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Note To Self

22 Apr

 

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 22 – The things we forget: Visit http://thingsweforget.blogspot.com/ and make your own version of a short memo reminder. Where would you post it?

A few nights ago I was late getting home from work because of a delay on the subway. This meant that after a day that had already been long and frustrating, I had to compress the evening’s usual chores and and activities into a shorter amount of time. As soon as I got home, I started doing what I needed to do, without giving myself any time to unwind. I efficiently moved from task to task, supervising homework, getting the laundry on, preparing packed lunches for the following day, eating dinner that, thankfully, my husband had already made.

I was stressed about the time, trying to get everything done and still get to bed at a reasonable hour. When the kids were slow to put on their pyjamas, I was a little more brusque with them than I really needed to be. Later, after they were sleeping, I prepared the coffee machine for the morning, as I always do. While I was measuring out the coffee, I accidentally spilled a little bit of it on the kitchen counter.

And I totally lost it. That little bit of spilled coffee turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back on that particular day. I didn’t get mad and throw things, but I broke down crying. I sat down and put my head on my desk and just sobbed. For those few minutes that I lost control, the coffee represented the general disarray of my entire life.

When it was all over, I inevitably felt a little foolish. A meltdown over spilled coffee that took all of three seconds to clean up? What was that about?

The truth is that all of my concerns about that evening had been about inconsequential stuff. So what if I was half an hour late getting home? It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if the kids had been fifteen minutes late getting to bed. That load of laundry could have waited until the following day. I could have set up the coffee machine in the morning.

But instead, I allowed myself to get absolutely wound up over things that really didn’t matter. And when you consider all I have to deal with that does matter, that seems counter -productive. Very often I am so overwhelmed by my full-time-job-mom-of-two-with-special-needs-child existence that the slightest things can just feel like a major catastrophe to me.

Sometimes I need a reminder to pick my battles, and avoid getting stressed about things that, when it comes right down to it, have absolutely no bearing on the quality of my life. I need to learn how to let the little things go so I can devote more of my energy to the big things.

And I shouldn’t pet the sweaty stuff, because that’s just gross.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle with a little help from http://wigflip.com/superstickies/)

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Finding The Path Of Healing

18 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 18 – Open a book: Choose a book and open it to a random page and point to a phrase. Use that phrase to get you writing today. Free write for 15-20 minutes without stopping.

My random phrase comes from a book called Watermelon, written my Marian Keyes – one of my favourite chick-lit authors. The sentence I pointed to with my eyes closed was strangely appropriate. “I was no longer carrying my humiliation like a weapon.”

I am a natural-born late bloomer. I have done many things in life after most people: I was 24 before I selected a career, my first child was born when I was 33, and I finally got married at the ripe old age of 41.

Now that I am old and wise, it doesn’t bother me that I tend to lag behind other people in some respects, but when I was in high school it was a great source of embarrassment for me. Socially speaking, I was streets behind most of my classmates. I was not exactly ostracized by my peers, but I was definitely not one of the “cool kids” either.

I got invited to parties from time to time, but I always felt so awkward when I got there. While my peers were laughing and chatting effortlessly, or retreating to private corners to snog their boyfriends, I was sitting by myself trying, and failing, to look as if I belonged. I could only really enjoy social gatherings if my best friend was there too. My best friend was the one who stopped me from drowning completely, and bless her heart, she is still my best friend today.

I had a couple of half-hearted boyfriends as a teenager, but compared to my classmates, I was geeky and socially inept. At an age where people are desperate to fit in and be accepted by their peers, it was painful. I was an unhappy teenager, although I never really admitted that to anyone.

When I graduated from high school, I went to a university 1400km away from my hometown. I figured that being among people I didn’t know would allow me to turn myself into the person I thought I wanted to be. I had always felt slightly inadequate and I didn’t like myself very much, and I wanted more than anything to reinvent myself.

Even though I made friends at university and had some kind of reasonable social life, the truth was that I was lonely. Never really a party girl, I tried to shoehorn myself into a party lifestyle because that’s what college students did, and I wanted so badly to fit in. And so I found myself immersed in a social group who were a laugh to be around, but I yearned meaningful contact. In those days before the Internet made the world a smaller place, I was not able to confide in my best friend. When waves of depression hit me, I had to get through them alone, with no-one to talk to.

And so, when a man started paying attention to me in my second year, I was flattered enough to fall for him. I do not want to share the details, but I will say that the whole thing was an absolute disaster from beginning to end. I was immersed in a situation that I had no ability to deal with.

The effect on my life was catastrophic. It was as if my future had been mapped out for me, and then a tsunami had come along and wiped everything away, changing the landscape of my life.

I floundered in the wake of this personal disaster. I completely lost all sense of who I was and what I wanted. I vacillated between depression and anger, and I blamed myself for having allowed my life to veer so far off the course I had planned. I drifted for a while, literally and metaphorically, and eventually washed up in a career, albeit one far away from what I had originally wanted.

One day, after having carried around the baggage of my past experiences for twenty years, I looked around me at all I have today. I have a solid job and my dream to be a paid writer is starting, in small but definite increments, to come true. I can run half-marathons in spite of not having a “typical” runner’s body. I managed to move halfway across the world and establish myself in a place I had never been to. I have a husband and two miraculous children. Although I make my mistakes, I think I’m doing well as the parent of a child with autism.

That tsunami that had swept so much away also created a new landscape with new paths for me to follow and new goals to shoot for.

This realization, when it hit me, was like a breath of fresh air. Although some scarred remained, I was no longer carrying the humiliation like a weapon.

For the first time, I felt that I owed it to myself to try to heal.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/3140538425/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Letting Go Of The Old

2 Aug

Yesterday afternoon, I found my living room floor. It had been missing for several years, buried beneath layers of toys that the kids have, over the years, played with and outgrown.

On several occasions, I have made efforts to organize the toys, painstakingly separating them into categories and storing like with like. But these toy organization systems that I have spent hours creating have lasted, on average, for about an hour. My older son sometimes copes with his autism meltdowns by picking up boxes of toys and dumping out the contents. Even as I wistfully watch my hours of work come to naught, I recognize that I would rather see my son throw toys around than bang his head against the wall hard enough to put holes in the drywall.

Quite apart from the side effects of autism, kids under the age of six don’t really get that the cars should go with the other cars, or that the Legos should be in the same container, or that the gazillion Mr. Potato Head parts are meant to stay together.

This weekend, me and my husband – ably assisted by our five-year-old son, took another crack at organizing the toys. But there was a difference in the way we did it this time.

A big difference.

This time, we actually got rid of stuff.

I thought getting rid of toys would be a nightmare, but once we had the buy-in of our younger son, it was actually quite easy. It was never going to be a problem where our firstborn was concerned. As long as he has his Lego, his gazillion Mr. Potato Heads, his measuring tapes, his alphabetic fridge magnets, and his math workbooks, he’s happy.

After a day of sorting, storing, and being bossed around by our five-year-old, we had reduced the volume of toys by a staggering amount. All of a sudden, we had enough toy boxes to contain all of the toys that we kept, without them spilling over onto the carpet. We rediscovered the concept of walking from one end of the living room to the other without getting Lego-shaped dents in the soles of our feet. It was an incredibly liberating experience.

There’s just one thing…

These are the toys that my kids played with when they were babies. The little teddy bears. The Winnie the Pooh ride-on toy. The blocks, the nesting cups, the First Words books. Getting rid of these remnants of my kids’ babyhood was like saying goodbye to a phase of my life, and acknowledging that my babies are no longer babies, that they are little boys.

As sentimental as I felt about the toys, what really made my breath catch in my throat was sorting through the little shoes that my kids wore as babies. It was the shoes that served as a physical reminder of how tiny they once were. As I held the shoes in my hands, the memories washed over me.

My older son’s very first pair of baby slippers, given to him by my Dad when he was just a few days old (no way am I getting rid of those).

Feeling my boy’s fingers grasp my hand with absolute trust as he tentatively walked in shoes for the first time.

My younger son’s face, alive with excitement, as he wore the shoes that were a miniature version of the ones his Dad wore.

My two boys laughing together as they splashed in rain puddles, wearing their new galoshes.

Their joyful oblivion as they tramped snow into the house in winter, leaving tiny wet footprints all over the floor.

The memories fade out and I reluctantly come back to reality, sitting there on the floor holding these tiny shoes in my hands. All but a couple of extra-special pairs must go. It is time to allow to the old to make way for the new, as my boys enter new and exciting phases of their lives.

Just because it has to be done though, that doesn’t make it easy.

It represents a letting go, and that is a bittersweet pill for any Mom to swallow.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ophilos/2564467134/ This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)