It’s 4:45am and I’m watching WALL-E with my delirious four year old, whose “breath and eyes and nose is burning” courtesy of a 103.8 fever.It’s been two weeks of wild coughing viruses and strep throat for both of my kids during, um, winter vacation, which - let’s get real - is not a vacation, but rather just a foray into what happens when you combine frenzied materialism with antsy children and overworked-in-need-of-zero-frenzy parents.
I know people have said it before, but I’m never ever gonna do it this way again.Nope.Next year, 2016, I’m doing one thoughtful gift each and we’re putting the rest of the hustle and moula towards a vacation somewhere beautiful where nature and the unfamiliar can be the babysitter my kids and I deserve. And, if a virus does hit, then at least we’ll be somewhere called Not My House to ride out the storm.
So, as I have been drifting through the “not a vacation,” I’ve been paying attention to how the whole thing magnifies a bigger sensation I experience as a mother, that itchy wool sweater feeling.I see it in moms everywhere I go.On airplanes, in grocery stores, at parks.Our patience is thin and our play is robotic.We’re operating with a lingering itch that keeps us from the guts and glory of life and that in itself causes immense irritation and self-loathing.We don’t have any room to breathe or solve or listen, we just react and the regret. I’ve blamed this sensation on other things before, like the odd invention of modern motherhood and our inability to find sheer joy in the small things.And, in low and lonely moments, I’m drawn like a rabid momma rat to devour all the sappy, emo posts and articles about the reality of motherhood on facebook, often littered with a deep dark sadness, one that I can relate to and that instantly satiates that gnawing need for being seen.
But, it doesn’t ever work.Those things only make me feel complainy and they only remind me that I’m not doing this whole motherhood thing the way I really want.I don’t want to feel sadness or depression regarding my children.I don’t want to complain and feel a release when I vent.I don’t want to need an escape from the box that I feel I am in.And I don’t want to feel abrasiveness when my children do what they are here to do, ask for and receive guidance, love, support, help, answers, hand-holding, instigation, play, and adventure.
Ah ha, that’s the word.Abrasiveness.That’s what’s behind that itchy wool sweater:The abrasiveness ... of containment.Which brings up the other word I’ve been seeking:Containment.Not the abrasiveness of motherhood, not of work, not of stress, but of the containment that is related to a restriction of expression and a tyranny of limitations.
Whew.This is good news.Why?Because it’s not my life that needs to change or my duty or, heck, that annoying unicorn of a word called Balance.No, my role as a mother is my highest privilege and I deserve to feel that genuinely not just conceptually.And, my work life is my highest purpose and I deserve to receive the spark it gives me that makes “it” all make sense.All of the stress and hustle that I have and confront every day, it’s all ok.It’s the sensation, perception, and allowance of containment that is the problem.
This reality I can handle, this I can tackle. And so can you.
Leave your kids and your family and your work life out of it for right now and focus on a few ideas that I think - and certainly don’t know - to be the crux of our itchy wool sweater.
Three Part Remedy for Itchy Wool Sweater, aka The Abrasiveness of Containment
1. PROTECT YOUR ATTENTION SPAN
I actually think that most of our irritation comes from the fact that pure exhaustion combined with “scrolling” and dopamine-giving tools like social media have literally and quite dramatically killed our attention spans.We can’t read books, we can’t sit and watch the chains on the swing at the park move and bend in the sky, we can’t listen to each other without waiting for our turn to talk, we can’t even watch commercials on tv (thank goodness).When we can’t live with a span of solid attention - even if you have ADD - you can’t experience joy because you can’t be present.Presence and joy can’t be without each other.Period.
Now, here’s the catch.You can’t just decide you will be more present.No, you will fail in the first five seconds of that divine day, I promise.You have to work to get it back.You have to work to rekindle your attention span.And, I kid you not, it will be hard at first to simply read through a book and to sit and watch the swing in the sky.It will take some discipline and some ugly training.But, in time, as I am learning now, it starts to come back.And you suddenly feel the expansive, flexible, non-irritable life that lives inside your attention span. Protect it.Don’t flip to instabook and facegram when you need a break.Don’t switch on the tv when you have a free moment.Take 5 minutes instead and just breathe.Just look.And listen.Count clouds and smell smells.Just 5 minutes is all it takes to start earning back that span of attention.
2. PRACTICE ADVENTURE ON YOUR OWN TERMS
Look, this may not be kosher, but after all my studies and experiences, I can tell you right now that cultures that are NOT child-centered have much happier people across the board and much better behaved children.So, while I will beg you to place adventure in your life with your children, I also want to emphasize that this adventure 1) needs to be on your own terms and 2) you need to plan for it so that it’s feasible for - not centered on - your kids.
When you allow ourselves to believe that Stella is Gonna Get Her Groove Back by learning to take salsa every night and traveling solo for 3 months, you’ll never get our groove back and you’ll start resenting the things (ahem, your kids and work) that get in the way.Don’t do it! Practice adventure right now with your kids, but on your terms.Let them see you in the grown-up world and don’t ask them for permission to do grand things that identify the culture of YOU and, thus, your family.Do small things every day and big things when you can.Take them to a weird restaurant without a kids menu.Drive them to a lake you’ve been wanting to go to.Take them to the art show.Let them run amock in muddy nature.Visit wild wolves.Don’t just do the bouncy houses, but if you do, get in that bouncy house with them. Plan and go. Stop waiting for that time when your kids are old enough and your life makes sense and place adventure into your life ASAP.
Now, quick super important note:This may not - and probably won’t - go well the first time.Which is why I said “practice” - you are going to have to win ugly at first and you’re going to have to expect that your kids will complain and be a pain in the booty and that you will feel overwhelmed.Don’t expect magical beasts of adventure the first go-round or at any go-round for that matter.Be flexible, be funny, be emphathetic.It’s not their fault they don’t know how do it yet.Practice it and gently, compassionately demand that your kids join you in the culture of joy that defies that tyranny of limitation.
3. CHOOSE GENTLE RELATIONSHIPS WHEN POSSIBLE
Look, all of our lives - whether we like it or not - are uncontrollably abrasive and harsh.Deadlines and sick kids and family dynamics and health and personal relationships and money and all of it.Holy moly.It’s all so harsh, isn’t it?So, when possible and where possible, choose gentle relationships to people, situations, commitments, and yourself.Walk away from drama when it’s not necessary.Pause when agitated.Seek soft surroundings when possible as a way to cushion the inevitable blow that life gloriously is.
This is harder than I am making it sound, but I’ve done that deliberately.It’s rather simple and actually liberating to make your default choice the gentle one.So many times, you won’t have a choice and you’ll be tossed into the tornado of life, so default yourself to gentle and see how it makes you stronger in that tornado.
Whew.It’s such a relief to know that it’s not my life that’s the problem, but simply how I’m walking through it. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”Don’t let yourself believe that motherhood is the problem.Don’t concede to the idea that you ought not to have ambition and a busy life.Agree instead to find a way to revolt against the perception of containment and, I promise, that abrasiveness will melt away.
Hopefully your attention span made it through this long-ass post.Yippppeeee.You’re welcome!