Life is messy. Glennon keeps telling me to stop trying to clean it up. I try to listen but I’m really not a very good listener and I don’t like messes – of any kind.
Every morning, after we drop my son off at school, my daughter and I have 30 minutes to walk only a block to her school. Most mornings, this luxury of time affords us the ability to go slow in a three-year-old kind of way, with no pressure to rush or make the light at the one street we have to cross. We have time to spare. Which is rare. L’s favorite game to play on the walk is to balance as she walks across every raised piece of wood, metal, and concrete that she can find. On a New York City block, that’s a lot of balancing. As she balances, she often declares that the regular sidewalk, which she is inches above, is Hot Lava. The goal is to not lose her balance and fall into the Hot Lava – where I am usually standing. I’m not sure of its origins, but every kid I’ve ever met seems to be born knowing how to play this game. I quickly instate my willing suspension of disbelief to play along with her, sometimes even balancing along when she doesn’t need my physical support. What is interesting and wonderful about the three-year-old version of this is that when she does lose her balance, she just gets back up, sometimes declaring, “Oh, that part wasn’t Hot Lava.” At other times, there are breaks in the raised structures and she has to run through a strip of Hot Lava. This doesn’t seem to bother or scare her either. She makes up her own rules and just moves on as if it’s no big deal. The game changes slightly from day-to-day and it’s just as fun for her every time.
I’ve been working part-time, primarily from home, for the last few years. Recently, I started going into an office two days a week. While I have always had childcare when I worked at home, sometimes my fabulous Mary-Poppins-Actor-Babysitters get auditions and gigs that mean I do school pick-up on a work day, or switch one day with another, which was logistically easier to do from home. Now that I’m in an office two set days a week, I have a little less flexibility. And while I know it would be fine to switch a day here and there, I just don’t want to be that person, and enjoy the structure of the set schedule. The schedules of the past couple of weeks have been a little nutty, with lots of extra schedule juggling: mine, my husband’s, my babysitters’, and even my mom’s, who came to town for a few days to help out (yay for retirement!). Like so many parts of motherhood, where I often feel if I forget something or make a mistake, or work too much, or too little, or make the wrong decision – micro- or macro-, I have been terrified that I might fall in the Hot Lava. The problem is it doesn’t feel like a game and I have real anxiety about this Hot Lava and how the world might stop spinning on its axis if I lose my balance. Or worse, if I let my kids fall in the hot lava, or I drop my work in there. We will all be swallowed up and die painful deaths, or at least cry, yell, feel neglected, forgotten, or unloved.
As I write this, I am on my way home from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which at its worst would have been three days “away from it all” in a hotel with a friend. But it was way better than that, and gave me the time, space, connections, information, and inspiration to figure out what the next steps would be for me in my writing [career]. While I’m not coming home with a business plan quite mapped out, the time and space has given me the ability to reflect on my anxiety around balance, what is best, what is right. It also served as a necessary reminder that most decisions are not, or don’t have to be, permanent. If I make the wrong one, or make one that feels right right now, but turns out not to be right later, I can change my mind. (You’d think I’d remember this one given how many different decisions I’ve made over the years.) Most importantly, like L, I can make up my own rules and say to myself when I do fall, “Oh, that part’s not Hot Lava.” Because it’s not.