Wednesday, January 22, 2014

My Word for 2014

As the end of 2013 closed in on me, I realized that I had yet to find my word for the new year. 2013 was 'Simplify.' Because the boys were placed in our home in November & we went from zero kids to 3 just a few weeks before Christmas, by the end of 2012 I was craving simplicity. The word served me well- once I committed to it, any occasion that offered me choice was met with the thought "which would simplify things?"

Always holding this consideration gave me a little breathing room & less opportunity to burn out in my first year as a mom.  It allowed me to keep my expectations in check when I knew that my measuring stick was simplicity, rather than what some book told me to do or what my friends or family would do. It also saved me from what would have likely been hours of emotional self-flagellation over not doing the most complex & difficult option. Because 'Simplify.' served me so well in 2013, it was baffling to be unable to find a word as 2014 approached. It needed to be something that would be as useful as my 2013 word. Apparently I couldn't find it, I needed to let it find me.

It found me standing in the street in front of my house, at almost 5pm on New Year's Eve, holding a screwdriver in one hand & a giant water bill & the accompanying letter explaining the likelihood of a leak in the other. I pried off the heavy cover & peered over into the grate where my water meter & my neighbor's meter were shacked up. His hummed lazily along while ours spun wildly. I checked my watch & realized there really wasn't anything that could be done. And the next day was New Year's Day, so the meter would have another day to spin.  As I closed my eyes & sighed, my word found me. Acceptance. There was nothing I could do. No amount of worrying would change what would happen. For whatever reason, it was in this moment, that it finally settled in my head that there really never has been a reason to worry over things I couldn't change. A bit unsettling for someone who basically made a sport out of it for 39 years.

Who knows why it took so long for this to sink in. Honestly, on the surface, it is such a simple statement. It makes sense to accept things you can't change, but it has never been something I could internalize. Not until I was literally on my hands & knees in my front yard. On more than one occasion I have felt my thoughts "spinning" when I would be worrying over something I couldn't change. Oh the irony of seeing it happen outside of myself. 

As I settled on this word for 2014, or I should probably say "as it settled on me", there was a moment of clarity. This word never sat well with me in the past because it seemed to be some form of surrender, which didn't seem like a good idea. As if recognizing that something was a certain way meant that I had to actually like it. Give up on anything being different. The most important thing I have learned in the last few weeks is that I also have to "accept" my responsibility to recognize what can & can't be changed. Work on what can. Accept & let go of the rest.

All of this reminded me of a friend who had the serenity prayer posted in her apartment when we were in college. It didn't mean anything to me at the time, but it certainly came back to me as I stood in the street on New Year's Eve making peace with the power of acceptance. The space it created inside of me to just accept it & move on. It felt good.

How much energy should one waste on something that can't be changed in the moment? How much more energy does acceptance give you to use on things you actually can change? More than you would think. I have spent the first few weeks of 2014 accepting the hell out of some things. I'm getting pretty good at it. I don't know what it was about that meter spinning that made my head stop, but I'm grateful for it... although I may need to be reminded of that the day the water bill arrives.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Confessions of a new parent: The one about the school visit

the scene of the crime

One of the things that continues to surprise me about motherhood is my continued optimism- that at some point I will be prepared for what is about to happen. Honestly at this point what I am referring to as optimism, you are probably calling stupidity. What can I say? I’m an optimist.

Recently I found myself sitting alone in the front office of the elementary school at 7:25 a.m., having arrived early enough to drop off medication to the nurse before going to work. While sitting in the unexpected yet blissful quiet of the empty front office, I purposefully turned my chair a little so I could not see all of the children running by the big window separating the office from the noise.

I pondered this seemingly magic, virtually soundproof glass & wondered how one might obtain some for the walls, ceiling, floor & doors of a home until the quiet was sucked out of the room by the door opening, flinging the bit of peace down the hall where it would likely be wasted on the music room or some other quiet-eating classroom. The silence was replaced by a rather sullen child who dramatically wilted into the chair to my right. She closed her eyes momentarily. I waited- not knowing what to do with someone else’s child, having still not located the instructional manual for my own.

Slouching precariously in the chair, she opened her eyes & leaned up enough to peer over the counter & realize that this entire performance had been wasted on only me. She looked me up & down, sizing me up.

“You a substitute?”

“No.” I thought about mentioning that she really probably shouldn’t talk to strangers, even at school, but I decided not to waste my breath. It was already abundantly clear that she had an agenda & I had no intention of becoming some sort of collateral damage for offering a completely reasonable observation.

She decided not to waste any more of her show on me & resorted to small talk. For the record, I am bad at small talk with adults with fully formed brains. To say that I am bad at it with children is more of an understatement than I can adequately express.

“Did you know Cooper sounds like Cougar? Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. See?”

What is the appropriate response to such a question? It was a rhetorical question, right? As I struggled with this thought, the other door to the office swung open. I hoped for an adult. What I got was another child. One who flopped violently into the chair on my left. She could clearly see from the barely subdued panic on my face that I was not a substitute so she acted like I was a potted plant, leaning around me to engage the other child.

“What are you here for?” She sounded like she was in prison & just wandered up to someone new in the yard. The irony of this was not lost on me as I considered my limited options for escape from this sick child sandwich.

“Stomachache. Sneezing make me toot, which my mother said would make me feel better, but it doesn’t.” She said all of this very matter-of-factly as if any sort of one-upping “I’m sicker than you” conversation would be over before it started.

Honestly,nothing good can come of sneeze-induced tooting. After a year of parenting I may not know much, but this- this I know. After abandoning my remaining shreds of optimism, I gripped the arms of my chair & prayed for a grown up to arrive before any physical evidence of their illnesses.

“Did you know that Cooper sounds like Cougar?  Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar.”

Her mother must be an amazing driver. I imagined her pulling up to school each morning in an SUV & rounding the bus lanes on two wheels with the passenger door ajar, catapulting the child into the building. I bet she never even taps the brakes.

“Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar.” Now they were both doing it.

Some sort of angelic-yet-militarily-efficient woman walked by the big window,  came to the door & poked her head in- first zeroing in like a laser on the Cooper Cougar ringleader.

“Why are you in here?”

“My stomach-“

“Does your mom know about it?”

“Yes, but-“

“Did you eat breakfast?”

“No, but-“

“That’s the problem. Come with me.”

It only took about 10 seconds, thanks to the rapid-fire succession in which she landed her queries. Impressive.

My thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the nurse, who led me into her office. Never had I been so happy to find myself in a small windowless cinder block room. Even through the closed door, I could hear the remaining child speaking to the office worker who had just arrived. Although it was muffled, I could still make out her words.

“Hey, did you know Cooper sounds like Cougar? Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. Cooper. Cougar. See?”

Friday, January 3, 2014

The New Year

New Year's Day is my favorite holiday, which may seem a little odd considering all of the other options. There is something magical about getting to make a new start in the midst of the familiarity of your life. While there is a certain amount of sameness because it is happening even if nothing else in your life changes, there is also a sense of wonder & anticipation. It is an opportunity to reflect on & release the bad bits of the previous year while remembering the good things & filing them away as good memories made during 2013.

Each year I flip through my new calendar, looking at random dates & wondering what they have in store this year. Hello there April 12th. What are you bringing? I’m also reminded of the dates that are now significant to me for the first time. Prior to 2013, May 30th was just another day. For the rest of my life it will be the day we stood together before a judge with our children to officially legally become a family. It was the very best day, which ended with a house full of people who love us & have shared this journey with us from the very beginning. In 2012 it was just a day when summer was nearing. In 2013 it was a day that brought me joy that I have never previously known.

There is also a moment of trepidation as I look at the calendar & recognize the possibility that one of the 365 days open before me could be a day of loss & profound sadness. I take a moment to remind myself to not only tell but also show the people I love how thankful I am to have them in my life.

2013 was a wonderful year for me & my family. I sincerely hope it was for yours too.

Happy New Year!