Friday, June 5, 2015

The Power of Letting Go (As a Substitute Phrase for Giving Up)

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I realized I was in over my head. It was 11:30 on a Thursday night and I'd just woken up to find myself at the kitchen counter, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Just minutes before, I'd been dozing on the couch, when I spontaneously remembered that tomorrow was a bring-lunch-from-home day at Oscar's school. I closed my eyes again, choosing to deal with it in the morning. But then while sleepwalking or blacked out or in a fugue state, I shuffled into the kitchen, gathered the bread, jam, and peanut butter, and set about making a sandwich. When I came to, I asked myself, "How did I get here?"

It's a simple, literal question and, at the same time, a big complicated one.

How did I get here?

It all began a few months earlier, when I was in the final weeks of my maternity leave. By and large, the time away from work had been a period of high productivity. I was taking advantage of the postpartum surge of superwoman hormones that make mothers feel like they can tackle anything. I think it's the brain's way of getting brand new moms through those scary first few months. But in my case, I suppose because it was the second time around, I redirected the furious confidence to other pursuits. It wasn't enough to be the mom of two little ones and return to work fulltime. I also had to do my own home renovations, blog about it, join Weight Watchers, and train for a 15k. No seriously.

Present Me is looking back at the actions of Past Me, and raising her eyebrows knowingly like "Girrrrl."

By the time I returned to work, I'm surprised I didn't cartwheel in through the front door and take a flying leap into my desk chair. I had that much momentum. It would take about a month for me to notice just how precariously balanced and tentatively organized my life really was. A month and, apparently, an out of body sandwich experience.

It wasn't a gradual grind to a halt, a slow descent into chaos. For whatever reason, it felt like my personal planet, which had been spinning rapidly, suddenly came to a complete standstill, throwing everything off its surface and into outer space. But rather than letting my short term goals drift silently to the far reaches of the galaxy, I chose to keep them trapped in orbit like asteroid debris and disused satellites, ever-present but perpetually out of reach.

I became agitated, stressed, then unexpectedly sad.

One morning, I was at work getting a cup of coffee in the kitchen when I started talking with a coworker. A consultant who only drops by the office from time to time, we hadn't seen one another since Milo was born and so she was asking me about life with two. Many people had asked me this, but for the first time, for some reason, I answered honestly. "They're great. And taking care of them is easy, in a way. But everything after that, work and the regular household stuff, that's harder to maintain. And then when it comes to anything else that I feel like doing, I just can't seem to make it happen." I thought I would need to elaborate, but she has two grown children of her own and so she jumped in. "Yeah. I remember that. I realized I had to stop doing projects." It's like she read my mind.
"Right. Projects. I have so much I want to do."
"Yeah. I was always like that too, but then there just wasn't the time. Not for a couple of years."
"But... I love projects."
She took a sip of her coffee. "Well. I don't know. I had to let go of that. But maybe you'll find a way."

The following Saturday, after I'd finished my breakfast, Milo was being a grump so I carried him outside for some fresh air. Walking around to the side of the house, I looked at the patch of dirt that was, last year, my vegetable garden. It had been taken over by weeds, but they could be ripped out. The soil could be replaced. Planting season had technically come and gone but it wasn't too late for me to get started. Maybe I would do that when Milo went down for a nap. If he went down for a nap. I walked closer and inspected one of the enormous thistles growing in the area. On its leaves were familiar white patches. The powdery mildew that had wrecked my garden last year. It was impossible to get rid of then and somehow lingered all winter long, now living on the weeds.

I had flashbacks to spraying my precious plants with fungicide, monitoring the progress and regression, making multiple trips to the garden store for various remedies. Then I remembered the tomato plants and the red bugs. The squash plant that kept taking over. Checking on the garden daily. Over-watering. Under-watering. How exactly was I going to make time for this?

Then the meaning of the conversation I'd had days earlier finally started to sink in. What if I just...don't? It doesn't mean I'm giving up, I'm just choosing not to do this right now. I'm "letting go." Yes, that has a much more positive spin. I'm not giving up, I'm letting go.

When I refused to "give up" on anything, I had so much on my to-do list that it ran continuously through my subconscious like a headline news ticker, even while I slept. Hence, the great sandwich blackout of 2015.

But when I started "letting go," I freed up pockets of downtime. I freed up brain space for daydreaming. Why hadn't I done this sooner?

The next thing I let go of, predictably, was the Weight Watchers plan.  (And anyway, who was I kidding trying to pass it off as "getting my pre-baby body back." I was aiming for a goal weight I hadn't seen on a scale since sophomore year of high school.) I let go of the idea that my entire weekend could be spent resetting for the week ahead. I let go of trying to do ALL of the laundry in one night after work. I was tempted to let go of showering daily, but settled for just having stupid-looking hair all the time. I let go of the concern to impress anyone (including myself) by doing so much. But mostly, I let go of the idea that having it all meant having a lot to do.

And now that I've let go, I've got my hands free to play, cuddle those babies, and make sandwiches during waking hours.