A year ago I met a woman while waiting for the laction room at work. She was a mid-career detailee from the Department of Defense, and in our brief conversation she changed the passage of time for me. It’s a gift I hope I can share.
We were both moms of infants in the hustle and bustle of juggling busy careers and families. Naturally, we talked about sleep deprivation, the various developmental mile stones of our little ones, and the relevant anxieties. She shared that she was a single parent and this would likely be her only child because age and fertility issues probably meant she couldn’t have another. Her baby boy had some digestive issues so she was having to nurse him more than she’d expected at a year old resulting in frequent interruptions during the work day to accommodate pumping. Nights were long and the days were squeezed, her family lived far away, unable to help much, but with all of that she was still serene. Delighted. Savoring every bit of it.
I thought I understood her zen. I had made a conscious decision years ago to try limit or eliminate my griping about the duties of parenting. Yes, it was stressful sometimes, but I had in my four children all that I had hoped for and more. I leaned on my mantra, don’t complain about your blessings.
What this woman was saying to me was similar, but it was better. I still found myself wanting to rush through unpleasant moments, days, development phases. It was a kind of complaint. I can’t wait until she grows out of this whining. How much longer before the school performance ends? When will you get to the point where you don’t wet the entire bathroom floor when you take a bath?
This stranger helped me to see all those moments differently. I told her that I couldn’t wait until my baby could sleep for a seven hour stretch. She told me that she used to say all the time that she couldn’t wait for this or that thing to happen, but her son helped her to realize that her language reinforced the act of rushing through life. She got rid of “I can’t wait” so that she could be still and take it all in. When tempted to wish away a moment she chose instead to “look forward to” where it would lead. Simple isn’t it?
I haven’t been the same since that revelation. It didn’t happen instantly, but the difference was profound. In moments of exasperation, her words came to mind like an unexpected summer breeze. I stood still. In coming months when we celebrated family birthdays it didn’t feel so much like the time crept up on me. I could laugh a little when the girls made a habit out of sneaking off with a bowl of popcorn so they could dump it on the floor and eat it like pecking chickens. The clean up didn’t feel so arduous. Frequent trips to the musty middle school lost-and-found to dig for my sons missing sweatshirts were fodder for teasing instead fuel for my fury.
When my hubby was traveling for work, I could be less bitter about having more on my plate because I was looking forward to how nice it would be when he was back home. Just that little tweak to my thinking about time and place, and I was a little less burdened. For that I am eternally grateful to the stranger in the nurse’s office. I look forward to seeing her again.