When I started teaching middle school, I got much better at both of these things. First, you simply must plan well when you are faced with 20 13 year-olds in a confined space every day for 180 days. Second, after waking up at 2 AM every morning awash with anxiety for several months my first year of teaching, I had to do something to stop worrying. And I did. I decided that I would either get up out of bed and take action, or if I could not solve the problem right then in the middle of the night, I would let myself forget about it, take lots of slow deep breaths, and fall back asleep. It got better.
Fast forward to mothering a 9 month-old. Both my worrying and planning take my mind, spinning like a gyroscope, to the outer reaches of my actual experiences. If I let my worry and planning take me away, I find myself in strange lands, surrounded by unfamiliar and imagined creatures, landscapes, and dangers. Instead of sticking with plans to start saving for college, or limiting my worries to things like actual high fevers or actual bleeding cuts, I drift way out and worry that my child is autistic because she rubs everything on her face while she does a little seated dance. I need to do some work.
I used to think of teaching middle school as a kind of spiritual practice. All day long I was presented with small challenges that got in the way of my plan or agitated my ego: an angry student, a needy coworker, an unscheduled fire-drill. My challenge was to condition myself to act and react in ways that were helpful and put out the fires of drama rather than stoke them. All around me were lots of people who were fanning the flames of drama. There were plenty of opportunities to get a spiritual workout.
Funny, that habit hasn’t necessarily carried over naturally into my current situation. There are plenty of reasons why, but one reason is that this is all still very new. And I’m starting to understand that it’s never going to be all that predictable! So, it’s a new challenge that requires slightly different skills.
In some ways, I can do what I’ve always tried to do: pay attention only to the worries that I can act on. “Oh my god I think my baby hates me and is bored with her life and isn’t getting enough stimulation she’s going to fall short of her potential and live a life of regrets oh my god!” really should be, “okay kiddo, time to get out of here and go play…maybe we can pick up a new book, too.”
Or, on another front, “oh no my husband doesn’t want to talk to me while he cooks dinner I can’t believe he doesn’t love me anymore and now our marriage is in tatters after having a baby and we will suffer through 18 years of stunted conversations and finally get a divorce when S moves out and goes to college because we’ll realize we have nothing in common anymore.” Instead of, “B must have had a long day at work. He would probably enjoy some time to chill out, cook dinner, and listen to the news for a little bit.”
You know what I mean. This is by no means a state of mind unique to me.
I’ve had this song on repeat in the car for two weeks:
Chris Smither, “Outside In” (“I know that you think worry is your ever-faithful friend/ ‘cuz nothing that you worry over ever happens in the end.”)
And with T-Day around the corner, I’m thinking about gratitude. Someone suggested to me that I pause before starting a new activity to realize the things I am grateful for right then. As I came home from a jog the other day and was walking up the walkway to the front door, I stopped for 5 seconds to consider my good fortune. My body and mind were refreshed by the quiet time and the endorphins. On the other side of the door were my two favorite people, both of whom would likely make me laugh countless times before the night was over.
So, that’s the plan. I’m one lucky mother. I want to dwell on that as much as possible.