For the umpteenth morning in a row, I was knocking on my twins’ bathroom doors, reminding them that school started in ten minutes. I was hearing a lot of “I knoooowww, Mom!”, but I wasn’t seeing much progress. We were all frustrated and crabby. The moodiness of two thirteen year old girls getting ready for school isn’t for the weak of heart. “I can’t do this for another five and a half years,” I thought.
Once they finally left for school, I calmed down enough to recognize that I was thinking too far ahead. I didn’t need to plan for the storminess of all of their remaining days, months and years at home—I just needed to handle tomorrow and the day after that.
I can handle most hard things if I remember to break them down into manageable tasks.
Over fifteen years ago, some of our closest friends were planning a day trip to North Carolina to snow ski. I joined in for the reasons I do anything sporty: I wanted to spend time with my friends and there are usually snacks. At that point in my life, I’d only skied a handful of times. I was not only a beginner, but also a fearful skier who, hoping not to die, pretty much snow-plowed the whole way down. I was explaining all of this to my sweet friend Deborah as we rode up the ski lift. She looked back over her shoulder at the place we should have exited and said diplomatically, “I didn’t realize you hadn’t skied very much. We’ve passed the easier slopes and the next stop is pretty challenging.”
We exited the ski lift and stared down the steepest hill I’ve ever seen in my whole life. There was no way I could survive skiing down that death trap; I wondered if we should maybe call 911 or the National Guard. Deborah calmly said, “Here’s what we’re going to do: we’re going to zig-zag our way down. We’ll cross from side to side, stop and then cross back.” Deborah lead the way as we very slowly criss-crossed our way down this mountain of death. I literally stopped every ten yards, turned my skis and went almost horizontal across the slope. Even this plan proved treacherous for me—I fell multiple times and had to fetch my skis from the pine trees. When I tell you that it took ten years for me to get down that slope, I’m barely exaggerating. I was so thankful that I was with my patient and kind friend; I was also grateful that she had a plan.
I’ve thought of this incident so many times over the years when I am staring down a situation that I don’t feel equipped to handle. I remember waking up with little kids at home on summer days and wondering what in the world we were going to do for the next twelve hours. I’d break it down hour by hour, until our day felt doable. I remember wondering how I was going to be a good mom to kids with learning disabilities, but I found some books and talked to other parents and learned how to advocate for my kids. When our oldest two kids left for college, I was blindsided by the loss I felt. I was embarrassed that I was having such a hard time, but my friends patiently showed me how to find the unique joys that come with having young adult children.
One of the most helpful things I’ve learned as a mom has been to look around and figure out who has already been in my position and follow their lead. With all of the challenges that raising kids has thrown me, I am so fortunate to find books and other moms and professionals who can say, “I know this looks daunting, but here’s what we’re going to do.”
It might take a while and it definitely won’t be pretty, but most of us can handle more than we think we can. We just have to remember the wisdom of zig-zagging our way through parenting and trusting our friends.