Do you hear it? The roar of applause slowly tempering itself to a single, shared sigh of relief? If you have children, you no doubt know what I am talking about, if not, let me illuminate you– school has finally begun. Amid the frantic scrambling, unaccustomed AM wake times and new school jitters is the overarching sense of relief; thank you, sweet Jesus, we made it through.
It should be noted, I suppose, that this was the same reaction I had on the last day of school nearly three months ago, “Thank god we made it.” Listen closely and you are likely to hear me utter it predictably as clock work at other times during the year, like after the holidays or busy birthday seasons.
I’m starting to think that maybe I need to raise my expectations a bit.
I spend an awful lot of time just getting through, biding my time until circumstances pass. Right now, for instance, I am waiting out the life span of my elderly and adorable but maliciously incontinent cat. “Go into the light” I whisper in his ear as I pet him, “You are 115 people years old, there is no need to hold on.” But so far, he isn’t listening. At his age, he’s probably stone deaf. Either that or the single corner of unsoiled carpet I’ve successfully barricaded against his nocturnal assaults represents the one bit of unfinished business keeping him tethered to this life. When he finally passes on and I am free to toss the enzyme cleaners, ineffective “pet block” sprays and his three (!) neglected litter boxes, you can bet the words on my lips will be, “Thank god.” At that point, I will no doubt find other things to mentally anguish over. Full carpet replacement comes to mind.
It’s not good, this tendency I’ve developed–that of waiting for things to be over. So different than when I was younger and couldn’t wait for things to begin. Granted, the outlook was rosier back then. The things I was looking forward to were unerringly positive; a home, graduation, children, freedom. Look down the road now and I’m staring at the looming specters of diminishing retirement accounts, potential senility, and adult diapers. (Which is why our cat is still with us. I wouldn’t want the kids to get any ideas. “He can’t help it,” I say when they grow impatient, “He’s old! You should be kind. Remember that. It’s going to come in handy.”)
However, it has come to my attention that there is a third way. I’ve been reading a lot of Buddist texts lately, and the solution to my negative attitude may lie in neither the past nor the future, but on the firm ground of the present. I’ve been training myself to keep track of how I’m feeling in the moment. Surprisingly, with unerring regularity, I find that I am just fine.
Right now, for example, I’m sitting at my desk, the one that I remember from my Grandmother’s house, in the funky blue office chair that I love. I’m in the blessedly quiet basement family room which, thanks to the joint miracle of hazelnut candles and portable carpet steamers, smells mostly of autumn and only slightly of cat pee. I am comfortable, caffeinated and calm. In short, nothing at all is wrong.
When I stop worrying about what happened this morning or how the week might get away from me, I am fine nearly all the time. More than that. I am happy. It’s when I wander away from the current moment that I somehow forget it. Or am fooled into believing that I am overwhelmed. I don’t think you can be overwhelmed if you are focusing on a single moment. Setting aside things like breathing and beating your heart, can you do any more that one thing at a time? Right now I am writing. In a few moments I’ll be dressing for work then biking, but not all at once. (I lack the coordination to even attempt it.) Focusing on the one thing I am doing right this second shields me from my tendency to jump, ever more frantically from one task to another. I relax. A space opens. And I can breath.
All these moments that leave me breathless, desperate for them to be over? It’s because I try to bite off more that I can possibly chew; three months of summer vacation in a single mouthful. Every second I am worried that we haven’t done enough, that the kids’ brains have atrophied due to extended screen usage, that the only things they have eaten and WILL eat are toast and ramen noodles. (That’s true of me on any given day as well, but I find it less worrisome for some reason.) And before you know it, I’m counting the days until they are out of the house.
Now it’s a new school year. A fresh start for students and mothers, too. I have faith that choosing to live in the moment will free up the energy I used to expend on worry and stress. Energy that can be better put to use for a myriad of other activities; home maintenance, carpet shopping or my newest hobby, cardio hip hop. Oh sure, the sight of their mother, attempting to “drop it low” in the quest for fitness will probably scar my children for years. But we all have our journeys—mine currently leads to urban dance while theirs, perhaps, leads to therapy. I’m trying not to worry about it now.