Breathe

I wrote about “enjoying every moment” a few weeks ago; I went on and on (and on) about how important it is to really breathe in every experience, because that it is the essence of life and the joy of parenthood and….and I failed miserably at it yesterday.

Hell, I’m pretty sure I forgot to breathe at all yesterday.

That is, until the world’s oldest 6 year-old set me straight.

“Are you happy that I’m here?”

He said it very unassumingly while intently watching a few bugs stroll past his shoe.

I looked down at my son, sitting on a wooden bench, checking out some ants, gently tapping his sneaker in the dirt- so content and at peace with life.

I looked up at the sky, where he had gleefully pointed out every airplane and bird he saw soaring over us on our way to that bench.

I looked at the field of flowers in front of me, where he had remarked, “It’s so nice that they planted all these flowers for you! Do you walk this trail every day at lunch? That must be cool;” and at the gently lapping water behind me, where he had spent a few minutes scanning the surface for fish, hoping against hope that one might pop out like a swimmer coming up after a dive.

And I was pretty ashamed of myself.

We had been given an entire bonus day together, and one of us had wasted all of it focusing on trivial, stressful, adult bullshit.

Hint: It wasn’t him.

He had rifled through my desk, found my Halloween decorations and, after plastering them to his face, had organized them into little groups on my window, all while telling me a very detailed story about Mommy & Daddy Ghost, Brother and Sister Ghost, the Pumpkin Family, and the witch and her pet cat.

He had popped up next to me every time he heard the printer humming and asked, “Did you print something? May I get it for you?”

He had moved my garbage from across the room so that I didn’t have to “bend and twist yourself around and hurt your back” while I was going through sheet after sheet of mailing labels for a project. (Of course I thanked him and told him what a great helper he was- I wasn’t going full Mommy Dearest).

He had filled my entire day with stories about his best friends, pictures of his favorite lizards and spiders, and popsicle sticks covered in intricate, carefully-colored designs (his newest hobby).

And what had I done all day?

I had told him to walk, not run, down the hallway when he needed to use the bathroom.

I had snapped, “You were supposed to spend your day off with Grandma, but you begged to come to work with me- now please find something to do because I am VERY busy today,” when he announced that he was bored soon after we got to my office.

I had let out an exaggerated sigh and reminded him that I was working when he had asked if I could look up his favorite spider online, so he could show me that they can be both spotted and striped.

I had shushed him while we were walking through the hallways, and when he asked why we had to be so silent I had whispered urgently, “Because you’re not supposed to be at my job, and I need to keep my job, so you need to be super quiet.” Meanwhile, everyone we passed in that hallway had given him a huge smile and a wave; the mail guy had jokingly asked if he could join him on his route; one of my bosses had gone out to lunch with us; the other had helped him leave me a voicemail to surprise me; and one of our HR staff had called him into her office to offer him a lollipop.

Clearly they were all furious.

But the worst display of my “Mommy is really no fun today” attitude was what led us to the bench.

Vince had asked if we could take a walk through one of the trails on my property. It was late afternoon. The office was quiet. The weather was perfect. I could have used 30 minutes of vacation time, left early, and taken a nice stroll with my son.

Instead I replied, “Ok, 5 minutes, but then I have to get back to my desk.”

I took his hand and headed outside like I was on a mission to reach a bus before it pulled off the curb, rushing past plaques he wanted me to read and saying, “No, not now,” when he tried to bend and smell the flowers (I literally told my child NOT to stop and smell the roses).

We stood at the water’s edge for 2.5 seconds, checked out birds flying over us for 2.5 seconds, and stopped at a bench he wanted to sit on for…2.5 seconds. Until I heard those words.

“Are you happy that I’m here?”

“Vince…of course I’m happy. You make my days so much more interesting!” I replied honestly.

“Good, because coming to work with you is my absolute favorite thing to do, Mommy. I love spending the day with you.”

And then my heart broke and landed in the dirt next to the bugs.

I had spent my entire day rushing him, losing my patience with him and shushing him, so stressed that he was going to break something or mess something up or annoy someone and get me in trouble….but the only frazzled, broken, annoyed mess in my entire building was…ME.

And even with the tension that had been radiating off my body like steam off a bowl of chicken noodle soup, being there with me was his absolute favorite thing to do. Despite the fact that his mother was wound tighter than a Slinky and kind of acting like a jerk.

I took a deep breath and exhaled.

I pulled him into my arms, rested my cheek on the top of his bouncy orange curls, and squeezed him.  “Vince, you make me happier than I could ever tell you. I love having you here with me, and I’ll tell you what. Even though I can’t take a long walk right now, why don’t we come back on a weekend and we’ll do every trail, and read every plaque, and point to every bird and fish??”

“Really?! That would be great!”

“And thank you for reminding me to be happy.”

“You’re welcome, Mommy.”

We strolled back to my office at a pace that allowed me to actually bend my knees, smelling some flowers and reading a few plaques about eels, crabs and ducks along the way. We cleaned up my desk and his art projects while talking about our favorite colors. We raced each other to the bathroom. And on the way home, we talked about life and pointed out the weirdest shapes we could find in the clouds.

Sometimes you need to be reminded that it’s ok to just be happy.

I’m reminding you.

Maybe don’t leave your boss a ridiculous voicemail or race your coworker to the bathroom- I feel like HR will give you something other than a lollipop for that kind of behavior. But the other stuff, definitely do that- smell the flowers, sit down and check out the bugs instead of checking your work email for the 8,000th time, find a flying goat in the clouds- and remember it’s ok to not be frazzled.

It’s ok to breathe.

Beauty

I couldn’t move.

My mind was screaming to my body, but nothing was happening.

I could feel the hot ice/piercing/tingling sensation rushing up and down my arms and into my neck; I could sense my chest tightening and my head throbbing; I could hear my breaths coming shallowly in and out; but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.

This was every morning now- my new wakeup routine. Life threw us a curveball last month, and as a result, this nightmare was my new normal.

Now, when I say curveball, I don’t mean the pipe burst/car broke down/flight got delayed type of curveball.

No.

This was a curveball that tested my marriage, my faith in God and my will to live.

It forced me to summon a strength I never knew I had, make decisions I never thought I could, and feel pain I never thought I could survive.

It was a big one.

And so now, here I was, on a Tuesday in September, paralyzed in my bed by my daily 5:30am panic attack.

I tried breathing, wringing out my arms, praying- nothing.

I started wondering if this was the one that was going to do me in.

“Mommy?….oh Mooommmyyyy…I’m coming up, it’s time to cuddle….”

I heard Grace’s voice like it was coming through a tunnel, her footsteps growing louder as she clomped up the stairs to my bedroom. I heard the door creak open, felt a flurry of blankets, and then, she was throwing her little arms around my neck.

I could breathe.

I inhaled the scent of her freshly-washed hair as she whispered, “Good morning, Mommy, I missed you while we were sleeping.” I raised one hand to tousle the curls on her head and feel the warmth of her cheeks.

I could move.

I opened my eyes and gazed at her as she stared at me, nose to nose, giggling as she gave me butterfly kisses.

I focused on the beauty.

I focused HARD.

As I lay next to her, exchanging butterfly kisses and plans for the day, I heard more footsteps dancing into the room- in a moment Vince was wrapped around me like a vine, singing, “Good moooorning, Mommy!”

I was surrounded by these beautiful little beings that I had created; these perfect souls that adored me, gave me purpose, and…needed me.

They needed me.

I felt the ice leave my arms and the pounding in my head subside. It was over. It had passed.

For now.

For anyone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety or depression, this may seem a bit dramatic.

For anyone who does suffer from anxiety or depression…this may seem like just another day.

And to you I say this- Look for the beauty.

When the ice fills your arms and legs, focus on warmth.

When the panic fills your mind, focus on simplicity.

I admit that over the past month, I’ve struggled to find beauty in anything, but I never give up until it shows itself.

The morning dew on a rose leaning against my front porch; the way the dogs dance in circles when they see me lifting their leashes off the “All You Need is Love…And A Dog” plaque I found at Pier One the week before we closed on the house; the sight of the creamer mingling with my morning coffee right before I take the first sip.

It’s all proof that life goes on, and it’s worth going on with it.

The way the sunroom glows with the light of the $4 string lights I found at Target this morning, while looking for pants to replace the ones Marty tore in a fit of “I Love You Mom!” excitement last week.

The way my body instinctively relaxes when the last kid is tucked in and Pat is waiting on the couch with my favorite sweet chili tortilla chips and the DVR.

The fact that Marty has been quietly trying to steal the pillow from my lap the entire time I’ve been typing this blog, stopping to bat her eyes at me every so often to “throw me off.”

The tiniest things, the ones that most people overlook- that’s what makes up a life. That’s what refills you when you’re on empty.

That’s the beauty.

Find it, and focus on it.

It will drain the ice, dull the pain, and relax the muscles.

This curveball, we’ll overcome it. It will be a part of my story, but not my whole story. We’ll move forward and heal and move on.

But until then, I will find the beauty wherever and whenever I can, and I will focus on it.

I’ll focus on the smell of dinner in the oven, the softness of freshly-washed sheets, and the security of a little hand slipping into mine as we walk into daycare each morning.

I’ll focus HARD.

And it will get me through.

Don’t ever stop looking for the beauty- it’s there, waiting to be seen, waiting to warm you up, calm you down, and get you through.