Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful for Game Changers

I've been reading a bunch of blogs today, over at BabyCenter's "Momformation" section, and today they are mostly about being thankful for pivotal moments in life. Of course, even though it is important to be grateful and appreciative of all the things in our worlds, and all the people, and all of that, I think it's even more crucial to truly appreciate those moments that gave us an entirely new world view. The most interesting thing to me about these moments is that, for the most part, they're pretty awful.

You rarely hear a story where someone says "I got everything I wanted, and it changed my life." Getting what you want rarely inspires change, it typically promotes complacency or, at its worst, smug self satisfaction. "Look at me! I get everything I want! I must be fantastic." The life changing moments, for the most part, are not what you think they'll be, the fantastic things you anticipate. The life changing moments are the ones that suck.

When my third child was born, I had a really difficult time, postpartum. Physically, I developed a systemic infection that made it impossible to breathe. I was nursing, and the antibiotics made my baby gassy and cranky, and so I was an emotional wreck. Mentally, I was exhausted and felt like I'd made a horrible mistake, having another baby at 38 years old.

Throughout the pregnancy, I had pushed myself to the limit. My company was in the midst of upheaval, and I was in charge of much of the transition. It was strangely emotional, because I had to talk several local business owners into continuing to do business with us, and I was responsible for many things that were actually beyond my control. Even though my schedule was flexible, it was extremely hectic. I sometimes worked day shifts, sometimes night shifts, sometimes worked from home, sometimes had meetings in other parts of the city. Driving all over the place, in a city noted for traffic, was made more difficult by the fact that our car at the time was a little old clunker with no air conditioning. In the South. In the summer.

We hosted an exchange student for about half of the pregnancy, which was a strain, because I suddenly had three adolescents instead of two. In addition, my daughter was homeschooling, and had many obligations, from academic classes to ballet lessons to babysitting gigs. Because she was only twelve, I had to do most of the transporting, and spent hours each week shuttling her back and forth. I was a very active member of the home school community, serving on the board of our group and running, with friend who was also pregnant, one of the more stressful events of our yearly schedule. I was very active in my church, teaching Sunday school classes and serving on a committee.

On top of all of this, my sister, who lived four hours away, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, I'm not making that all about me, certainly, but I was so concerned about her that I did try to be there for her as much as humanly possible. Mostly, this was long distance, but sometimes I drove up there, as well.

Looking back, I have no idea how I did all that while I was pregnant. I was driven by this fear that if I didn't do these things they wouldn't get done, and everything would fall apart. I'd been through that before, at the end of my first marriage, where I took my hands off the controls and watch everything disintegrate. I never wanted to live through that again. (Although, the lesson I learned that time is that control is largely an illusion.)

But when the baby was born a month early, and my health made me incapable of living up to my responsibilities, guess what? It didn't matter. I'm not saying nothing fell apart, some things did. I quit that job, for example, because stepping back from it I realized it was detrimental to my overall well-being. My twelve year old got very proficient at public transit, but that's ok, because it will serve her well later in her life, I'm sure.. The home school group not only got along without me, they, along with my church family, made sure my family was well-fed during my down time.

I discovered that I am, in fact, not responsible for everything. And it made me think really hard about how I want to spend my time on earth. Do I want to invest so much time and energy in external projects that I fall apart? Do I want to run so hard and so fast that the things I do for my family become one more obligation, done without joy or true connection? No, in fact, I do not.

I halfway got this lesson right after Small was born, and the lesson was completed a year and a half later, when I broke first my leg, then my arm, in rapid succession. The lesson is this: understand that everything is not important, and choose what is.

Now I choose my commitments. I say "no" more often. I hang back to see if anyone else will step in, if I'm not completely enthusiastic about a project. I say "no" more, personally, too. I have learned to treat my time as a gift, whether I'm bestowing it upon someone or giving it to myself. I have learned to see myself, not as a part of the machinery, that has to keep turning no matter what, but as an individual who deserves time off from everything sometimes, even my children.

This is not to say I'm now a completely selfish individual who only does what I want to do. However, I pause before jumping in. I carefully turn things over in my head before saying yes. I give myself the same consideration I'd give to someone else, and I've learned to relax and not worry so much about things. Ultimately, it is all going to work out.

That's the gift I was given, at one of the lowest points of my life. How about you, reader? Was there a game changing moment for you, that forever changed the way you live your life?

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