I met a friend for lunch yesterday. We went over what has basically been a miserable summer for me. Struggling in my marriage. Left a job, lost a friend. Another blow up with my mother, resulting in yet another long silence between us. (My friend has known me 15 years. She’s been around for many these almost annual mother/daughter events.)
And to top it off, I said, my mother's surgery is coming up in two weeks.
You need a plan, she said to me.
A plan? I think I’ll go dig a hole and stick my head in it. That sounds like pretty good plan right now.
No, Sara, you need a plan. How are you going to take care of the kids? How are you going to take care of yourself? And how are you going to work all this out in a marriage that has been struggling?
I have no idea.
Calmly, like the good friend she is, she outlined some suggestions. Exactly how I might best follow through so as to make this as easy an event as possible.
Imagine the worst, she said, shrugging, and plan for it.
Then I could let it go, I finish.
Exactly, she smiled.
After I left, I realized why I have no plan. I stay in the drama of the moment, the impending doom and allow myself to be paralyzed by it. Here is my most capable, kind friend giving me sound advice. Why don’t I take it?
It’s advice I would have given someone else. It’s common sense. Practical. Organized. I am not organized with papers or filing- don’t ask me to come up with a billing system that resides anywhere but my own little head. But I know intuitively what needs to be done when- how much food is in the refrigerator, where Jake’s reading list is and the last three books he’s read that still need to be written down, that Zachary’s favorite shorts are in the dryer and Ben will need to get out his birthday invitations by Friday. I don’t need a list. I simply know what needs to be done. Always.
I am the queen of preparation around going on trips with or without my kids. I was taught by the best- my friend Margaret, aka the Martha Stewart of Parenting. When I’m away sans children, I make detailed plans, contact friends around what I may need from them. I even update letters I’ve written to Walter and Allan in case of an emergency. You know, the big emergency like the plane has crashed. I list all the important information, everything from where the safe deposit box key is and to please sprinkle my ashes up in Maine.
Seriously. Not even Margaret does that. She says it’s morbid. Personally, I grew up with a mother who updated her will on a weekly basis. More fun than playing bridge, I guess.
I’m not that stupid, I think to myself. I should know better. Yet the draw of the drama around the event is so strong, like a centrifuge, I simply let go and spin far away. It is familiar. And even though my head aches, my stomach burns and my heart pounds with anxiety, it feels safe. Somehow, it is easier to be out of control than to be competent. I live up to my mother’s expectations- I am self-centered. Selfish.
If I’m out of control, I’m not responsible for my actions. Poor me, I have so much going on, I can’t possibly know what to do. Nothing can be expected of me. I can hold my hands up and say, no, I can’t. Too much. Look at how the room spins with all I have going on.
Not only do I live up to my mother’s expectations, I start to become her. It is exactly what has left her with a giant glass of cheap, boxed wine in her hand, bedridden. She has spent years paralyzed by her own self-imposed drama. Now her body can take no more.
I don’t want that for me. I don’t want that for my children.
I am going to sit with my wife tonight and go through what needs to be done. What I need in place. Where the kids need to be and who will take care of them. I am going to call my mother’s doctor and get specific information about the surgery so I can be prepared for the length and duration of the stay in the hospital. I am letting all the people who have held know when I will need them to be by their cells phones, in case I need help.
I am going to write a eulogy.
And I am going to write a letter wishing my mother a quick recovery and can I please use the Florida condo while she is unable.
Might as well cover the best-case scenario, too.
I’m not going to spin out of control. I am not going to let myself be pulled into the drama and have it take me on a rollercoaster ride. What is familiar does not feel good anymore. I finally see it for what it is.
I am not going to be my mother.
I will make a plan.