A couple of days ago, trying to help my mother with something, I was overwhelmed by a powerful feeling of nausea. Nothing COVID-related. But as she was trying to explain a particular situation, I just felt sicker and sicker, to the point I thought I would vomit. Mind would not overcome matter, and I had to ask her to stop. Mentally and physically, I couldn’t cope.
I thought I’d been going pretty well during this whole COVID19 crisis.
My mother has been self-isolating in the country since March, away from her suburban home. Given her age and medical conditions, I’ve been making regular care-giving visits, bringing shopping supplies and ready-cooked meals. And helping her manage her affairs.
My tech skills have improved as I’ve grappled with delivering Performing Arts classes remotely. I’m fortunate that my role as a radio news presenter counts as an essential service, so I can keep volunteering. Our kids are managing remote learning. Sure, it’s not ideal, but it’s all right. Life has probably been hardest for our oldest boy, who’s missing out on his first year of uni. But thank goodness he’s through Year 12. My husband is a gem. We’re financially secure. I eat healthily and exercise regularly.
I thought I was okay.
So I was really surprised when this wave of nausea hit me so strongly. When I reflect on it, I think it was just stress.
Stress? Why should I be stressed? I started to stress out about why I might be stressed when I felt I had no reason to be!
And that’s the thing, isn’t it. Sometimes we load ourselves with unconscious hopes and expectations, and when those aren’t met, they incrementally gnaw away at our resilience, our reserves of strength, our patience. I guess that living through a global pandemic, even outside the USA or Brazil, is enough for anyone to be stressed.
I feel responsible to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run”.
So it was that I growled at my youngest when I found him recently logged into his morning school meeting at 9.30, while still in bed under his doona, with the curtains closed. And the cat litter overflowing (his job to clean).
I snapped at my daughter for doing (or not doing) something so trivial that I don’t even remember what it was.
I blew up at Number 3 and accused him of treating his education with contempt because he had slept in, and the maternal alarm clock had not paid her usual morning visit to check he was awake.
Worry about my oldest boy chafes at me constantly, like ill-fitting undies.
And yes, I worry about my mum two hours away.
Tomorrow’s a mystery,
Today is a gift – so we call it the ‘present’.
So I bring myself back to this little verse, which I really like. The words have a pleasant cadence, a gentle rhyme and the pun is appealing.
Yet they also convey also a deeper, simple wisdom about making the most of each day, because we just don’t know what tomorrow holds. As we grapple with the realities and uncertainties of living with COVID19, it’s truer than ever.
The lines call me to make a subtle, yet powerful, shift: to cherish the gift that is my today, not cram it full of “must dos”.
When I do try – with the best intentions – to make the most out of my day, I feel somehow that I’ve let down those around me if I don’t. Maybe it’s an oldest child thing, or part of my faith, but I feel responsible to “fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run”.*
When I was with my mother, I was also feeling sick that I was letting her down because I was feeling nauseated trying to work out the particular situation she was explaining. In the end, it was very simple. But I couldn’t see it through the fog of my stress and my own self-imposed expectations that I could solve all her problems.
What’s more, I feel I’m letting myself down. That insistent little “You have to make the most of every second!” voice in my head just doesn’t shut up. I know it’s not just me. Our communal life abounds with exhortations to ourselves and each other to “make the most” of every moment.
But it’s not humanly possible.
I need to shed the load of expectations that I’m so adept at shouldering. I don’t need to be the perfect daughter, wife, mother, neighbour, friend, woman. I just need to take on each day, each moment as a gift, not a relentless demand to “make the most” out of it.
So from now, I’m going to try a reset. Forgive myself when I yell at the kids. I’m human, after all. And at times, the kids do need to be called out on their behaviour and choices. Including my special needs daughter.
Already I’ve been trying to make the most of these strange times. To use the little opportunities and appreciate the special, fleeting moments. If there’s one thing that this pandemic has brought home to everyone, surely it’s that we mustn’t take anything for granted.
The ability to go outside for a walk whenever we wish.
To shop when and where we please.
Or to offer that simplest and most profound of gestures – a hug, to someone we love.
From now, I will focus on holding onto the cherished things from yesterday. My history that has brought me to today. I will value the promise of tomorrow, but try not to stress over what I can’t control.
Which brings me back to the present. Over which I have some – but not complete – control. I will value my present as a beautiful gift, wrapped in the colours of each new dawn, tied with the ribbons of my family’s love, for me to use joyfully and lovingly, stress-free and hope-filled.
*Quote from Rudyard Kipling, If.
Image from Imgur, used and attributed under Creative Commons license.