I love a good list. I make boxes next to each item so I have the complete satisfaction of checking them off. I will even put items I have already accomplished on the list, just so I can cross them off.
- Make dinner
- Fold Laundry
- Grade papers
It is a sad list. I never went to bed unless everything was dutifully crossed off. In the decade of mindfulness, however, I was more like an extra on The Walking Dead. I tried to say the right things and do what was asked of me, but I wasn’t having much success really feeling like a person.
I was still coming out of the ‘new parenting’ mode. The one when you suddenly realize the friends you had secretly been judging for years when they broke plans so their child could nap- actually knew what they were talking about. When peeing alone and eating a hot meal became luxuries. The new months that make every English major mommy want to start writing her own blog.
I was coupling these transitional months with the weight of my daughter’s diagnosis. No time to think. Just make more checks on the ‘to do’ list. We were three months into our new normal.
In the midst of this malaise, I came across a quote from a simplistically beautiful story – “Loved Walked in” by Marisa de los Santos.
“No one is ever quite ready; everyone is always caught off guard. Parenthood chooses you. And you open your eyes, look at what you’ve got, say ‘Oh my gosh’ and recognize that of all the balls there ever were, this is the one you should not drop. It’s not a question of choice.”
I cut it out and glued it to a picture frame above a note my husband had written me when I was pregnant. There it sat. And I continued,
- Make lunches
- Create tomorrow’s lesson
- Don’t screw up being a parent.
The days continued and I trudged along. I ignored sleep, I ignored friendships, I ignored the rules of a healthy diet, and with twenty pounds added to my frame, I convinced myself I was killing this juggling act. There was no way I was going to let any balls drop. I was a perfectionist.
However, I have the incredible privilege to be surrounded by people who notice when I’m phoning it in. And aren’t afraid to tell me.
Dad: I think you should take a trip.
Me: Well, that’s just ridiculous. We can never travel again. We aren’t going to be able to go anywhere as a family now. Where would we even go? Who would watch the baby? How would we pay for it? What about her therapies? No one understands what she is signing besides us. What if she needs us? What if she gets sick? What if a new symptom emerges? What if she misses us? What if she suddenly starts talking and is super pissed that we left her when she was just a baby and she never forgives us and…
Dad: Yea. You definitely need to take a trip.
We ignored all logic. We used money allocated for much more important things and made a plan. But wherever I went, my brain would still be completing these perfunctory tasks. We need to leave the country, I can’t have any access to my phone.
And if I was to really learn the art of juggling, I needed time to remember how to be a person again.
So, with a passport, boarding pass, and a backpack smaller than the work bag I carry every day, my husband and I set off to London – for forty-eight hours.
When they started the plane, I cried hysterically because the thud of door felt like I was being torn from my daughter permanently.
I held my phone in my hand, even though I knew it wouldn’t work for the next forty-eight hours.
I nagged my husband about all the reasons we shouldn’t go and how terrible we were for leaving her.
I took a shower – and shaved my legs.
I walked through the quiet halls of the British Library and studied the archives.
I sat in a dim theater surrounded by the swells of strangers’ laughter.
I talked to my husband.
And when I called on the last day from a pay phone that reeked of urine, my mother calmly reported my daughter had the stomach flu. It’s all under control. Enjoy your trip. With Big Ben behind me, there was literally nothing I could do.
Sometimes to learn how to juggle, the most important part is to know when to pass the balls off to someone else.
So, I took a deep breath, and spent the afternoon wandering around the Southbank.
And within forty-eight hours we were home.
- Make dinners
- Pay bills
- Do laundry
But this time, I remembered to breathe. I accomplished mundane chores, but my thoughts were no longer just filled with daunting tasks. I awakened the girl who learned how to analyze Shakespeare, who studied how to teach poetry, who navigated the New York subway system, and who willfully ran into her now husband ‘by chance’. I could, after all, learn to juggle too.