Standing at the counter of an ice cream shop a child orders a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Good flavor, delicious, predictable, safe. The next question, “Would you like sprinkles?” and always the answer is “Yes!” The everyday is somehow made a bit more exciting, a bit more fun, a bit more satisfying, with sprinkles.
“There will be bad days; times when the world weighs on you for so long it leaves you looking for the easy way out….check your blind spot. See that love it still there, be patient. Every nightmare has a beginning, but every bad day has an end.” “Instructions for a Bad Day” by Shane Koyczan
“Remember sweetie, you can’t plan everything.” My Grandmother would say to me. My early twenties self would chirp back “So far I can!” I had planned to be married, have my own classroom and begin a family soon. Just like I recorded in my 7th grade journal when I also put hearts over the letter “I.”
Adversity and obstacles are part of life, but abstract until they show up at your door. At the time, my young inexperienced 25 year old self’s biggest obstacle had been a flat tire or not getting a needed class. During my late 20’s and early 30’s, most of the world was my playground. No huge responsibilities, plenty of time and just enough money to make it all work.
As people were added to my life, I felt more joy and love than I ever had. First a new job, husband, and children. My “self” was slowly morphing into a “doing for others.” I still had a plan, but now it was for my family- house, schools, friends, activities were my day-to-day. I found I lived in the present- children have a way of helping you with that. A joyful caretaker, happy with my little family, but all of the“Me” was beginning to revolve solely around the “others.” A lot was asked and I responded. It did not always feel like work, but I was often tired.
Great conversations over wine or coffee were always my thing. I craved those connections and as a busy mom. I did not allow myself for those indulgences. Maybe once in a long while, I would have those moments with someone who did not need something from me, except for me.
Children are so transparent. They are very vocal about what makes them happy and what disappoints them. They have not developed the “caution” and guarded responses that bind adults. If they want a Popsicle, they ask for it. If you say “after dinner” they show their disappointment with a pursed lip pout. On some particularly rousing occasions, we might even see
an arms flailing, foot stomping tantrum.
Unlike children I have not always fought for what makes me happy. I did not take time to explore new things and to grow. Don’t get me wrong, I am no doormat, but I have found myself resigning to what I term a “vanilla ice cream” state while the kids were little. This state is just ‘Ok” not wildly flavorful, but always acceptable. Gone were the colorful sprinkles. Different ages and stages present different opportunities and when there were toddlers and school age kids, my love for reading and writing was swallowed up in the “mom-ness” of it all.
Somewhere in the scheme of things, the universe decided I needed a big wake up call. Just about every intense emotional challenge has been placed in front of me and I get this feeling that someone is looking down thinking,” Let’s see what she does with this.” If I was on auto-pilot, that was about to change.
There have in fact been bad days. A litany of them in fact, involving death, critical illness, Cancer, cruelty, financial disaster, divorce, abuse and apathy. On paper, any of these would make even a strong person take pause, but in the last years, I have and am still, navigating all of them. For sure I have had to enlist the philosophy of the Abominable Snowman in the 1974 movie “The Year without a Santa Claus.” The song went “Put one foot in front of the other, and soon you’ll be walking out the do-oo-or.” It has been exactly that. Getting up in spite of overwhelm, in spite of sad, in spite of mad and controlling what I can control to get through the day.
In the storm of it all, I chose to eat healthily, exercise more, make a long overdue phone calls or keep dinner dates with friends to fuel my soul. I controlled what I could. In spite of taking little steps to reclaim “Self,” the tides can turn. I had to control my reaction. When challenges arise, this is the best time to have a plan, get support and own it. Better to just realize, “Yup! This is my circus and these are my monkeys.”
When you can pack and organize the intense emotions, not dismiss them, you can gain some peace. That is where I had to begin. I had to learn how to take care of me and not give way to the tidal wave of chaos. I would not be of any service to others if I was a mess. I am for sure a work in progress.
I began surrounding myself with educators who thought like me. Risk takers and adventurers in their own right–readers and writers and doers. I was excited and filled with hope and purpose. I was reclaiming my “ME.”
My 18 year old son asked, “Mom, when we are gone, what are you and Dad going to do?” My answer, “Anything we want!”
People still need me and I am happy to help because I love them. Currently I am washing a softball uniform for a tournament in the morning. I will stop at the store to get the proper balance of Gatorade and waters with a few Cliff bars thrown in. I have searched and found a lost shipment from Amazon for the 18 year old knows how to spend his money, but not what to do if things go awry and I have recently counseled my sister who has a new teenager. BUT I have also made 2 friend dates I intend to keep. Not one more day goes by without belly laughter and wine.
So below are some things I have learned along the way to help keep me moving forward and bring me joy
Take time to read. As you read, enjoy the new ideas and the new people you meet. You never know when a spark of life inspiration will take hold.
Hang with friends who love you for you. Don’t ever let your family have a better social life than you. Drink wine, sip strong coffee and eat cheese with those who you know just love you because.
When having a conversation, don’t let it turn into an argument. Passionate speech often becomes a power struggle. No one will hear the other and no one will win. Just tell them “I love you too much to argue.” And stop.
Don’t make little things big. Realize what you can control and what you can’t. Do what you can when you can and find peace in that.
Do a little bit of what you love everyday. If you need to, pull yourself away from the BUSY and take some time for you.
My Grandmother would be pleased to know that I am choosing to plan, but at this point in my life I am choosing to plan ME. My vanilla ice cream is now covered with sprinkles.