On March 24, 2010, my children were 5 months old, 2, 4, 6, and 11. Five years ago, almost to the day, I took this picture with a polaroid camera because I wanted to celebrate today. I wanted to freeze that moment of silliness of my five piling onto the couch on top of their big sister. I remember throwing the baby on at the last second and then pulling out the camera which may explain the slightly panicked look on his face.
It all begins with today.
Where am I today? What is different about today than five years ago? What has changed? What did I need then that I still need or no longer need?
I know I may be stating the obvious when I say that each day is different. My family has changed. Five years ago our family life looked different. The kids were in school. I was drowning in piles of laundry and paralyzing anxiety trying to adjust to life with five children. I was truly overwhelmed. My essentials included sleep and take-out. Time for myself was a luxury. I was in need by others all the time. My story was different then. Our story was just beginning.
“The present rearranges the past. We never tell the story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.”
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
Whenever I am re-evaluating what I really need, what makes me happy right now, I look back. I look back at journals and I pull out albums and old hard drives. I gravitate to pictures of the ordinary moments. I gravitate to pictures of our family travels with littles. I gravitate to the pictures of my family together. I bypass the pictures when we are posed formally for occasions. I skip the pictures of landscapes I have long forgotten. I look at their faces. I look at our early years of homeschooling and our transition to a different life. I try to remember where I was at that point in time.
I am a detective following clues and investigating the past: What worked then that doesn’t work now? What has always worked? What do I always return to for grounding when things begin falling apart? When was the last time that things fell apart?
I piece together our story. I create a timeline of the big events and the difficult choices – having children, moving, careers, schooling for the kids. I make a list of all the risks we have taken. I note the failures. I highlight the obstacles we have overcome despite the naysayers and doubters. I pinpoint the moments when we felt we were on the right path. More often than not, the failures taught the best lessons and enabled us to find the path we needed to be on.
It’s like a puzzle where every piece can fit in a multitude of ways to paint a different picture each time. Certain pieces, the ones where the struggles almost caused breakage, are put together now as the ones that hold us together now. Pieces that I thought were important at one point in time have faded and I can barely remember why I thought I really wanted it in the first place. I discard pieces that no longer quite fit how they once did – the edges warped and the importance lessened over time – pieces that I thought were necessary to get to a certain destination. People, places, things. Time has loosened my grip – they are not essential anymore. The rejections, the betrayals, and the disappointments strengthened my resolve and helped me learn how to say ‘no.’ It helped me build boundaries and protect my family.
Our decisions to move to our current home, for Ever-Patient to make a new career move, and to homeschool have led to our new definitions of essential. These decisions are so intertwined. They all lead to the same place – meeting the people that have changed our lives and making it easier to lead a life of our choosing. When I see these decisions on my timeline and all the events that come after these two events, I notice the change in direction of our life. I notice how we value our time. I notice how we become active in the creation of the life we have. I notice how discovering what is essential has become easier.
When I discover what is essential, I feel it. My body, mind, and spirit say YES. There are normally tears of some sort – gratitude, wonder, awe. It’s like coming home. It’s like finally making that connection after so many attempts to put that wrong-shaped peg into that one hole and then you realize that you can in fact either change the shape of the peg or find another shaped hole. It’s like Dorothy and that damn realization. It’s like looking in the mirror and being pleasantly surprised.
We often get caught up in the high-speed chase of the next thing, the next moment, the next stage, the next move. But what if you just stopped for one second. What if you picked a day from the past and compared it to today? Are your needs the same? What is different? What events have changed you? For the better? For worse?
Would you be able to weed through all the bull shit of the everyday and pinpoint what is essential to you right now?
Tomorrow I will talk about what I learn about our essentials every time we travel abroad…