who’s in charge here?

June 29, 2011

i was once flexible.

my kiddo (yes, i only had one then) would ask to stay up late and go look at stars, or to have a midnight snack, or to stay at the friend’s house we were at longer than we had intended, and i didn’t exhaustedly, anxiously come up with a million reasons why we couldn’t; not always or even often.

even with kiddo#1 + a baby, i said yes to what the world offered us way more often than i said no. there was no reason we couldn’t get out all the paints or fill the water cooler with water so kiddo#1 could splash around in it out in front of our apartment complex.

i had more fun, being flexible. not being anxious. anxiety is horrible: it kills fun and joy and, within families, it is very contagious.

even when i first became a single parent, i could be so spontaneous and adventurous… we lived in a basement apartment and had no outside space, so at the drop of a hat the kids and i would be out in that Portland rain, at the park a few blocks away, getting covered in mud and grass, rolling down hills, sliding on waterproof pants down a wet slide, flying out the bottom, giggling… heading home filthy, i would carry the kids from our apartment door directly into the bath tub and go through a few changes of water, waiting for the moment when their bath water didn’t look like tea.

once the custody dispute happened and i felt real fear that i would lose most of my time with my kids, and unschooling (and by extension, stability for the kids, in terms of routine and money and lifestyle) was brought up as an issue, i started to feel like i needed to be in control… in control and perfect. and i felt tired and worried. i said no a lot, to variations from our schedule especially, and that was okay, i suppose… probably it was necessary to get through that time. saying no to everything kept me from losing it completely.

but things are pretty secure now, if not financially, at least in terms of my relationship to my kids. we are together five days a week. i have a relatively healthy working relationship with their other parent.

for a year or so my girlfriend has been pointing out that my kids are not so flexible. and our counselor has noticed it, too… so now i am trying to model flexibility, and especially taking things (and opportunities) as they come. it’s hard for me… i feel like i’ve fossilized in the last two years. but flexibility is my great goal… when we are capable of it, we will have conquered a lot of our anxiety.

on monday we went to the coast with my girlfriend and her kids, knowing that it was going to be hot in Portland. when we arrived, it was raining, windy, and about 60 degrees. of course, the two adult, the teenager, and the preteen realized that we should probably have stayed in Portland and had a water gun fight, but the three littlest kids (my two and her youngest)  didn’t care one bit for this reality… they had been in the car for two hours, so they were going to have fun immediately!

and they did! the two older kids went to the car after a short while, and the grownups huddled on the blanket, getting miserably wet, but the little ones were busy digging massive tunnel cities (they were overjoyed to strike water eventually!) and getting wet in the little inlet. my littlest one came over several times to ask me to join him, and at first i put him off, hoping, i suppose, that huddling grumpily on the blanket would somehow warm me.

at some point i realized that i could let go of my idealized version of the trip and enjoy what was possible, and that he would enjoy things more and for longer with my demonstrated willingness to dive into what we were being offered: a wet, gray, cold day at the ocean, which we could experience as we pleased.

the inlet wasn’t really that cold, and we found a lot of shells. the older kids’ tunnel cities were really quite amazing feats of engineering… and running around was warming me up almost as much as smiling at the kids was cheering me up.

after three hours or so, we left and went to the candy store. traditionally my role in the world of sweets is to remind everyone that they are going to have to brush their teeth right after and be a general killjoy… i managed to shut up and everyone had a great time figuring out how far they could stretch $1.30 (i have to vote for the teenager’s quarter pound of saltwater taffy as the best use of resources). i’m sure all of it will be remembered by everyone for a long time.

when we got back home, after eating dinner at their house, the kids said they wanted to ride bikes… seven o’clock is usually the beginning of our bedtime, but i was so busy being flexible that i said “yes!” we went to the park and played lava monsters and my littlest did some new tricks and my oldest rode two miles on his bike on the basketball court (he has an odometer). then we (yes) brushed our teeth and read and told a lot of stories before passing out, exhausted and happy.

i like our routine and i know the kids do, too, for the most part, but i’m really glad to be relearning how to be flexible… it feels good to be on an adventure, whether a literal beach-in-the-rain adventure or just the adventure of letting our family return to finding it’s rhythm on it’s own. it’s a rhythm that mostly follows our currently imposed schedule but is not ruled by it. our schedule is a tool, and i hope to be able soon to say honestly that it’s not in charge anymore!

(thanks, Ananda, for taking the picture… wish there were some of the rest of us!)