Tag: Anxiety

27Aug

Wherever You Go

I didn’t mean to fall off the face of the earth… though geographically speaking, we came fairly close this summer. Exactly five weeks ago, I was steaming my waterlogged feet at a campfire in the same Highland glen where Hagrid’s hut, James Bond’s Skyfall estate, and Monty Python’s Bridge of Death were staged. Wind-worn mountains surrounded our tent, their crags still faintly green at midnight. If not for the peaks, we might have been able to spot the Northern Lights. I felt like I was living in a medieval fable, complete with the short, shivering nights and the venison roasted on sticks.

I did not write a single day of our six weeks on the road from Italy to France to home by way of Scotland. I’d intended to, of course. I’d held onto my hope that this half-business/half-pleasure road trip would loosen the time demands clenched around my ribs until I breathed big gusts of words. It turned out, however, that what I had clenched to me were anxieties, and well… you know the saying. Wherever you go…

We drove all the way to the Scottish Highlands, and there I was too.

This has been a hard year, which you may or may not have guessed from the dearth of blog posts around here. The first quarter of 2015 brought the dissolving of three different communities that were dear to our hearts, one isolation lined up after another. I will write about them one day, but I haven’t entirely figured out how to begin processing them within myself. For lack of any more conclusive results (according to a litany of medical tests, I’m fit as a fiddle), I’ve chalked my confusing health issues up to anxiety. I don’t think I’m wrong.

This is a growth spurt year, the kind that moves in drastic lurches and tangled limbs. It aches down to the bone without any obvious cause or cure, and I know we will look different at the end of it even if I can’t imagine the specifics. Truthfully, I can’t even imagine the specifics of next week at this point. My mind is a murmuration of birds shapeshifting in and out of the wind, directed by instinct rather than destination. You’ve heard the motto “Do the next right thing”? It sounds so simple, yet it also assumes you have a single clear direction. What is the next right thing when you’ve fallen off the map?

Generations of soul-searchers before me would answer, “Hit the road!” and we certainly did do that over the span of June and July: eight countries, six campgrounds, two apartments, two hotels, four friends’ houses, 4,100 miles, and a freakish 67°F temperature range that has left me unable to tell whether I’d prefer a fan or a blanket at night. (I’m currently opting for both.) Dan had two different work conferences across Europe, so we packed our car like Tetris wizards and made it a family affair.

We swam in pools, waded rivers, hiked mountains, and invaded every hands-on museum we could find. We went on treasure hunts, followed in the footsteps of Harry Potter, and foraged for our own s’more sticks. We got caught in not one but two transportation strikes and ended up crossing London in a double-decker bus. Completely unrelated to the strikes, we also managed to get ourselves stranded ten miles from our car after a long day at a French theme park. There were bagpipes and goats and crepes and a new tattoo. We ate either croissants or English breakfast every morning because we could. We gained weight, though I am steadfastly refusing to check how much. We forgot what day it was on a regular basis.

Trying not to fall in the pond

Four Bassetts in line 2

Sketching the Eiffel Tower

At the British Museum

Sister snuggle along the Thames

No one died

Scottish swimming hole

Roasting dinner

You can also check out our #franklyscotch trip posts on Instagram.
(France + Scotland = #franklyscotch)

The girls had a blast, though I’m sure they were ready before the end for us to stop referring to every missed bus and rained-out hike as “an adventure.” (Parents gonna parent.) Dan worked like the Energizer Bunny on caffeine and had his mind lit up with possibilities. I vacillated between weightless happiness and abject frustration as the writing-less days slipped by, each one a reminder that travel doesn’t transmogrify us into more capable versions of ourselves. I played hard with my kids and worried hard about what we’d return home to. I was there, and now I’m back here.

I wish I could say what one does with a growth spurt year after the trip has been traveled and the bags unpacked. It seems unfair somehow to return from a long journey without any revelations. Or perhaps that’s my next right thing—to winnow out the wisdom of this summer and let it draw me back to earth, watch it corral my flock of anxieties slowly toward a roost. Growth is no respecter of schedules, after all, any more than it is of geography. This is my gangly attempt at presence then, my place card in the rib-clenching unknown. Wherever in this process we may be, whoever this year is stretching us to be, whatever will emerge from the distances we’ve traveled, here we are.

24Apr

Motherhood, Incidentally

(Photo by our sweet friend Emily)

As of last month, I’ve been a mother for a decade.

I can’t tell you how foreign that sentence feels to my fingers, as nubbly and impenetrable as Braille. “You must have been a young mother!” friends and neighbors say, and the fact is that I still am. This is especially true by Italian standards, where most women don’t start thinking of babies until they’re comfortably settled into their 30s. I feel young in terms beyond age though. Even here in my own comfortable 30s, I’m taken aback by my lack of expertise at each new parenting stage. It’s like being handed a pop quiz called “Congratulations! Despite the fact that you did not expressly condone the passage of time, nor have you had longer than twenty seconds to get used to the idea, your child is now a tween. How are you going to parent her?” and being told that your GPA for life depends on your answer.

(Apparently test anxiety is my go-to analogy for parenthood.)

You may either relate or conclude that I need Xanax when I tell you that my heart clenches up on itself every night when we tiptoe in to check on the girls. One is always nested down inside her covers while the other is sprawled in a modern dance pose on top of hers, and I start to ache immediately. It’s not just because great swaths of time are slipping by disguised as ordinary days, though there’s certainly an element of “Sunrise, Sunset” to it all. It’s more that—to me—love has always been closely linked to fear of failure.

It shares a spot in my top five fears alongside clowns, spiders, dementia, and Jack Nicholson’s grin. The more I love someone, the more terrified I become that association with me will be his or her great undoing. This isn’t based on any kind of logic; it’s more a knee-jerk reaction of the soul, a seesaw ride with perfectionism and the gospel of low self-esteem. Never is it stronger than when I look down at my sleeping girls and see the trust pooled just where their eyelashes brush their cheeks. I’d thought I would be more inured to this after a decade.

Fortunately, one bit of parenting wisdom that I came across when Natalie was a newborn still holds true at ten years in: Keep her clean, fed, safe, and loved; the rest is incidental. That line of thought put a merciful end to my angst when we lived in a one-bedroom apartment and our baby didn’t even have her own diaper pail much less her own princess-themed nursery. These days, it’s soothing my angst over how much screen time to allow* and what extracurricular activities to pursue and which tweenage fads might be gateways to meth. (Rainbow Loom, I’m looking at you.)

*As I understand it, the formula for insuring your child remains technologically on par with her peers while retaining her imagination and the majority of her brain cells is Pn=∆x [f(x0)+4f(xn-1)+f(xn)]/3-∫abf(x) where x is the number of minutes that your child would willingly play Minecraft each day, f is the force vector of whining to sanity on a mortal human parent, and n is the current price per barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon. You’re welcome.

When I was pregnant with Natalie, I showed up at my second prenatal appointment armed with a typed, MLA-formatted list of questions for my ob-gyn. It was full of gems like, I know you said X brand of antihistamine was safe to take, but we’re staying with friends who own cats, and I’m worried that prolonged antihistamine use will hurt the baby, but I’m also worried that I’ll accidentally sneeze her out or something, and also I might be extra-killing her when I put lunch meat on my sandwich? I still remember the doctor’s laugh, kind but genuinely amused.

“I have patients who smoke crack every day of their pregnancies,” he said. “And nine times out of ten, their babies turn out just fine.”

It was nearly the opposite sentiment of the book I’d been reading (What Kinds of Harm to Expect From Totally Normal Foods, Activities, and Social Interactions When You’re Expecting, 2002 edition), and it took some time to acclimate to the idea that my child wasn’t so fragile after all, that my love for her and my good intentions really did carry weight. I’m still trying to get my head all the way around it. The good news is that kids are excellent teachers. The best, really. They’re repetitive and patient, and if you don’t feel like a proper grownup yet after a decade of parenting… well, what of it?

You’ve kept them clean, fed, safe, and loved silly. The rest is incidental.

Bassett girls 2

15Apr

To Shake a Predator

March came strangely to us this year, in like a lion, out like a sharknado. Our usual exhale of joy when the yellow mimosa trees bloom and our gloves are swapped for sunglasses was overshadowed this time by a huge upheaval in our local community. I will write about it one day, once time has smoothed out the creases in my perspective. For now, I’ll simply say that we’re in recovery mode as a family.

I’m still engaged in my odd tango with anxiety, sashaying close and dipping apart to a tune I’m unable to hear. I started taking supplements a month ago after I realized it wasn’t normal to associate worst-case scenarios with every object in my line of vision. I could hardly bear to drive; every other car was on a collision course with me, the engine thrumming through my grip on the steering wheel was a half-second away from explosion at all times, and what if I suddenly developed narcolepsy on the freeway? It was a funny kind of horrible. It still is sometimes. Like I wrote last month, I’m no good at identifying cause and effect—what causes anxiety to swoop toward me on its slick shoes or what spins me, however temporarily, from its grip.

I do know one thing: that writing for me is intricately connected to the dance. This makes me want to spontaneously combust. When I’m writing regularly, I feel strong, easy in my skin, and fundamentally okay. Anxiety can snatch away my ability to write in a hot second though. It tells me that I have nothing of value to offer, that all the opportunities of my life are behind me, that I am incapable, lacking, and so pathetic that I should curl up in bed wearing a burqa for the rest of my days as a favor to the world. It turns writing into torture and not-writing into a slow death.

This is where I’ve been this year, dancing with a predator. It’s why my blog has been so quiet and my email inbox so full. This is not the 2015 that I wanted for myself, and I keep butting up against the impulse to bazooka this whole mess to smithereens. I don’t want to be in recovery mode. I don’t want the ebb and flow of process. Drastic decisions sound so much more appealing: Convince the family to move to Bali. Start a new career in data entry. Say yes to crack. (Kidding, of course, kind of.) Fake invincibility until I convince even myself.

Staying human—that is, staying vulnerable to the learning experiences of life—is always the harder choice, but I’ve tried shortcuts enough times to know for certain that they don’t lead to peace. Inevitably, I’d end up again and again at the choice to slow down, face my limitations, and work through anxiety until I took it. I suppose then that this qualifies as a dispatch from the dance floor. I’ve written this, with actual words, which is the kind of victory worth celebrating with gelato. Tomorrow, however, I might be back to gripping the steering wheel with bone-white knuckles and imagining a large red F scribbled on every last aspect of my life.

It’s okay.

I mean, it’s not okay-okay; I have no intention of spending my life in partnership with anxiety. It’s okay to be working through it right now though. I’m reminding myself day by day that I’m allowed to focus on the tango, even at the expense of normal routines and productivity, because predators aren’t shaken off on their own. It takes two. And also celebratory gelato. And the kind of grace that turns small steps and staying power into eventual recovery.

28Nov

The Waiting Room

Patience is a virtue, I know, but it’s not my virtue.

I would tell you that the problem is my current schedule, that if time weren’t such a commodity I’d happily lean back in my raft and let the hours carry me downstream, but I can remember this sense of urgency dogging me even on childhood afternoons when I had nothing to do but roost in my favorite tree reading Nancy Drew. I’ve always been a wind-up doll, whirling into my own momentum when I’m in motion, tense with expectation when I’m at rest.

I know better than to take it personally when the traffic turns to sludge or the customer in front of me brandishes fifty-seven coupons or the office is now closed, please come back tomorrow. But folks… the struggle is real. I need no reminders to rage, rage against the dying of the light. What I do need is practice at peeling my one eye away from the clock and my other eye from the lady in front of me who is describing her lunch in microscopic detail to the cashier even though I just need to pay for the one pair of socks. I need practice at taking the pace of the real world in stride.

And I am here today to attest that there is no better opportunity to practice this than when your calendar becomes polka-dotted with doctor’s appointments. I’ve been to eleven in the last three weeks. Eleven, which are about ten and a half more doctor’s appointments than we have in an average month. Some of them have been routine visits for the girls, but the rest have been for me, and I can’t tell you how far outside my comfort zone this catapults me, how poorly I deal with medical limbo.

Something is wrong with my body—maybe my heart, maybe my thyroid, maybe something else entirely. We don’t know yet, and this is the kind of wait that feels like it might just wind me a click past my stretchability.

There are the hours spent in waiting rooms… Yellow chairs, blue chairs, clinical beige, institutional gray. Signs on every door saying “Don’t Knock.” A solitary signal bar on my phone that comes and goes as if riding the tide of my thoughts.

And then there are the hours spent in my mind, a waiting room that never closes… Deep maroon worry, fluorescent blinks of irritation, blank putty-colored stretches of unknowing. All possible outcomes waiting behind those closed doors on which I’m not allowed to knock. An off-tempo pendulum swinging between anxiety and chagrin.

Because what it it’s nothing? What if I continue to ace these medical tests until the only explanation left is that I’m a psychosomatic phony? I honestly couldn’t tell you if the outcome I dread most is a diagnosis or the lack of one. Either way, I wait.

It feels like trying to sprint underwater, urgency trapped in slow motion. I often find myself thinking that I just want resolution so I can get on with my life, and that’s a normal response, right? I’m sure I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by at least a dozen characters on House and something like two hundred on Grey’s Anatomy (which is impressive considering I’ve only seen a handful of episodes). I realize though that when I think this way, it shows I’ve let the parameters of my world shrink to the size of a waiting room. I’ve let one small arena of unknowing press pause on my entire life.

Well then. You’ve heard the Thomas à Kempis quote, “The acknowledgement of our weakness is the first step in repairing our loss”? In this, at least, I can feel like I’m making progress. The last few weeks have failed to turn me into a breezy and beatific version of myself, but I have felt the headlong staccato of my mind relaxing a bit as I’ve reminded myself (and re-reminded myself… and re-re-reminded myself) that life goes on.

Which it does, of course, in all its beautiful, maddening, un-streamlined glory. My days continue to fill like overstuffed gift baskets. The traffic is in there, but so are story times with the girls and coffee dates with the husband and three-hour dinner conversations with friends. The doctor’s appointments are in there, but so are leftover apple pies and Sufjan’s Songs for Christmas. There’s reassurance, actually, in knowing that life is absolutely unruffled by my impatience with it. I’m glad to remain a minor character if it means that in my pauses just as in my fast-forwards, life will go on going on.

It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s my cliché.

31Oct

What to Expect When You’re Expatriating

The Internet is a horror story playbook when you’re trying to put together your expat birth plan. It’s not even a birth plan really; you just want to know what to expect when the contractions start, when you’re wheeled or walked or whisked into the maternity ward by people who speak a language other than your own. You’ve heard rumors that hospital patients in Italy have to bring their own toilet paper, their own bandages, even their own night nurses. Your obstetrician only tells you that you’ll need to bring “tamponi,” which means exactly what you think it does… but could also translate as any kind of absorbent swab or pad. Even an inkpad. You’re overwhelmed by the unknowing. It feels like you’ve been cast to star in a play but haven’t been given the script, and Opening Day is ticking closer and closer and closer.

So you do what any 21st century deer-in-the-headlights would do: You turn to Dr. Google.

The problem with public forums, however, is that people don’t generally use them to share their Kodak Moments. According to the Internet of 2007, no American or British expat has ever had a birth in Italy go well. An image grows in your mind of doctors with sauce-stained mustachios operating on you with pizza cutters in the hallway of a former Fascist bunker. You pack your hospital bag with gowns and eating utensils and towels and diapers and Tylenol and your best guess at “tamponi” and so much worry that your whole heart goes numb from it. How are you going to get through this?

/ / /

Your baby is too large. The 38-week ultrasound shows her to weigh nearly 4½ kg. (over 10 lbs.), and at your 39-week checkup, the doctor determines that based on the baby’s head size and your internal structure, you will be unable to deliver naturally. This explains why the contractions you’ve been having for weeks now haven’t gotten you anywhere. You don’t know exactly how to feel about this, but you’ve already had one C-section; at least tomorrow’s delivery will be familiar territory.

You return to the hospital that evening to settle in so you’ll be ready to go first thing in the morning. The nurse who checks you in is annoyed that you don’t speak the language well, that you don’t know your weight in kilograms or your height in centimeters or the words for all the health conditions she chants off her clipboard. You want to explain that you’ve been in the country less than three months, but you’re afraid of planting yourself deeper in the immigrant stereotype in her mind. You feel like an unprepared student on test day. You’re sorry to be a bother.

That night, you don’t sleep. Your hospital roommate has just had a C-section herself, and her moans coupled with the whimpers of her newborn boy mark the hours like a pair of restless chimes. You wouldn’t be getting much rest anyway; your contractions have amped up, making a clenched fist of your belly every few minutes, squeezing the air out of your lungs and shooting electricity down through your hips. You get out the final Harry Potter book, the treat you’ve been saving for just this occasion, but it’s small comfort. You’re terrified of the next day, of surgery in a foreign context, of the potential complications of birth, of not knowing how to love your new baby. (After all, how could you have any mamalove left to give when the whole sum is already curled up in a toddler bed back at home?)

/ / /

You’re prepped for surgery at 9:00 in the morning, but then every pregnant woman in the city seems to need an emergency C-section. You lie on a gurney with an IV for the next 4½ hours waiting for your turn and wondering if you’re now in the thick of your own forum-worthy horror story. The anesthesiologist has had to eyeball your height and weight because you still don’t know them in the damn metric system, and what if he gets the dosage wrong? What if your doctor is worn out from the gauntlet of unscheduled surgeries? What if you don’t understand what the obstetrics team is telling you to do? Your husband isn’t allowed in the operating room, and Dr. Google’s is the loudest voice you can hear as you’re finally escorted in to lie beneath a cluster of jewel-toned lights.

To your intense relief, the anesthesia takes. The medical team is upbeat and kind. They chat lightheartedly while you try not to think about the zipper-like tugs coming from your abdomen or the little spirals of smoke drifting up into view. Despite how disconcerting surgery can be to experience, everything is actually going okay. You are okay. The forum threads begin to fade from view as the present comes ever into focus. The tugs on your lower body grow more insistent. A sense of collective breath-holding takes over the room.

And then…

She’s born. You feel her weight leave your body just as the obstetrician cheers, “Eccola! Here she is!” Mother instinct floods your mind so quickly that it knocks common sense straight out; all you can think of is her, and you spring forward on the operating table, oblivious to the gaping incision across your abdomen. “NO!” ten doctors yell in unison pulling you back down. You laugh, partly from embarrassment but mostly from delight. Your daughter is here.

 Sophie's birth - Newborn

Someone brings your tiny-huge baby over for you to kiss, and your heart swells, filling the space she so recently vacated. Mamalove is a multiplication table, you realize. This new babe has your whole heart as surely as her older sister does. The details you’ve been worrying about up until now no longer matter. Not significantly, at any rate. Not enough to overshadow the big picture that is filling in with color and dimension at every breath.

She’s the star of the show. She was always going to be. If you could have written the script for her birth, it would have looked much different; you don’t mean to discount yours or any other mother’s longing for a familiar setting or a peaceful natural delivery. You’re baby’s out safely though, and all your earlier fears are eclipsed by the warmth of her cheek against your lips, the grip of her little fingers on yours, the sweet murmuring noises she makes as she gets used to the taste of air. She’s the outcome of all expectations, and in this moment, Kodak’s got nothing on you.

Sophie's birth - Mom

Happy seventh birthday, Sophie Ruth! I’m so very, very glad you were born.

Sophie's seventh birthday
(Photo by Dan)

5May

Rolling With It

A few weekends ago, we attended the opening of a friend’s scooter rental shop. I had done a bit of editing for his promotional flyers, and he’d promised me an afternoon on a Vespa in return. “Sounds great!” I’d said, smiling wide and hoping no one would notice the muffled strains of panic issuing from the closet where I’d bound and gagged my common sense.

I don’t do well with things that roll, see. Just about everyone I know could tell you a story of how I forgot to brake when my bicycle started down that one hill or how I did a perfect 90° flip my first (and only) time on a dirt bike or how I fell off and was subsequently run over by that mammoth handcar I’d agreed to joy-ride through our college campus. And we’re not even going to mention my “experience” with skateboards. Much like dogs and Chuck Norris, things that roll can smell fear, and I’ve only become more afraid as the wisdom of passing years has confirmed that I really should stay as far from wheeled devices as possible.

My adventurous streak wouldn’t let me pass up the chance to ride a Vespa through the Italian countryside though. Plus, the girls were practically levitating over the idea of a family scooter excursion. I could do it. Surely I could do it. Audrey Hepburn made it look so… well, possible… and I see fourteen-year-olds riding them through traffic every day. How hard could it be?

Scooter ride - empty scooters“Hello Bethany. Come and ride on us. Come and ride on us, Bethany. Forever… and ever… and ever.”

Friends, you have no idea. I don’t know which was worse: that I had Sophie on the back of my scooter or that a few dozen friends and acquaintances were watching when I made that first tentative twist to the throttle. We were still in the parking lot, and my scooter sprang—sprang, I tell you—toward a parked car. True to form, I completely forgot about the brakes and only just averted collision by skidding my feet against the pavement. Hoping that the onlookers would think I’d totally planned to do that, I gave myself a quick pep talk centered around the word “BRAKES” and turned my scooter toward the road. Another slight twist of the throttle, and we were lurching forward like a drunk cheetah. “BRAKES!” my brain told me, so I squeezed the brakes for dear life… and we promptly toppled over.

As women began shrieking and men began running over to help, I had a full second to contemplate the strong, capable, dignified image that none of those people would ever hold of me again. Neither Sophie nor I was hurt (and I avoided inspecting the scooter under the principle that ignorance is bliss), but every drop of my poise was now splattered on the pavement, a tragic afterthought. Our friends helped me pull the scooter upright, and one kind man told me not to let emotions overwhelm me, just to breathe, to keep breathing. So I did. I breathed and reminded myself that I had come here to take on a challenge. And what if it was more challenging than I’d hoped? Now that I’d already dispensed with dignity, I had nothing left to lose by trying again. (Well, other than life and/or limbs, but I was trying very earnestly not to think of that at the moment.)

Sophie, wise child that she is, declared that she would not be riding with me anymore, so I left her in the care of our friends and set out on a little practice run by myself. The scooter wobbled and weaved, but I was able to get the hang of it after a few blocks—how to pull on the throttle without giving myself whiplash, how to slow down without resorting to bodily contact with the pavement. By the time I made it back to the parking lot, Dan and Natalie had returned from their practice run, and it was time for the real deal, the family scooter excursion we’d been promising.

Sophie would only agree to go with Dan, so Natalie took one for the team and climbed up behind me. The four of us set off into the Umbrian countryside just as the afternoon began to mellow toward evening. The colors were glorious: fields of glossy green rippling to each side, pink and white buds in various state of undress on the neighboring trees, blue mountains in the distance, and a warm goldenrod sun nodding down on us all. Natalie kept a running commentary behind me as we rolled along, and I found myself in an odd state of in-between. Half of me was loving the afternoon—the beautiful setting, the rush of movement, and the fact that I was getting this experience with my precious little family. The other half of me was vibrating with tension though. I had trouble trusting that I was in control of my scooter; I was all too aware that the slightest wobble of the handlebars could send my daughter and I down a ditch, off a bridge, or into the path of an oncoming car. By the time we returned the scooters, my whole body was shaking from the discordant mix of fear and elation and self-respect and chagrin.

I wasn’t planning to share this story in public, ever. In fact, I’ve been prepared to deny everything should any of the witnesses bring it up (mercifully, no one has). I found myself thinking about it this morning though in terms of our last few days of self-employment, and the analogy was so exact that I couldn’t not share it with you. See, self-employment is squarely in the category of things that roll.

Just because you’re running a business doesn’t mean that you’re in full control of it. These three years in the entrepreneurial game have included plenty of false starts and retries for us, and it often feels like we’re gripping the handlebars more to hang on for dear life than to actually steer the thing. On this side, there’s a ditch, and on that side, there’s bankruptcy, and what if one of these wobbles turns into a full careen? What if we don’t get any new clients this month? What if that quote is turned down? What if we’re already caught in the helpless sideways momentum of a crash?

Tension is only half of the experience though. The other half incorporates and validates the whys of setting out on our own: to feel the wind full on our faces instead of through the seams of a cubicle, to follow the direction of our instincts rather than of someone else’s protocols, and to experience the unfiltered joy when our bravery pays off. And it does. Over and over again, we’ve found ourselves the grateful recipients of enough, which likes to sweep through the door at the last minute to remind us that we are in the presence of miracles.

We would always have regretted not choosing this path.

I have to remind myself of that on repeat when the bank account dips dangerously low and I’m confronted by how very little control we ultimately have over our future. Weeks like this last one tend to find me white-knuckling my way through prayers and giving myself pep talks that do little to assure. I want onlookers to think that we’re old pros at this, that we’ve totally got self-employment down, but the truth is sometimes as undignified as wiping out on your Vespa in front of a crowd of people you can’t unfriend. Lord have mercy. And please also strike them all with amnesia.

But then days like today dawn, days in which a single phone call or email changes our outlook on the next few months from terror to delight. These are the days when we remember why we love the roller coaster thrill, when the adventure of it all makes us grin and clasp hands and lean into the movement as if embracing a friend. We are still shaky, you bet. Exhausted too. But despite our weariness and the worries that we know will merge back into focus soon, we’re remembering how very much fun things that roll can be when you relax enough to roll with them.

Scooter ride - Having fun.png

25Apr

Worry vs. The Great Outdoors

It’s been an up-down kind of week, the way school breaks usually are for me. I love getting more quality time with my girls, but I tend to flail like a shipwreck victim when I find myself in a patch of undesignated hours; their fluidity makes them frustratingly difficult for me to shape. My brain doesn’t help matters either. In typical overanalyzer fashion, I’ve worried while sitting down to write that I’m not making enough of the social opportunities this week, then worried while hanging out with family and friends that I’m not holding on to myself. I’ve even worried in my sleep that I’m not using the wee hours of the day to best advantage. Occupying my own head can be exhausting, and sometimes the only way to get out of it is to inhale the wide-open air.

Monte Tezio - Skyline

Dan, the girls, and I piled into the car yesterday with no plan beyond the picnic lunch we’d packed and a vague swath of map where we hoped to eat it. Fifteen minutes later, we turned down an unmarked dirt road on a whim, and five minutes after that, we were piling out of the car at a trailhead as if we’d always planned it that way. (Dan calls this style of travel “going crazy,” and it consistently defies my expectations by turning out well. Fantastically, even.)

Monte Tezio - Hiking

For the next few hours, we hiked… and by “hiked,” I mean that we picked bouquets of riotous color, chased orange-winged butterflies in circles, performed scientific experiments, lingered over aperitifs, speculated on what was living in nearby hidey-holes, blew clouds of dandelion wishes, picnicked, combed the treetops with binoculars, peeked under rocks, picked more flowers, and occasionally walked forward a few meters. This is our girls’ version of hiking, and it’s one of my favorite things in the world. When I’m out in nature with them, I can’t help noticing it—all its colors and textures and idiosyncrasies, all the little nuances of life. And in the quiet of noticing, I remember how to breathe again.

Monte Tezio - Wildflower bouquet

Today, I’m back to my struggle against time and that will o’ the wisp called balance. As much as I wish that moments of tranquility would act as a freeze frame for my soul suspending me permanently in the center of who I want to be, my mind is always waiting to snap worry back into focus. Did I sleep in too long this morning? Is the day wasted? Are the girls getting enough attention from me? Should I be doing housework right now? When should I work out? Is it even worth trying to stay in shape? Why can’t I write faster? Quick, the day is slipping away! For better or for worse, I am yoked to a mind that requires me to fight for my tranquility.

Monte Tezio - Pink flowers

The difference today is that the fight feels fair. Yesterday’s breeze still blows through my perspective loosening clods of resignation and despair. My breath is not confined within the parameters of worry; I have enough space between my ribs now to stretch into confidence and peace. I’m delegating these few slippery hours in the pursuit of joy rather than the placation of guilt, and I find it telling that the one piece of housework I opted to do today was laundry.

After all, if I didn’t wash our hiking pants, we wouldn’t be ready to go crazy again tomorrow.

Monte Tezio - Victorious Sophie

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