All day, I’d had a sense of unease that I couldn’t shake.
Part of it was parenthood. My youngest was overtired that day; we made cookies together, I set her up with paint and read stories, but every moment was bracketed by tantrums and tears.
And me? I wasn’t much better: fidgety, checking Facebook statuses and emails instead of being present, sitting down to write down ideas and to-do lists and then staring off into space.
I felt like there was something I needed to do. Something that I was forgetting, or almost remembering. Something important. If I could just put my finger on it, I was sure, I’d feel much, much better.
The trouble was, there were lots of things I needed to do. We’d moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina as a family a few weeks earlier. It was a short-term trip of six months, a sort of family sabbatical enabled by my husband’s flexible work. We’d been dreaming and planning for over a year to get to this fast-moving city of fourteen million. So far, we loved our apartment, were reconnecting with friends I’d missed since my time studying abroad, and our girls had adjusted better than expected.
Even with things going well, though, we faced a lot of hurdles. We needed a working cell phone, the phone number of a good taxi service, and a better grasp of the transportation system. We needed to find some friends and activities for our girls and find a place to buy soy milk. Every daily task reminded me of fifteen things I needed to do to get our life more livable.
And today, I couldn’t pin down that one thing I was missing to make me feel more at home.
The elevator rumbled to the lobby, and I squeezed out of the tiny door with my daughter. Once outside, I popped open the double baby strollers buying guide to get mine, and we headed to the park. Busses squealed and groaned as they passed us; black and yellow taxis wove in and out of traffic. It was summer: heat rose from the sidewalks, but the sun had already set over the tops of the high-rises. The air was cooling, and I walked quickly to keep pace with my jitters.
At the park, my daughter sat in sand that was almost as fine as dust and started covering her toes with the powder. I found a shady spot under a jacaranda tree and watched her.
She was at peace without me for the first time that day. The park was beautiful—a rolling landscape dotted with old-growth trees, cobblestone, and graceful swirls of marble.
And I still felt grouchy and out-of-sorts.
Suddenly, I felt impatient with myself. What was wrong with me? What was I missing? Why couldn’t I snap out of my funk? I sat still and tried to breathe, willing myself to put a finger on my problem. And then the answer came to me.
I felt uncomfortable because I was in an uncomfortable place. I was homesick. I was afraid. And even the most basic tasks every day were filled with unfamiliar frustrations.
Why was it so hard for me to accept that I might not feel cheerful when my whole world had been remade in a single plane trip?
Why was I impatient with myself for grieving?
Now I could see that my frenetic business, list-making, and status-checking was simply make-work. It was me trying to distract myself from my grief. But at the park, I had nothing to distract myself with.
At a birth class before our eldest was born, the instructor talked about how to deal with pain. She handed each of us an ice cube, and told us to hold it in our closed palm. “Notice your discomfort,” she said. “Pay attention to it instead of fighting it. Breathe into the pain your hand feels and accept it, just for now.”
There, in the little valley of high-rises around the park, I tried to remember that deep, uncomfortable patience. I sat still with my discomfort. I decided to accept my own ambivalence. I tried to acknowledge to myself that I wasn’t feeling cheerful—at least not today.
There in that stillness, I still felt grief. But I also felt a strange grace: I absolved myself from trying to fix something that was out of my hands.
My daughter wanted one last swing before we left the playground, so I lifted her up into the seat and started to push. She climbed higher and higher, her eyes lifted towards the crowns of the trees. She swung for a long time there in the dappled shade, content to let someone else do the work. Content to accept the ride for what it was.
Question: Do you struggle to acknowledge or accept negative feelings? Do you give yourself permission to have bad days? When have you experienced a need for deep, uncomfortable patience?
Challenge: When you find yourself in the middle of chaos or pain, sit still for five minutes and let yourself experience your emotions with grace.
Image courtesy of Poulsen Photo / FreeDigitalPhotos.net