“But today, there’s this—the happiness that comes from working again . . . ”
Hard day yesterday. Julia not in school until 10:30. Early morning was a war of wills and I got angry. Is it unfair and unreasonable for me to depend on the the upstairs morning schedule sheet and the downstairs morning schedule sheet to get through her morning routine and out the door on time for the school bell to ring?
Short answer: yes.
Julia, more intent on getting a necklace untangled than on brushing her teeth, more interested in the skirt she is making for her equestrian girl doll than in eating breakfast. And me, working quickly through making breakfast and lunch and willing the school readiness train to stay on track. When it skitters off, when Julia’s scheduled tasks derail for the fifth time, I get angry after she tells me, “I don’t want to do any work.” Work? She is doing nothing but self-care. The morning is devoted to getting her out the door, fed, dressed and organized for the day in as pleasant a fashion as possible. She is viewing it as tasks outside of her responsibility, and I take it all personally. She’s struck a rich vein of my frustration. Control of the morning’s process drains away. If only I could throw in some towel and hide my head in the sand.
The yelling does no good — as if it ever, ever does! And it is exhausting — I tell her, on “Love and Logic” advice, that she has drained my energy and that is so much more true than I allow myself to believe. But said in the midst of anger, it does little good. Finally, I send her to her room, deciding that I am not going to rush out the door with a waffle in her hand after I have packed the backpack and wiped her mouth and left her tasks undone. She has not made her bed, put clothes in the hamper, washed her face, fed the cat, sat with me for meditation, done EFT for her growing bald spot, set her breakfast table, taken meds or eaten—all the ingredients of the calm, peaceful, organized, almost joyful school morning of my envisionings. The schedules, written to aid Julia to get through the morning tasks that a typical person of her age can walk through in their sleep, are an Everest of burden before 7:55 a.m.
I expect my envisionings will solve everything; I want to give up. Just get her to school and relinquish control and responsibility for a few hours so that I can do the marketing tasks I set out for myself today and which are breathing down my back. But the same iron will that insists on schedules and believes . . . believes in what? Believes in her. In Julia and her ability to grow into as independent a person as possible for no other reason than to please me. That will tells her to go to her room.
She lays on her bed, I go to the FedX store to print out flyers.
It rains. Hard.
In 20 minutes, I am home. I put the tea kettle on for my tea and two banana muffins in the toaster oven. I check on Julia and she is asleep. My anger is gone. Drained out of me. The war of getting to school before the bell has been lost and I have only a slim idea of how it got to be a war and how we could both lose so miserably. I feel myself both a failure and gaining a grain of wisdom although I am sure the wisdom will be lost in the next moment. I let her sleep until she wakes up and we begin again.
Julia sleeps. I sip tea, eat my muffins, start in on the email announcing the fall Mindful Circle workshops. In my mind, I work through the anxiety of marketing this project. I am not good at marketing anything, let alone something of my own. I have set aside the entire week of school hours to send email, hang fliers, make visits and work on the website. The mere setting aside of time, of planning tasks invokes thoughts of a new failure. How much did my anticipated anxiety contribute to the morning war? The irony that the root cause of todays personal anxiety is my mindfulness workshop that promises participants tools to build a less stressful life does not escape me. No wonder I need to teach it over and over. Do I teach only to learn.
I hear Julia get up and make her way to the bathroom. I hear water running. She comes downstairs, bright eyed and bushy tailed. She wants to end the war. She wants a hug and kiss and tells me she needs to brush teeth, make her bed and pick up her clothes. I start her breakfast again, finish packing her lunch. She sits in the dining room for breakfast and I work on email. We sit in meditation together and then tap. She packs gloves and a hat for school to remind her not to pick on her bald spot. We have a chatty ride to school and I leave her off hours after that first bell but we have made it through her schedules and she through her self care tasks.
I go back home and trudge through lists of tasks. I need a midday nap and I get fewer emails out than I have planned. I hold on to my thimbleful of wisdom and sleep. When it is time, I pick Julia up for her orthodontist appointment, then we make our way to her cello lesson after a quick stop at the library to pick up a promised movie that we will will spend a week watching. She reads her daily proscribed reading in the car, listens tolerably well during her cello lesson, writes her daily school journal and we end up at friends for a weekly dinner together. We leave earlier than usual because we are all tired. I get ready for bed as Julia follows her evening upstairs schedule. She is not too disappointed when the movie disk does not play on my laptop and I ask her just to go to sleep. I fall asleep only minutes after I hear her breathing change.
Now, before the sun rises on this new day, I find my deep need to record and understand. I wonder how many times I can get angry and yell at Julia before she stops listening. I wonder how many schedules and scaffolded plans it will take to bring her to independence. I try in vain to not fear for her future. I let the fear take hold. I wonder why I have to do all of this alone. I wonder if it would be easier with a partner and I begin to feel sorry for myself. Again. Damn self pity. I cry. Just a little. I stop. And then I dig deeper for just a little joy.
And it is there.
There was a time when I took happiness for granted. Joy was just a part of being. I did so little for it. I loved and was loved. Nothing was perfect. I was sad at times and got angry at my other child but there was an overwhelming theme of a joyful life that I did not need to struggle to have. I made a garden and cooked and wrote and could not market some latest project when all the rest of it was so much easier.
Now, I expect myself to choose and find happiness. To chase joy in this chaos. To build schedules and scaffolded plans and be fully responsible for a strong family that can grow both Julia and I. I don’t always want all that responsibility but is is all mine. Sometimes I look and chase and choose and I do find happiness. I falter and fail so many times but I can and do always begin again. And it is there again. I still garden and cook and face the same struggles marketing my projects. I fear another failure. And yet, I find that I don’t give up on any of it. How amazing.
I hear a small voice down deep whine for a day of undeserved contentment, to be able to slip back in time for just a moment of what is gone. I gently turn the voice to an early autumn morning and whisper, ‘this is not that time but there is tea and muffins and a sunrise this morning.’ Julia sleeps beside me. She is in my bed again to remind her not to pick at her bald spot. She stirs. I think she sees that computer light and might image it was still night. It is early morning. The seasons are changing. All internal our clocks need adjusting. Our lives needs adjusting. And I am intend on chasing joy.
Plentitude by Barbara Crooke
Late fall, but the sun’s still warm, streams
in from the west like honey. My hands curl
around a mug of tea, and it feels like a benediction,
a reprieve from my crazy life: bringing my mother
from one doctor to the other, as systems shut down,
doors start to close; going to interviews
with my disabled son to find, in the end,
that promised programs aren’t funded,
and when school ends in June, that’s it, so long.
But today, there’s this—the happiness that comes
from working again, even though rejections
fill my mailbox, thicker than snowflakes.
I know winter’s waiting; I’ve felt its breath
on the back of the wind. This is a bit of respite
before the storms roll in. I lean against this willow,
let the sun soak all the way to the bones. These blue
mountains cup me in their hands. This lucent afternoon
and a spigot of birdsong fill my bowl to the brim.