Mama, you need rest. You need a space of your own to know what you know and feel what you feel, sheltered from the eyes and the point of a finger, away from that obligatory smile and laugh and nod along to sentiments that do not move you. You need to take yourself out to lunch and revel in your own company. Make a toast to yourself alone and aloud (yes, aloud). Read a book. Take a nap. Walk a wooded path. Sit in the quiet of the dawn, wrapped in peace and your favorite blanket.
You need to expand your thinking. Snotty-nosed, sneezing kids. Car trouble. Winter storms. Flight delays. You need to see these things for what they could be. These disturbances to your plans, these hiccups and annoyances, have such a lovely way of scrambling that calendar and inserting a blank space right in the middle of everything.
We’ve always been a family that runs and over-schedules. I am in a perpetual state of motion, and around the holidays, the pace becomes frantic and draining. This year was no exception; in fact, it might have been our busiest yet.
The Monday before Thanksgiving, our foster care license (a process started in February) was finally approved. Two days later, we cancelled our well-laid plans for the holiday at our house to head to my parents’ instead. My grandma, sick with Alzheimer’s for years, was actively dying, and we needed to say our good-byes. After shoving a 27-pound turkey and all the trimmings into coolers, we rushed the 4.5 hours home where we stayed until Sunday. On Tuesday, back at home, suitcases still spilling over onto bedroom floors, our first foster child was delivered to our doorstep. Four days later, we threw our annual Christmas party and an hour past midnight, as soon as the last guest had left, my phone rang. My grandmother had finally passed, a moment of both relief and regret but I had time to feel neither. I was too busy with the minutia. My husband was flying to California on last-minute business, and I had to get all four kids back north to attend the visitation and funeral.
The morning after the service, I boarded a plane for a long-since-scheduled weekend away with my husband and friends. I had to keep tradition, but I really wanted nothing more than to skip the flight and curl up in bed. I needed to sit and think and feel and cry. I needed time to steady myself against the rushing gales sucking one life from our grasp and depositing another into our arms.
But there was no time – only minutes ticking away as I darted from place to place. Pack. Unpack. Repack. Bathe the kids. Feed the dog. Laundry. Groceries. Scribble a note for the sitter. Keep moving forward. Whatever you do, don’t stop.
There are times (I am learning) when its best to cancel plans and lay low, and though all signs suggested I should stop, I could not. This tends to be a theme within my existence of which I am fully aware, spend time reflecting upon and then subsequently, ignore. But this time (I promise you, this time) I had good reason.
My grandmother always had a wanderer’s spirit. She was also stubborn as a mule. She held on through a decade long battle with Alzheimer’s, four years of hospice and nearly ten days without food or water before she passed, and somehow the arrangements were all wrapped up in between the arrival of our first foster child and the day my flight left. We were headed west to the land of desert and cowboys, a place my grandmother loved. I would go and her adventurous, bull-headed spirit would go with me. This silly vacation somehow felt preordained.
I started packing my bag at midnight, settled in around 2 a.m. and stole a few hours of rest before rising at 5:30 to drive to the airport. As soon as I reached the gate, the voice came over the speaker. The flight would be delayed, and as a result, my connecting flight in Chicago would be pushed six hours later. Maybe I had misread the signs regarding my weekend destiny in Arizona.
I texted my husband and friends already in air, halfway to our sunny destination. They would start the party without me while I slumped in a straight-backed airport chair, trying to ignore the gentleman across the aisle discussing his arrest the previous night. I listened as person after person loudly asserted their frustration to the Delta attendant. She busied herself making phone calls and clicking furiously at her keyboard, searching for a solution to the line of problems before her. I opened a book and shut out the angry passengers and the convict across the way. One chapter in, the author told me to “be still” and I began to see the delay for what it could be.
When we finally arrived at our layover in Chicago, I selected a small table in the middle of a Japanese restaurant, a nice point from which to observe the chaos around me. I sat quietly, contentedly, across from no one. No expected conversation. No witty stories to tell or respond to. No societal niceties except a smile and thank you to the server.
Time to finish my book. Time to taste my food and find joy in an afternoon drink. Time to think and reflect and be still as hoards of people raced by, ringing phones, the click of heels, the whirr of spinning wheels against slick tiles, bodies covered in luggage – a metaphor of my life.
On this day of travel toward the next thing on my to-do list (“reconnect with husband and dear friends over long days in the desert drinking beer and watching football and taking hikes that give you blisters but renew your sense of adventure”) I was forced to pause, if only for a few hours in an airport terminal over a sushi roll and gin with hints of lavender. Through the common annoyance of a missed connection, I was granted a moment alone, to breathe, to enjoy my own company, to know what I know and not have to explain it to anyone else. In those few short hours, as I became reacquainted with myself, I sat very still and began to feel the enormity of the lives entering and exiting, the abundance and the voids that followed in their wake. It’s hard to be still. It’s hard to feel these things.
So I run and run, every day, here and there, back and forth, in circles it seems until I am met with a snag to slow me down – a flight delay, a sick kid, some unplanned thing to make me pause, take a moment of reflection, however brief. Twenty minutes in traffic, six hours at an airport, four days home with a feverish kid. I am trying to see these gifts for what they are. I am trying to be thankful alone and aloud (yes, aloud) to the stillness they offer. I am trying to hear the truth hidden in that stillness. It has started as a whispered affirmation, “Mama, you need rest.”