Aunt Molly’s School of Sensible Housekeeping

When I was in my twenties, new to a busy teaching career and newly married, I remember having a conversation about housework with an older colleague. The conversation went something like this:

Me:      How do you ever manage to get everything done? By  the time I am finished my marking and course prep I can’t imagine coping with all the laundry and the dishes and the housecleaning…

Her:     Well now, I just don’t go to bed until everything is done.

That was the last time I asked her for advice.

Instead, I opted to adopt the philosophy of housekeeping espoused by my great-aunt Molly.

My grandmother’s sister Molly was a creative woman who spent much of her adult life applying her creativity to managing a farm household with limited resources. Molly’s resourcefulness was of the variety that could turn a scoop of leftover chicken fat into melt-in-your mouth sugar cookies. While her culinary creativity may not translate well into the 21st century, I did learn from her other very important lessons that have stood the test of time.

Aunt Molly’s School of Sensible Housekeeping consisted of one fundamental principle, which she explained with this scenario:

You are sitting relaxing and you look up and notice a dirt spot on the wall. You have two options.

  1. You can obsess about the fact that you are now going to have to find a pail and fill it with soapy water and thoroughly wash all the walls, which of course will involve moving all the furniture, which will mean that you are going to end up washing the floor as well— and that sounds like way more work than you have the energy for today. Or tomorrow. So you leave the spot on the wall for days (weeks? months even!) during which you will become increasingly oppressed by the knowledge that you are a failure at housekeeping and probably by extension a failure at just about everything else.
  2. OR, you can stand up, grab the damp cloth that is probably already hanging by your kitchen sink, and wipe off the spot. Then you can go back to sitting and relaxing.

Aunt Molly advocated option #2.

Now, don’t assume that to mean that Molly was a lazy housekeeper. I am certain her walls, floors, and everything in between got a thorough scouring on a regular basis.  But there is wisdom in Molly’s spot-cleaning approach to housekeeping that has translated itself into a wealth of life lessons as I have contemplated her words over the years. Here are a few of those lessons:

  1. You are your own worst critic. When you look at the wall, do you see a small and insignificant spot, or do you see the whole world judging you because your entire house is a massive expanse of filth? Chances are someone else doesn’t even see the spot!
  2. There is always something you can do now. When life gets overwhelming, sometimes just exercising control over one tiny piece of it helps me regain a sense of perspective. If you can’t afford that big purchase you desire, can you put aside the first five dollars? If you can’t run the marathon, can you walk around the block?
  3. Solve the immediate problem. Sometimes I get stuck because I am trying to solve the wrong problem. Or too many problems. When that happens, I have learned to reframe the problem into something I do have the resources to address. Is the problem really that my whole house needs cleaning from top to bottom right this minute? Or is the problem that at this particular moment this particular spot is bugging me?
  4. It’s important to know what constitutes “enough.” Having been inclined, in my youth, to an unhealthy degree of perfectionism, I have spent a long time learning that you don’t need to do everything to have done something worthwhile. Don’t load unrealistic expectations on yourself when you should really be patting yourself on the back for what you have accomplished.
  5. Planning makes the big things more manageable. Eventually you will have to wash the whole wall, but in the meantime a little spot-cleaning can make it bearable. And then you can plan to wash the wall when you have more time. Or energy. Or helpers!
  6. A lot of little things together make a big thing. Does washing a wall mean you need to wash all the walls? Can you do one room today and another one tomorrow?
  7. And perhaps most importantly, it’s better to do the simple thing that’s right in front of you than to just think about doing something grand. Getting out of your chair and going for a walk is more productive than thinking about running a marathon. Writing a two or three blog posts a week may not be writing a best-selling novel, but it is several steps ahead of just thinking about writing a novel.

Of course it’s good to do the grand things too. But you’ll never get to the grand things if you spend too much time worrying about how clean the walls are.

Body and Soul: of mundane miracles and secular sacraments

This was my first post to be Fresh Pressed. I hope you have enjoyed my summer re-runs. Stay tuned for a new post in a day or two!

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Like all good little cradle-Anglicans of my day, when I reached the age of 12 I signed up for Confirmation class. We met crammed into a too-small but oddly symbolic “upper room” off the church balcony. I remember exactly two things from my weeks of Confirmation prep. The first is the lesson where we read and discussed the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The minister who taught the class took it upon himself to challenge us with some liberal theology, and pressed the point that perhaps there was more than one way to make a miracle. Perhaps Jesus didn’t conjure extra loaves and fishes out of thin air after all. Perhaps when the members of the crowd observed one person sharing the provisions he had brought, they were inspired – or shamed— into digging into their packs and bringing out their own secret stash of snacks to share. It had never before occurred to me that people might be invited to participate in the making of miracles. Indeed that we might be expected to participate. That perhaps that was how miracles really happened.

I also recall learning about the sacraments. I learned that Roman Catholics recognize seven sacraments, but that Anglicans observe a sort of “sacraments light”—zeroing in on Baptism and Eucharist. Mostly I can still hear the priest repeatedly intone—“a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.” Kind of like sharing your picnic lunch with your neighbors to show that you are a community.

After Confirmation I promptly stopped attending church for most of my teen years. There was no noisy rebellion on my part—mostly I just had lots of other ways to spend my time that seemed far more relevant and interesting than my parents’ church. As a young adult I found my own way into a faith that was mine, not just a parroting of my Sunday School and Confirmation lessons. And I grew to appreciate more and more what it meant to do things that were visible and external as a reflection of what was going on invisibly and spiritually within.

When I turned 40 I had a huge celebration. Forty is a milestone birthday at the best of times, but it is often celebrated with a wry sense of doom and despair. (“Oh no I’m getting old…”) For me, 40 was a really big deal because I wasn’t dead. I had, by contrast, spent my 38th birthday in galloping kidney failure, being readied for what was very nearly a one-way transfer into intensive care. Through a series of miracles supported by the participation of various members of the medical profession, I did make it back out of intensive care and into the world, but not before I had battled temporary vision loss, taught myself to walk again, and recovered from brain trauma.

Catastrophic as that particular illness was, it was not the first time my body betrayed me. The truth is my body has a long and tiresome history of betraying me. I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis at the age of two, and spent most of elementary school sidelined in gym class with painfully inflamed knees. After a teaser of a remission period during my teens, the arthritis came back in full force just as I was poised to graduate from university and start a teaching career. As if my bodily betrayal was not enough, one of my professors heaped coals on the fire of my frustration by musing to my face that “perhaps I should consider a less physically demanding profession” than the one in which I had just invested five years of preparation.

Then, in a whole new set of bodily betrayals, my attempts to have a child were thwarted by repeated failure. My first two pregnancies ended in early miscarriage. Surgery for an ectopic pregnancy went wrong, and I nearly bled to death from an internal rupture. My fourth pregnancy ended in fetal death at 12 weeks, but I didn’t miscarry. Apparently my body couldn’t even get miscarriage right. While I did eventually succeed in carrying two children to term, my eldest was born after an extraordinarily long and difficult labour that resulted in a caesarean. The technical term for this particular bodily betrayal was labour that “failed to progress.”

So by the time I hit 40, my relationship with my body was strained at best. But in spite of all the trouble it had caused me, I was still alive. That seemed worth celebrating. I wanted to make peace with this body that had failed me so many times, but that had also rallied from so many close calls. Like an old Timex watch it took a licking and kept on ticking.

So I got a tattoo. I had been contemplating the notion of a tattoo for about three years, but took a while to decide when, what, and where. Having decided on my milestone birthday as a perfect “when,” I found the “what” while gazing around my living room one evening are realizing that ALL the artwork on my walls bore the images of loons—a creature that has always held significance for me. I chose the image of the adult loon with its baby riding on its back—an image that reflected for me the extent to which my body—and my life—had been marked by my journey to, and through, motherhood.

legAs to “where,” I opted for a spot halfway up the side of my right calf. I reasoned that in this position I could show off the tattoo without getting half naked, but could keep it hidden if that was appropriate in a professional context. I assumed, in fact, that I would want to keep it hidden at work. It oddly didn’t dawn on me at the time that hemlines might rise.

To my surprise, I gradually became less and less concerned with when it might be “appropriate” to let my tattoo be visible. I started wearing shorter skirts to work and not caring who saw the tattoo. Somehow, making my body a canvas for this work of art made me more comfortable in my own skin.

I didn’t think about the tattoo as a sacrament at first. Over time I began to realize that what had felt at first like an act of belated adolescent rebellion held a much deeper significance to me. Curious about what motivated other tattoo bearers, I read and heard deeply touching stories—tattoos marking the death of a loved one, tattoos marking a significant life event or choice, tattoos remembering a lost friend, tattoos marking a battle with disease or addiction, tattoos enshrining a powerful memory. I came to understand that I had marked my body in this way as an outward and visible sign of a truth that I couldn’t really put into words, but that I carried deep within me.

Between my 40th and 45th birthdays, my inner truths underwent a profound transformation that culminated with the outward sign of divorce. Searching for the right ritual to mark this transition, I knew it was time for another tattoo.

This time I approached the tattoo more consciously as sacrament. This time I also knew immediately and intuitively what the image would be. Another loon, but in the aggressive stance—wings upraised—of a loon that is charging an enemy. I’ve been charged just so by a loon, while inadvertently canoeing too close to her nest. They are powerful creatures—and bigger than you think—especially at close quarters in their threatening “don’t mess with me and my babies” posture. This tattoo is quite large, and is centred between my shoulder blades. I have to twist and crane in the mirror to see it myself, but I am always conscious of it—always sensing that it pushes me forwards and gives me strength.

Someone once remarked that the image reminded them of a phoenix rising—an apt coincidence, since the inner transformation that the image was crafted to represent was very much a rising from the ashes of my failed marriage—an emergence of new life in the wake of grief and loss.

Now into my 50’s, I continue to negotiate a tenuous truce with my unreliable body. Most recently, my left hip joint has betrayed me utterly, and for its troubles been banished from my body once and for all in favour of a slick new titanium and ceramic replacement.

It’s hard not to call the outcome of this surgery a miracle. After taking painkillers day and night for I don’t know how long, within two weeks of being rolled out of the operating theatre I no longer needed any pain medication. None. Is it a miracle that the research has produced a prosthetic hip that works and an effective process for inserting it? Is it a miracle that my surgeon was skilled, or that his team provided me with such a comprehensive preparation?

I went into the surgery knowing exactly what I would need to do to contribute to my healing: I would need to haul out my own resources and apply them to my healing process. Provide my own loaves and fishes. Perhaps it’s enough of a miracle that after all the times my body has said “I quit,” those resources are still there.

Maybe I should get another tattoo.

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Honestly Daily Prompt, I sometimes feel like you are stalking me. This is not the first time you have posted a prompt just AFTER I have posted something relevant to that prompt. So although this was originally posted on November 23, I am linking it to the December 1 Daily Prompt: “Tattoo…You?”

Buzz

A perfect summer “re-run” — this post was originally written in response to a WordPress  Daily prompt  about anxiety.

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No way was I going outside.

I’d been actively avoiding “outside” all summer. My mother must have been at her wits’ end. It’s pretty hard to avoid the outside world at the summer cottage. It must have been exhausting having to battle with me every time the family wanted to go out somewhere that summer. I don’t recall how old I was, but I recall the anxiety like it was yesterday. At first it was triggered by the faintest buzzing sound. As time went by it reached the point where I assumed that the danger was present even if I couldn’t see or hear it.

“It” being bees and wasps. ESPECIALLY wasps. I was terrified of being stung.

So I stayed inside, depriving myself of summer fun in the name of protecting my hide from what I imagined to be a fate worse than death.

One warm September evening my dad set about barbequing supper in the back yard. My younger sister played outside, while I huddled on the safe side of the screen door. My mom made one more attempt to coax me outside.

“Come on out, Anna. It’s so nice out. We’re going to have a picnic supper!”

Don't be fooled by the pretty butterfly. If there was a flower there was bound to be a bee somewhere!
Don’t be fooled by the pretty butterfly. If there was a flower there was bound to be a bee somewhere!

“Well…”

Please come out.”

“Are there bees?”

“I don’t see any.”

I screwed up my courage, stepped outside, and started down the wooden steps. The same wooden steps from which hung, unbeknownst to all of us, a massive wasp nest that had been expanding undisturbed while we were away at the cottage.

The wasps, always more aggressive in the fall, were already getting riled by the increased human activity and the smell of grilling meat. My footstep on their roof was the last straw.  They swarmed me.

Surrounded by a cloud of buzzing fury, I froze in panic and screamed. And screamed. And screamed.  My mother, realizing I was too terrified to move, waded into the fray and pulled me down off the steps. I was stung in three places– once on each leg, and once on a forearm. My mother’s rescue effort was rewarded with one sting on the arm that grabbed me.

For half an hour I was a sobbing, hysterical mess. Having ascertained that I was not having any sort of allergic reaction, my mom calmly tweezed out all the stingers and applied antiseptic and Band-Aids.

And then something amazing happened. I was able to go outside. The worst had happened and I had survived. It turned out that my imaginings were far more painful than the real experience.

I have never again felt the kind of anxiety about stinging insects that plagued me all that summer. In my household, I have become the one who swats the wasp that comes in through the hole in the screen. I am the one who takes down the nests under the deck at the cottage before they get too big.

That was the first time in my life that I understood that worrying about something could be worse than the thing itself. It is a lesson I have returned to over and over again. When the familiar buzz of anxiety starts up in my head I remind myself that the sting of reality is seldom as horrible as anything I can conjure in my imagination.

Actually very beautiful --once the tenants have moved on.
Actually very beautiful –once the tenants have moved on.

Freefall

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I’ve always felt that was a good principle to live by. Which is why, on my outing to the amusement park yesterday with my sister’s family, I decided it was time to try this ride for the first time:

tinkertown3

Did I say the first time? I also should have said the last.

OK I guess it wasn’t that bad. I understand the physics of it enough to know why one should be able to expect NOT to become airborne at any point. And I figured if my small niece and smaller nephew were managing not to be flung into orbit around the sun, the odds were good that I too would live to see another day.

There was, however, the added factor that said niece and nephew had decided we needed to sit in the very end. That would be the part that swings up the highest. Now I’m truly not scared of heights. What I am scared of is falling, and the sensation that one might fall. And, as I discovered when it was far too late to change my mind about the whole affair, when this particular ride is in full swing there is a moment when the centrifugal force that is holding one in place flirts with the competing gravitational force that is seducing you earthward, and you do actually rise ever so briefly from your seat and hover Wile-E-Coyote-style in mid air for a split second before swinging back down.

tinkertown2
Happy screaming people

I have long been mindful that my anxiety about falling has a lot to do with a much more generalized anxiety about relinquishing control. Lately I am consciously looking for opportunities to live by Eleanor Roosevelt’s words. Fortunately (unfortunately?) life affords no shortage of opportunities to do just that. Many of those opportunities are considerably less flamboyant than a ride on the Tinkertown Sea-Ray, but at the same time considerably more meaningful.

In my effort to do the thing that scares me, I have engaged in all manner of difficult conversations that had the same effect on my stomach as that moment when the Sea-Ray hovers at the top of its swing. I suspect that those risky conversations are actually more along the lines of what Roosevelt was really contemplating than the pendulum-pirate-ship-of-doom.

Which suits me fine, because it means that I need not feel obligated to get back on the Sea-Ray or any of its ilk!

Rainbows: Turns out Mom was right

rainbowThe funny thing is, I can’t even remember what the crisis was, but I do remember clearly how upset I felt. I even remember where the conversation took place. I was in my early teens, and we were standing in the front hallway of my childhood home. I was in tears of rage and distress about I don’t know what, when my mother turned to me with the quiet advice that when she was going through an upsetting experience, she followed her mother’s advice to focus on the thought: “This too shall pass.”

I remember that in the moment I did not find this wisdom especially helpful.

Actually, I remember that I was sufficiently angry with her that it temporarily took my mind off the original upset. I was insulted. It seemed to me that she was dismissing my distress as something irrelevant– that I shouldn’t be feeling upset about the thing that was upsetting me. It took me a long time to understand what she was really telling me. Decades, in fact.

When I was young, the end of the world was always just around the corner. Every setback and disappointment was a catastrophe of epic proportions, even though at that point in my life the setbacks were pretty minor compared with what I would eventually encounter.

I have had my share of crisis and catastrophe over the four decades since receiving my mom’s advice. And it turns out Mom was right. It all passes. Even when there have been lasting repercussions of the crisis at hand, the actual crisis state always passes into some new sort of equilibrium.

It took me well into my 40’s to comprehend the wisdom of This too shall pass. And it’s only now, in my mid-50’s, that I am able to say with any conviction that I am learning to actually live it. Learning. I may never master it.

But I can say that each time I have made it safely through to another rainbow, it becomes a tiny bit less daunting to walk into the next storm.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”  –Haruki Murakami

 

 

 

Remembering my tomorrows

It starts at the moment of birth–a date on the calendar is claimed as your own, and year after year the anniversary of that date holds a particular significance for you. As time goes by, you collect other anniversaries. First date. Graduation. Wedding. The death of a loved one. Some anniversaries you share with other, but others are more personal.

Tomorrow is one of my personal anniversaries. Fifteen years ago I started feeling sick. What seemed at first like a bad flu turned out to be the start of a downward spiral that would have provided enough medical drama for a whole season of House M.D.

Turns out, sometimes it is Lupus. Or at least some sort of mysterious and difficult to diagnose autoimmune condition that behaves like Lupus.

June 11th is the first of a whole cycle of anniversaries that I walk through every year in memory of my own personal journey to the underworld and back– from the day my kidneys failed and I was moved to Intensive Care, to the day I came home, to the day I finally set foot back at the office.

There are lots of reasons one might want to forget such events. It would be easy to view these anniversaries as a morbid re-playing of the worst experience of my life. But that’s not why I relive these moments.

These anniversaries matter to me. Perhaps my Anglican upbringing instilled in me a keen sense of yearly rituals of remembrance. These anniversaries form my own personal liturgical cycle. Marking these dates represents both a physical and a spiritual reminder that every day is a gift– that I am here today, but very nearly wasn’t– that it is possible to leave the office one afternoon and drop off the face of the earth for months– that life must be lived in the present, because anything can happen.

These anniversaries matter because they are not just about remembering a nasty past. They are about all the tomorrows I can never take for granted.

 

 

Finding my way in

I don’t often remember my dreams, but I recall this one in vivid detail, even though I dreamed it nearly fifteen years ago.

I am walking through my house examining the contents of each room. I am moving from room to room at a slow, easy pace. Kitchen. Living room. Bedroom. I turn a corner in the hallway  and find myself in a room I have never seen. It dawns on me that the hallway doesn’t actually turn a corner there, but there it is, and here I am in this room. It’s a spacious room, furnished ornately with plush sofas and complicated woodwork. The décor is dominated by various shades of green that evoke the sense of being surrounded by woods and grass, even though I am clearly indoors. I walk around  the perimeter of the room and acclimate myself to my surroundings. Reaching the far side, I find myself wandering through another doorway into another room. This room in turn leads to a third. Each room is successively smaller and more cluttered. The third room is a chaotic jumble of crates and boxes. I don’t know what’s in any of them.

I am excited by the discovery of these rooms. I feel an overwhelming sense of potential. I am keen to “move into” these rooms– to integrate them with the rest of my home. I want to open up the boxes and see what’s in them. And I  really want to rearrange the furniture.

Only recently did it occur to me to investigate dream interpretations about the appearance of new rooms in a familiar home. I can’t say that I’ve done exhaustive research, but I like what I’ve found.

Apparently a house in a dream is typically seen as representative of the psyche, and the discovery of new rooms is indicative that the dreamer is becoming conversant with new facets of his or her personality.

I’ve actually dreamed variations on this dream several times throughout my life. I don’t recall the other instances as vividly as the one I’ve described here, nor do I recall what was happening in my life when I dreamed those other dreams. But the “new rooms” dream that I do recall came at a time in my life when I had just come though a  prolonged physical and psychological trauma of life-changing proportions.

So the dream interpretation resonates. When I dreamed these rooms, I was indeed discovering spaces in my psyche of which I had previously been unaware. I was rearranging my mental furniture, and unpacking some mysterious new boxes. Someone who has known me all my life said of me at the time, “It was like she was a different person.”

I remember when I woke up after that dream feeling a deep disappointment to realize that the extra rooms were not real. I really had been looking forward to living in those new spaces.

It took a long time for me to understand that that’s exactly what I did.

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This was a riff on today’s Daily Prompt: “An extra room has magically been added to your home overnight. The catch: if you add more than three items to it, it disappears. Hiow do you use it?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The size of now

The future is a very big place.

I know this to be true, because I have spent a lot of time there– typically getting lost in the big-ness of it.

It’s an easy place in which to get lost, in part because there are no reliable maps. Geographically speaking, the future is akin to those oceanic margins that cartographers of old so helpfully labelled “Here be Dragons.” Indeed, there may well be dragons. Or baby unicorns. Or giant radioactive sea slugs. A big problem with navigating the future is that, not only is it immeasurably big, it is also many. If I start from the point in time where I stand right now, I can see a multitude of possible futures, each one uncharted, each one spinning off into infinite combinations and permutations that shift and sway with each forward step.

here-be-dragons

Granted some of those possible futures are more probable than others. Given what I remember about the science of probability from high school math, I would put my money on the giant radioactive sea slugs before I would trust in the odds of a big lottery win. Especially since I don’t buy lottery tickets. But the fact remains that even the most well-informed prediction is no guarantee that something I anticipate is actually going to happen. And as for wishes

I’ve made a lot of wishes. I’ve wished on stars, wished on birthday candles, wished on trains going over bridges and coins thrown in fountains. I’ve wished away a lot of perfectly good nows in pursuit of some pretty nebulous what-ifs.

You know what I mean, because you’ve done it too.

Things will be better when…

I would be happier if…

I just need to hang on until…

But the future is a big place. So big that we can wander there forever without ever finding our way to the precise whens and ifs and untils on which we have staked our happiness.

herebedragons

“Here be dragons” was intended as a caution to the wayward mariner who dared wander beyond that which was known. It has taken me into my 50s to embrace the realization that all I can ever know for certain is now.

And, unlike the future, now is a very small place. Small, and surprisingly manageable.

It took me five decades of wandering lost through the dragon-territory of what-if and if-only to fully appreciate the size of now.

Now is the size of a single footstep.  Now is the size of the first word of the conversation you are dreading. Now is the size of the registration form for that course about that thing you’ve always imagined learning how to do.  Now is the size of picking up the phone to call the travel agent, the real estate agent, the divorce lawyer, the tattoo artist, the friend you had the falling out with. Now is the size of a single push-up. Now is the size of the word “no” when you would previously have said “yes.” Now is the size of the word “yes” when you would previously have said “no.”

Now is a place small enough to navigate without a map, because you can see all the way to the edges from wherever you stand. And you hardly ever see dragons.

 

 

Lizard Skins

lizardMeet my daughter’s lizard. If you’ve  been reading this blog long enough you’ve met him before, because he spent some time as my houseguest back in October.

He’s a skink. A blue-tongued skink, actually. And yes, that means he has a blue tongue. He eats worms and vegetables, and he’s rather partial to strawberries.

And on a regular basis he sheds his skin.

I was thinking about shedding the other day– shedding in the sense of getting rid of psychic and emotional clutter.  Thinking about all the old beliefs and assumptions that I have shed over the years. Thinking about dreams and wishes that were once of utmost importance to me that hardly seem to matter any more. Thinking about how my anxiety for the future dominates my thoughts so much less now that I have learned to live in the present.

When the lizard is getting close to shedding time he gets cranky. The old skin starts to become uncomfortable. When he finally does shed, there is a noticeable increase in his general energy level. And, of course, he’s just a little bigger.

When I am working my way towards shedding my attachment to an old idea, I too get the sense of being uncomfortable in my old skin — the old viewpoint makes me cranky.

And when I finally shed that idea that once fit so well but now feels so constraining, it does seem that, on a spiritual plane. I am just a little bigger.

 

Motherhood: What the “What to Expect” books failed to tell you

You will never get it right. You will twist yourself into knots to be there for your child in every way and at all times, until your child says, “That’s enough! Let me do it myself!” And when you do step back, they will rail at your callous abandonment.

You will be faced on a daily basis with impossible choices. Your life will frequently feel like that moment in the crowded shopping mall when one child ran ahead and one trailed behind, and you felt torn apart at the atomic level trying to cling to two small hands moving in opposite directions at the speed of light. Each child will have a completely different set of lessons to teach you, and the lessons you learned with the first child will help you only marginally with the next.

You will long for them to grow up faster and wish for them to stay small forever, all at the same time. You will watch with pride a young woman drive off at the wheel of your car and still see a tiny hand clutching the handlebars of that brightly coloured tricycle you assembled at midnight one long-ago Christmas eve. You will listen to your teenager belt out a spectacular vocal solo, and hear the faint echo of a kindergarten music concert.

You will discover that any anger you ever felt at any personal hurt or injustice was a mere ripple compared to the tsunami of rage that arises in you over any hurt or injustice directed at your child.  You will understand at a cellular level why it is never wise to step between a mother bear and her cubs, and why a loon will charge a boat many times her size if it threatens  her nest. You will also learn how to hold back the tsunami  when what they need most from you is the right to fight their own battles.

You will be thrilled and astonished when they develop the same interests as you, and astonished and thrilled at all the things they know that are strange to you. You will realize that they will grow up having experiences that you are not a part of, even as babies. This will terrify you. You will learn to live with this terror as though it is simply part of the air you breathe.

You will discover strengths and skills and inner resources you never imagined you possessed. You will question everything you believed about yourself, and everything you believed about the world, as you begin to see it all through they eyes of your children. Things that you previously took for granted will become strange and wonderful. Things that you previously rejected will become comfortable companions. You will think the unthinkable, bear the unbearable, and get up the next morning and do it all again. You will be Alice’s White Queen, doing six impossible things before breakfast, while feeling for all the world like the Mad Hatter.

You will be constantly caught off guard by moments. The random hug. The unsolicited “thanks Mom.” The bouquet of clover picked lovingly while the rest of the six-year-olds were chasing the soccer ball. The bittersweet role reversal of the first time your daughter immediately drops what she is doing because you are sick and need a ride home.

Nothing will be anything like what you expected. In fact, you will learn early on that the mere fact of expecting anything is sure to guarantee that something wildly different will occur. Chances are, even what I have said here will be wrong for you, with your particular child, in this particular time and place.

It will be so unlike anything you could possibly have expected, that most of the time you won’t even be able to talk about what it’s really like. For fear no one would believe you.  For fear you’re the only one who is experiencing quite what you are experiencing. For fear that some might think you crazy for thinking that something that tears you to pieces day after hour after minute is the one thing you would not give up for anything in the universe. Ever.

It will change you. That, you can expect.

me and girls