On Creating Space (or why change is utterly, ridiculously hard)

lifework - change

When I was pregnant with Harry, my first child, I had this recurring nightmare.

In this nightmare, I was on a plane going somewhere with little Harry and I would leave the plane, forgetting my baby behind. In one dream, I left him in the overhead bin. In another, I left him under the seat behind me. In some versions of this nightmare, I wouldn’t even remember I had a baby at all until somebody would remind me. Sometimes several hours later.

I’m sure there are many interpretations for this dream, but it was obvious that I was struggling to determine how and where a new baby would fit into my life.

I know there are people who dance into new parenthood with ease, just as there are people who take on life’s new challenges and blessings with relative aplomb.

I am not one of those people.

It’s shocking how difficult it is for me to break a habit, to turn off the auto-pilot. More dramatically, it has proven unfathomably difficult for me to make space in my life for change – even positive change, such as good behaviors, and even good people (like babies).

I like my patterns, my systems – even my vices. They have been with me for a long time, and I don’t like to let go.

Most of all, I like to be in control.

Change makes me feel very, very out of control.

***

Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I was an inveterate traveler. (By the way – I just looked up the word inveterate. It means: “having a particular habit, activity, or interest that is long-established and unlikely to change.” Sounds about right.)

I traveled for work, I traveled for pleasure, and yes, I traveled out of habit. It was my way of life and I considered it to be a part of who I was.

There are many other things that I took for granted as part of my being. I was ambitious, I was hard-working, focused. I lived in the city, shunning the suburbs. I believed passionately in efficiency (I was a management consultant).

Then, I moved to South Africa.

And got married.

And had children.

When you live at the bottom of the world, it’s very difficult to travel anywhere without flying for a very long time. Even if you just go to the next country over.

Pre-babies, I had very merry visions of packing my children on my back and taking off for exotic locales. But the reality has been somewhat different. Sure, I’ve made the requisite every-other-year journey to visit my parents in Houston. But rather than packing children on my back in my envisioned bohemian style, I’ve packed an entire NYC-sized apartment’s worth of baby equipment to get there and back.

Let me state the obvious: flying 36 hours with a newborn and a toddler has not inspired me to become a jetset mother.

The other losses stacked up behind the travel. I hesitated to go back to work. I grew unclear about my career. I became a bit uncertain about the merits of efficiency. Or maybe in the fog of sleeplessness and the daily battle of trying to organize two children to leave the house, the idea of efficiency just became a joke.

We moved to the suburbs.

Yes, that was the last straw.

The loss of my single, footloose ways has been like moving through the 7 stages of grief. First there was shock and denial, then pain and guilt, I definitely grew angry – and I’m pretty sure I bargained with my husband (“do you think that the hospital takes them back?”).

The last two stages involve the upward turn and reconstruction. I do feel that I’m tepidly entering these uplifting stages.

Slowly.

***

Yes, the only thing constant in life is change.

How we choose to deal with change is largely how we choose to deal with life.

Making space – emotionally, mentally, physically – is the constructive way to deal with change. It’s good to give new stuff time to settle in, giving ourselves the grace and humility to adapt slowly. We can’t expect to change overnight, we have to allow ourselves the time to figure it out.

Some scientists estimate that it takes 15 days to kick a habit, others suggest over 250.

With me, I’m guessing I’m closer to the 250 side of things.

And maybe, just maybe, change is about adaptation more than anything else. Adapting expectations above all.

Last month, I put my second baby, Eva, on my back and hauled her to Italy for mang’Oh’s first international retreat.

I expected mayhem. I expected tears. But I did it for mang’Oh 🙂  (And maybe just to prove to myself that I could.)

Well, we got none of those.

We had a blast, Eva and I.

I learned that she loves to travel. And that she likes to flirt with Italian men. (And that she doesn’t like to sleep on planes.)

But most of all, I learned that while traveling solo in my 20s was good fun, traveling with my babies could be a different kind of fun.

And that change, after all, can be good.

PS. I also didn’t forget her in the overhead bin, which I thought was a pretty good sign that, as a mother, I’m coming along.