Adaptation. Going with the flow. Rolling with it. Working it out. These are all things that I am giving thought to lately, and things that I’ve been learning to think about a lot more as a parent. I think about wanting to be a successful parent, and for me that internal conversation inevitably turns back to being able to adjust at a moment’s notice every second of the day. Some of these adjustments are so obvious (what? You didn’t just jump out of bed at 2am with some regularity before having children?) but the ones that take the most work are the little ones. The change in tone of voice, in attitude, in expectations. The minutia of living that piles up on itself to quickly represent your life.
While we were on our beach trip back in June, you might remember that I mentioned that we had a YOLO board with us that my brother-in-law Jeff borrowed from a friend. I have been thinking about that board fairly often since our trip because it so perfectly represents two things that I have been giving a lot of thought to over the last couple of years. The first is a simple one: the name YOLO stands for You Only Live Once. When Jeff first said that he brought the board I more than likely thought of all of the reasons that I probably wasn’t interested…standing on a board in a bathing suit on a public beach, falling, looking weak, fear of the unknown…but when I saw that name something clicked. Remember, life is short, and regardless of your thoughts about the human condition, I think that everyone can mostly agree that we’re only in this life for this go-round. When I saw that little scrolling title, that little reminder that you only live once, that life is short, I knew I wanted to stand up on that thing.
To explain the board, the objective is to go from a sitting position to a standing position and then use the paddle that you’ve held on to as you stood up to cruise at will around the surface of the ocean. Think large surf board meets Gondolier. The first most obvious obstacle is that it’s difficult to stand on a board while bobbing around in the ocean without immediately getting pitched off. The second less obvious, although equally challenging obstacle is to just let go. I remember learning to roller skate, or to ski, and thinking, I know I can do this if I just allow myself to get used to the feeling of moving this way. It sounds so simple, but the truth is, that is the hardest part of anything new…allowing yourself to abandon what you already know and discover what you’re learning, and it’s been something that I’ve mostly been bad at throughout my life.
My brother-in-law Jeff paddling to shore
So on the first calm day we went out and started trying it out, first going from straddling it to sitting on knees and paddling, and then to pushing up to standing, and then to trying not to crack our heads open as we lost our balance and went under. We were laughing, it was a lot of fun, and the learning curve was pretty short. By the second day that we were using it (accounting for a couple of choppy days in between that kept me anchored on shore) I took it out by myself and carefully tucked my knees under myself preparing to stand up. I stayed on my hands and knees for a moment just getting used to the feeling of moving with the ocean rather than on it. I took a few deep breaths and told myself, if you want to do this, you have to roll with it. You have to adapt. You will fall if you work against this.
Slowly I stood up, spreading my toes and bending my knees with my weight in my heels and just let the ocean rock me for a little bit. Swells came and I learned to shift my weight further back as I crested over them so that the weight of my upper body wouldn’t send me off the front end as the board crested and sloped down the back side of the swell. I gave myself up to the sensation. I celebrated life being short, and importantly life being rife. Once I was ready I started using the paddle to head out away from the shore, out into the ocean, away from my comfort zone with the biggest goofiest most life-loving grin on my face. I paddled around for a while marveling that it was working, that I had let go, that I felt like I could stay there all day because I was learning the sensation and not over-thinking the action.
During that ride and since, I’ve thought a lot about how important that lesson was for me. How important it is for me. I tend to plan, to over-think, to day dream about and wonder about and mull over and…all of those things that take away from just learning something new while I’m in the act of learning it. I first started learning this lesson as I worked on finding a centered place of balance in Bikram yoga because once again I just knew that I needed to relax into the sensation of being off-balance in order to be able to stand on one leg. The lesson was driven home with absolute clarity as I labored to bring Asher from the inside out and realized that I was going to need to be at peace with the sensation of labor if I was going to be able to deliver a child without any kind of intervention. And now I see this lesson crop up not just when I’m attempting to balance on a floating plank in the ocean, but when I’m taking a deep breath as Asher flips out because he doesn’t want a napkin on his tray or that car in the bathtub or the beans that he loved yesterday that have become inedible today. I feel the mental weight shift backwards so that I can find my place again and not get pitched head first into the dark waters of uncertainty and frustration.
Some days I’m finding this and other days I completely suck at it. Actually it’s more like, some seconds I am finding this and other seconds I completely suck at it. But I remember. I remember the exact feeling of my body finding its balance on that board and recognizing that I was overcoming a mental challenge, not a physical one. I remember stopping to take the breath that enabled me to let go and find myself standing, and I think about it a lot. Tonight Asher was that screaming baby in the grocery store (because we were those parents that took their kid to the grocery at 5pm on a Monday) and rather than ditching the basket and heading for the door we took a beat, adapted, (gave him food) and finished in peace. It worked, we rode over the back of the swell with our feet still firmly planted and rolled with whatever was coming behind it. It’s those little modifications, the tiny shifts, the unstoried daily aspects of raising children, the things that we all just kind of do in the moment as the moment strikes that are creating the broad strokes, the ability to stay standing, the possibility for finding ease even if we’re maintaining some amount of necessary tension, and it’s in that place that I’m seeking my balance as a parent and a woman.
The last thing that I’ve been thinking about it how important it is as a parent and partner to push out of my comfort zone with some regularity. Watching a toddler move through his or her day is a classic study in this as they are always being asked to do things differently and try something new and then try it again and it goes on and on. It occurred to me standing on the shore of the beach last month that I’m not going to have a leg to stand on (ha!) when it comes to asking my children to try something new if I don’t show them that I am also continuing to try new things. If I want Asher to be able to quickly adapt and use a different tone, I sure as heck better be able to do that too. If we want to raise balanced children, we have to have balance of our own, we have to trust our legs, our intentions, our ability to roll with it, and then we have to go there. We have to not only be able to make those split second decisions, but we have to want to make them, and optimally we have to enjoy that process.
I looked on child-rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that was fully as interesting and challenging as any honorable profession in the world and one that demanded the best that I could bring it.