. I think it’s the one-year mark I am nearing, and it is set against the backdrop of this time of year when even nature reminds us that a chapter is closing. Letting the dead things fall is sometimes more beautiful than you expect it to be. I hope to feel lighter and lighter as the leaves change this year. Dead weight shedding from my own life. Making way for new skin.
Jude had his tonsils and adenoids removed on Monday. It’s a simple procedure, and kids get it done all the time. It’s his fall break this week, and I scheduled it now so that he wouldn’t be missing much school as a result. I’ve been anxious about it as I’m the first to admit I carry a little bit of an anesthesia phobia. (Hence that time I had a baby in a bathtub.) I woke him on Monday morning long before the sun and loaded him in the car to drive to the surgery center.
When we got there, I was blessed with a familiar face as my good friend and I figured out a little while prior that both of our kids were having procedures done that day. Their surgery was 2 hours before ours, so we didn’t get a lot of time together, but seeing her smiling face was such a clear reminder that I am not alone in this. And it was the most bizarre coincidence that we even ended up there together. We are in two different school systems, so she wasn’t scheduling around fall break as I was, and our kids were having different procedures performed by different doctors. And yet we ended up in the same waiting room.
Nothing is an accident. I’ve come to believe this so strongly in my recent year. Life places before us exactly what we need at the exact time that we need it. You just have to open your eyes to see the magic of timing even when it doesn’t at all coincide with your expectations.
So we went back to the pre-op room and got him in the gown to bribe him to choke down his meds, and they allowed me to accompany him to the OR to hold his hands as the anesthesia mask set in. Once he was safely asleep, I should leave and wait and they’d come find me. I knew it would be a little creepy, but I expected after our many conversations on what to expect that he’d just lie there while I comforted him and go to sleep calmly under the mask.
That is not at all what happened. He refused the mask, and they had to hold it on him. He was panicked and screaming and I was holding his hands. He wouldn’t connect with my eyes the way I wished he would, and he was darting all around the room with his anxious glance. The florescent lights and sterile smell of an OR. Panicked little boy on the operating table. Then just like that his little eyes closed and his screaming stopped. It’s only tonsil surgery. I knew he’d be fine. But I walked out of that operating room with such a lump in my throat.
I only waited 25 minutes before hearing from the surgeon that it all went well. Only another half hour after that before they wheeled him to me, all groggy and confused and sweet and tired. But during that hour, my mind went to the what if, what if, what if place that parents know all too well. And my thoughts meandered to parents who sit in waiting rooms with much more serious procedures and less guaranteed outcomes. It is hard. Having a child feels like part of you is just raw and open almost all the time. What I did before I had these two and where I’d be without them is something I cannot comprehend.
It’s exhausting sometimes, isn’t it? Just to be a thinking and feeling person in the world. I think and feel too much, it seems. I’ve spent much of my life wishing I didn’t think so much, wishing I felt less deeply – because truthfully I can look at people who don’t think and do not feel below the surface level, and their lives look so much easier at times.
I was listening to Rob Bell recently (love his podcast), and he talked a bit about what he calls “the wisdom that lies beyond wisdom.” We have the first “wisdom,” the lessons we all want to know and teach our kids: be kind, work hard, choose a partner carefully, make good choices, take care of yourself, etc. Then we have the wisdom that lies beyond that. The wisdom that only comes when you do all those things and it still falls apart. That’s when you realize that really all that matters is now. That bad things happen to good people. That it is up to us to make the meaning of them.
There is no value in living in the past or wishing for the future. I’m realizing how tenuous it all is. All of it. None of us can say oh, that would never happen to me because there are no guarantees like that. Life never stops surprising me.
I’ve been so afraid (and in weak moments, I still am) that events in my life would leave me weaker than they found me, would leave me incapable of doing certain things in the future – like loving or trusting or feeling joy. I’m finding that the opposite is true though. I am a better lover than ever. Not in the modern vernacular sense of lover, obviously. But in that I love and love and love without expectation now. Loving on my kids, my experiences, my friends, and these singular passing moments in my life that won’t happen again. Because who knows where any of this is going or what lies ahead, and does that matter anyway? I can sink into a moment without wondering how it fits in some grand scheme. I can be grateful for the now without expectation of the next moment.
I look at Jude’s experience this week and think about how scared and panicked he was, how he looked for me when he woke up. How he needed me to be there and say things were good and not scary. And of course, I knew that it was simple and not scary, but now I also know deep down that really everything is scary. All the good stuff anyway. And as a kid, I think you assume that you grow up to feel in control at all times and never feel scared or vulnerable.
But feeling and thinking and staying open in a world with no guarantees is the opposite of fearlessness. I’m learning how good it feels to let it all in, to feel alive as all the dead weight sheds away.