Showing up to the imperfect unpredictable mess of life.
There’s a saying “Man plans and God laughs”. I don’t agree. I think it’s more “Man plans and God winks,” only sometimes the wink feels a bit more like an eye twitch. The way your lid flutters when you’re overtired. So it makes it a little harder to see the wink. I had one of those moments last week.
It really started months ago when we began to plan our annual family trip to the cottage. And by family I mean me and my daughter, who would be visiting my sisters, brother-in-law and nieces. As a shared custody co-parent, my planning is a bit on steroids. The timing needs to fit with many people’s needs, wants and agreements. And not only that, there’s a lot of pressure to “make it count”. One of the ways I've been able to swallow the (unexpected) reality of days on and days off, is vowing to “make every moment count”. If there were going to be times I wasn’t going to be there, then I wasn't going to miss a second when I could be present. There was even a day I turned to God and said, “Okay, mission accepted: no parenting opportunity will be missed on my watch”.
Right. So, like, no pressure.
So the summer vacation stakes were high. As in, this was going to be the cottage week of the summer. Pinterest would be put to shame with the crafting we had in store. Menus were mapped out. If planning is the way we try to guarantee success, I was on my A-game. You can see where this is going.
The morning of our departure my daughter complained of a “slightly sore throat”. No big deal. This is the stuff of almost every other week over the past 10 years of her life. It’s rarely strep. Besides, we had a plan. I checked out walk-in clinics in the cottage area (parental due diligence done) and set out with a car packed to the roof.
Here comes the wink. Picture it, the first night, 2 AM: “Mommy, I don’t feel well, my head hurts.”
I limp half asleep to find the Tylenol. No fever. Just in pain. “Mommy, I can’t sleep.”
It was the truth. She couldn’t and didn’t. Therefore, neither did I. And so cottage dreams and perfectly-planned moments instantly dissolve. To every “Mommy” uttered, an internal dialogue went something like this: “Really? Now? Of all weeks? All days? Come on!”
The next few days were spent shuttling between the beach, the pharmacy and confirming that it was viral. No quick fix. We’ve all heard the “plenty of rest and fluids” prescription (aka “Mom, you’ve just got to ride this out with your kid”). Sigh. So the only thing for me to do was be there. Show up.
This wasn’t about me deciding how to make the most of the moment. It was about the moment making the most of me.
In all the chaos of cottage plans gone south, the only plans we had consisted of my daughter's basic fluid-rest-and-get-to-bed-needs for the next couple of hours. All the energy we expend to “make it count” is never really the job. This wasn’t about me deciding how to make the most of the moment. It was about the moment making the most of me. It is no small privilege to be present. We spend so much time worrying--thinking--analyzing our kids, our parenting, that we forget to simply be. Sometimes it’s not about saying the right thing or finding the proper approach, it’s simply about being the one who is there.
I’m not backing down from my “make-it-count-commitment”. Somewhere between giving birth and signing that separation agreement, I made that promise. But maybe part of it is also to let go so we can simply be. With ourselves. With our kids. With God. The endless stream of shoulds and coulds, the tally of plans and try-to-get-it-right agendas can be blinding. When we are busy remembering the “10 tips” of the day, it’s hard to see the winks. When we try so hard to get it right, we get one thing wrong: it’s not about getting it right. Or planning. It’s about showing up with all the imperfect unpredictable mess of life.
And that includes missed moments, unexpected sore throats, and certainly hard-to-swallow life events. This is not unique to shared-custody parenting. We all have realities we try to manage; challenges we attempt to contain. And, yet, when we plan, well, things rarely go as we expect. And if we are willing to show up, we will see God winking.