How do you feel about rest areas? How about if you are alone and it is dark? Do you stop? I’ve been thinking about how much I have changed since driving across the country from Connecticut to New Mexico. These weren’t questions I asked myself or others when I was 28.
I stopped at all sorts of rest areas in the middle of the night. I never thought much about it when I started on my journey from Connecticut to New Mexico. While I was driving from state to state I was pretty carefree until my car broke down. I had to call AAA and this husband and wife team picked me up and brought me to get my car repaired. I had to spend the night in a local hotel and the husband and wife promised to pick me up the next day, to take me to my car, even though they weren’t obligated too. The wife of the rescuing duo was shocked that I was traveling alone. She was obviously concerned and worried about me.
She asked, “Do your parents know you are doing this?” When I nodded yes she went on to ask, “Aren’t you afraid to stop at rest areas at night?”
I wasn’t afraid. I’d been doing it without any problems for a day or so. I had no idea that I should be afraid. If my parents were worried they never expressed any of their concerns to me. After my car was repaired I got back on the road and drove to New Mexico without another hitch, but I was a little more cautious about the places I stopped and found myself looking around before exiting my car.
Fast forward almost a decade later and here I am at 8:30 pm with a four year old in the backseat crying that she has to pee so bad she can’t make it until we get home. I knew she was desperate so I pulled into the next rest area and parked. I was looking around. It was dark of course and there weren’t any other cars, but I was on high alert. It might have been because a couple of years ago there had been a shooting at this very rest area. It might have been because I now had another human being to look after, but for whatever reason, I was a little scared. I was on guard. I was making escape plans and exit strategies and getting my phone ready to dial 911.
I told my daughter, “Listen, you need to hurry up and get out of the car. No fooling around. I want to get in and out as soon as possible.”
She asked, “Why, mom?” as she dawdled and fooled around with whatever debris she could find on the backseat.
“I feel uncomfortable being here in the dark. I don’t know who is going to show up and I want to get out of here as soon as possible.” I answered.
“Who is coming? Bad guys?”
“Maybe. Let’s hurry, OK?”
“Don’t worry, Mom. I will karate chop the bad guys.”
“Please, let’s go. Get out of the car!” I replied in a slightly higher pitch than usual. I could hear the anxiety in my own voice.
She finally got out of the car and we went into the bathroom. I raced her back to the car and she climbed into her car seat. I was fumbling with the buckle when another car pulled up next to us in the parking lot. I could feel the panic creeping in. I wanted to get her buckled and drive out of there before the person exited their car.
As I finally latched the buckle on the car seat the door of the car next to us opened and a woman climbed out. Within moments her young daughter followed and I found myself sighing with relief and feeling a little silly about my heart pounding in my chest. I got into the car and drove home.
As I was driving I worried further. Was I teaching my daughter to be scared when she didn’t need to be? Was I setting a bad example? Or, should women approach a rest area, at night and in the dark, with some caution? Was that an appropriate fear to model? As I thought about it I realized I didn’t want her to be scared, but I also didn’t want her to be foolish. So I sat a while just feeling uncomfortable and wondering about rest areas and being places in the dark and how I wish it wasn’t something my daughter ever had to worry about.
Surrender. Just surrender to it all. Even if it is hard. Even if it feels like quitting. Just take a big, deep breath and let it all go.
This is a lesson that keeps reappearing in my life and one I have to relearn or re-remember continuously. I’m not sure why, but my go-to move is to cling to goals and ideas and plans even when they are not working or making everyone miserable. Even when it’s causing the internal twining and winding of my guts and resulting in anxiety. I’m telling you right now: It’s better sometimes to just surrender and stop trying to force things. To let go of thinking you have control. To give up on being “right” or the way you are “supposed” to be or on fighting your own nature.
My latest reminder came this morning from Tiny-Small’s preschool teacher. Let me back up a bit here and give you some history. Tiny-Small started going to a preschool part time. Usually two days a week, from 9am to 3pm. Sometimes she would go three days, but rarely. She also sometimes goes to a home daycare provider, someone she has been going to since she was two. She started attending the preschool in September of this year. At first she loved it and we were all excited. Eventually, though, the long days made her tired. Then she started getting bullied a bit by an older boy at the school. She complained about him off and on. Then she stopped wanting to go all together. By the end of October she was going sporadically at best. It was a fight every morning on the days she was scheduled to go and some days she was so distraught we decided not to take her. There were days she cried until she vomited. I was very concerned. She truly did not want to be there.
When Jim’s mom passed away at the beginning of November we kind of went into survival mode. We made plans to go to California and I knew that we would be getting home right before Thanksgiving so I called the school and said Tiny-Small wouldn’t be there for the entire month. I just knew it wasn’t going to happen. We were under a lot of stress and dealing with grief and just trying to maintain some level of calm and organization. Plus the school was going to be closed the week before Thanksgiving anyway.
We brought Tiny-Small back to school on December first. To our surprise she actually wanted to go. She was genuinely excited that morning as we dropped her off, but when she came home that afternoon she said she didn’t want to go back. She only wanted to go to the home daycare from now on.
I understood. She’d been through a lot of change and has endured a lot of stressful moments lately. Our schedule has been messy and now the holidays are making it difficult to return to a familiar routine. She likes the comfort of the home daycare. She knows everyone there. She’s accepted and happy there. It’s her safe place. Still, I didn’t want to give up on the preschool. I figured maybe if she just went more, or more consistently, or if we worked out what was upsetting her so much she’d like it better. I argued with Jim that he needed to get her there on time and pick her up on time because he is always late…ALWAYS late, but he’s doing his best. The ADHD sometimes gets in the way. Still, the being late does not make Tiny-Small popular with the teachers or the students. I figured it was likely contributing to her discomfort at school. But that wasn’t all of it, it was also a long day and the kids were often running wild and unsupervised. Not to mention the grades range from pre-k to high school. That’s a lot of age groups all in one place. Maybe it was all too much for her to navigate or take in at the age of four. Maybe she couldn’t handle so many people. She seems to prefer small groups like I do. Maybe she needs more structure and clear boundaries to feel successful and secure and maybe she’s just not mature enough to understand the dynamics and relationships 7 and 8-year-old kids have with each other. There were many factors to consider. Then, of course, there was the boy she kept talking about who seemed to really bother her and make her not want to be there. Still, I was sure these were all obstacle we could overcome with perseverance and more effort.
So, we fought about preschool for three more days. Tiny-Small didn’t want to go. Jim resented having to get her there at nine. I struggled with enforcing good attitudes and schedules.
Anyway, with all of this running through my mind this morning her teacher pulled me aside when I dropped her off. He wanted to know if she was going to start coming more consistently or on scheduled days. It was obvious he was annoyed with our seemingly cavalier approach toward school attendance and I couldn’t blame him. Her sporadic attendance was interfering with his lesson plans and he never knew if he needed more or fewer materials. He thought the fact that she wasn’t there consistently made it hard for her to get past her shyness with the other kids (another thing that baffled Jim and I because she is not typically a shy person in any other setting). I understood the teachers dilemma and irritation. I also felt like a terrible parent. I told him she didn’t want to come and I didn’t know why and I felt bad making her go. I explained that my husband struggled to get her there on time and when he was running really late thought it was better not to take her and disrupt the class. I told him I had been trying to create a more compatible schedule, but that it never seemed to work out. Then he asked, “Doesn’t she go to another school sometimes?” I said she went to a home daycare. Then he asked me, “Well, is that working well?” I said it was. Then he just stared at me. I was saved by another parent interrupting to ask a question. The teacher smiled at me and said, “Well, do what you can.”
As I drove off I started thinking about that one question, “…is that working well?” I know he was insinuating that maybe I should just stick with home daycare if we couldn’t conform to the preschool schedule. But, for me, it became a bigger question…if something isn’t working why do I keep trying to force it to? I started wondering why I was trying to contort myself, our life, and my daughter to fit into a place we so clearly did not belong. She didn’t want to be there. I dreaded taking her there. Jim couldn’t pick her up or drop her off on time. The schedule was not working with our schedule or our life. It was just making us all miserable. Still, admitting that felt like quitting or giving up. I felt like a failure as a mom and even as a human being. I couldn’t even get my daughter to school consistently. How would she ever grow up to be a productive member of society?
Then I cried all the way home.
I told Jim what had happened and we talked it over. We decided this would be her last day at the preschool. An hour or so later I felt like a great weight had been lifted. I breathed a sigh of relief. This was the best decision for our family even if it didn’t seem like the “right” one. Even if it was giving up.
I could beat myself up for hours and days about how I failed or about how we aren’t giving Tiny-Small a head start by sending her to a preschool, or about how ADHD sometimes gets the better of us, but I’m not going to. Instead I am going to surrender to the realities and challenges we live with. Instead I am going to do the best I can with what we have to work with and let go of the things that are only adding stress and no real benefit to the life we are trying to build. Instead I am going to listen to my daughter, accept our circumstances, and let go of the image I am holding in my mind about how things are “supposed” to be. Today I am surrendering and my soul is better for it.
I can breathe again.
I am wondering how long it is going to take me to learn this lesson. When will I be able to say no, to surrender to reality, or to accept my limitations and the limitations of my family with more grace?
Last week I found myself saying, “Don’t too excited,” to Tiny-Small as she jumped up and down cheering after I told her we might go kayaking the next day, “It might not work out.”
What I said made me cringe. “Don’t get too excited” was a terrible thing to say. It’s like saying, “Don’t be too Happy.” I started thinking about how when something really great happens I don’t always let myself experience the joy. I temper my excitement because it might not happen or it might not be as great as I think it is. That’s a terrible way to live. I want Tiny-Small to bubble over with all of the good feelings she has.
I’m working on not saying things like “Don’t get too excited” or “Well, I’m not going to get too excited until I’m sure it’s going to work out.” I am also working on not pointing out all of the things that might go wrong and trying to focus on all of the things that might go right instead. It’s a change in perspective and change always takes time and practice. So I make mistakes, but I am getting better at it. I really don’t want to pass this way of thinking down to Tiny-Small. Besides, pointing out all of the things that could go wrong and why it might not work out isn’t very helpful when it comes to getting things done.
This time I told her “Don’t listen to me. Get too excited. We are going Kayaking!” Then I jumped and cheered with her.
Then, we went Kayaking.
It worked out fine. It usually does. We only get disappointed once in a while because usually our plans go well and we have a great time. Statistically speaking, we should err on the side of being too excited. So, that’s what we are going to do around here because jumping and cheering are way more fun than worrying and listing all of the possible problems that could come our way.