I rarely go back and read anything I have written after I have submitted it to be published.
I find that I don’t have the ability to enjoy my own gifts. I only see the areas of weakness, places I should have proofread better or lines that don’t flow quite as lyrically as I would like. However, sometimes I stumble across something I have written and half-forgotten and am taken back by my own insights, finding my words to be just the reminder I needed in my present circumstance. I happened across a piece I wrote last August for a journaling project I did for the University of Family Law and Policy Program (www.familylawprogram.com) last year, while cleaning out my almost full Google Drive account. I thought I would share it this month in case anyone else is struggling with feeling overwhelmed and exhausted in their current season of life.
I have lived with severe anxiety for most of my life, so it’s hard for me to remember a time when I didn’t have to be on guard. Sometimes I can anticipate when a panic attack is encroaching, I can feel the anxiety slowly building up, and intercede. But sometimes panic invades suddenly, storming into my thoughts and overtaking them with no warning.
The most recent onslaught happened a few nights ago. As I snuck in to check on the boys, long tucked into their beds, G (our oldest) was fast asleep and Archie (youngest by 15 months) was wide-eyed next to him, head to foot. Their outer space-themed comforters were bunched together and bilious in the narrow twin bed. With only their small curly haired heads visible, they seemed like tiny specks among the brightly colored planets that covered their blankets.
“I can’t sleep. I want a show Mom,” my youngest son said.
“Okay, but only one episode and then it’s lights out,” I consented. (Don’t judge me. I am a working mom, not a “super (woman) mom,” and I had a few hours of work to get done and several deadlines looming.
“What do you want to watch,” I asked.
“Surprise me,” he responded in the noncommittal way of preschoolers, where they pretend they are easy to please but will adamantly refuse everything you offer up.
“What about Sesame Street,” I suggested.
“I don’t like that show,” he responded in the tone he’s recently taken to adopting when his older cousin or other “bigger” boys are around. The tone of a little kid who desperately hopes the cool big kids don’t notice that they are little.
“Not even the episode where they are astronauts,” I prodded, with the slightest hint of sadness tinging my words.
“Mom, when I was two and three I liked Sesame Street, but now I am four and I like Veggie Tales. When I am ten, I won’t like Veggie Tales anymore,” he responded, in a matter of fact tone.
“Veggie Tales it is,” I said, as I bent down to ruffle his curls.
I could feel the laughter bubbling up in my throat as I reflected on how boyish he still is, even in his angst to be big. As I straightened, my eyes landed on the other curly headed boy fast asleep at the other end of the bed. The mirth caught in my throat, choking me and leaving me gasping for breath. The thought that, “he isn’t outgrowing Sesame Street” resounded within my head, and not for the first time I felt myself fast forwarding into an unknowable future where my youngest son will outgrow my oldest.
Suddenly anxiety was bearing down on me, pressing in from all sides and suffocating me with a barrage of panicked thoughts.“Will G stop progressing? Will the little brother who wants to constantly be by his side, who begs to sleep in his bed every night, leave him behind? Will he be able to handle the next school year? Will he be safe at school? Will the other kids bully him? What if he never speaks? How will he protect himself...” And then the question that I keep tightly bound in the back of my mind and tiptoe around in trepidation unleashed itself, “What will happen to him when Corey and I die, who will keep him safe then?” That fear is always present, every single minute of every single day, humbling me with my every breath.
As the onslaught of panic began picking up speed, I took a purposeful breath. I slowly inhaled, drawing my attention away from the anxiety, the way I practice in my morning meditations. As I centered a calmer thought floated through my head, “That’s not a fear for today.”
“That’s not a fear for today,” I repeated and, as I did, other, more balancing thoughts were able to penetrate the haze of anxiety.
In those middle-of-the-night moments, when I feel fear setting in, I have to remind myself to breathe. To slow down and ground myself in the present moment. To be honest, I don’t know what our futures hold. I do, however, know that we will prepare, we will take precautions and we will handle every situation that comes our way, when it comes. And that is the best I can do. In reality, all anyone can ever do: handle the present moment.
I have found I am better equipped to handle the present moment when I make time for stillness. As a working mother, I have found the easiest way for me to find that time is to wake up an hour early in the morning. Sometimes I spend the hour in meditation. Some days I read one of my devotional books, some days I journal. Some mornings I just sit on my porch drinking coffee and watching the birds.
There is one hummingbird in particular that comes to visit me every morning. Often I’ll be engrossed in my devotional and hear a loud, helicopter like sound, to find him hovering in front of me. He (or she) will hover for a full minute and then fly around to each of the flowers lining my porch before coming back to me for a brief period and flitting quickly away. It reminds me that I too am adaptable, that I control my life and like a hummingbird can shift with the wind.