Who Stole My Cheese?

Photo by iDtechCamp at www.flickr.com

Driving up the canyon with my family this summer, a road construction sign struck me. (Figuratively, not literally.) The large orange triangle reading “BUMP AHEAD” seized my mind.  Wouldn’t it be powerful, I thought, if we knew when bumps were coming in our lives? Then we could organize and prepare for trials.

But, what if some challenges we face are predictable? Could preparing for them minimize the crisis and carry us through? One of my favorite books is a small 50-page tome called Who Moved My Cheese? The parable is this: two mice are running through a maze. They lace up their sneakers, follow their daily path to the cheese, and eat it up. But one day the cheese has moved. Their basis for happiness is gone. One mouse throws himself down in a corner. “Who stole my cheese?!” he laments. For days he tries to return to the same spot where his old cheese had been. The cheese never returns. The other mouse, however, understands that his reality has changed. He laces up his shoes and runs on to find new cheese. The author points out that if the mice had noticed their cheese pile growing low, they could have made preparations for new cheese instead of wallowing in misery when their former cheese went missing.

My cheese has moved recently. I was feeling completely out of whack with our family schedule: school had started and I had multiple children in school for the first time, some after-school activities and heavy commuting. Each night I felt beat up, imbalanced and somewhat unhappy. I would rest my skin against the headboard at night wondering what was wrong with me. And then I remembered the parable of the cheese–my own cheese had moved! I reaIized I had more children than I had ever had in my life and a new school schedule. I could not commute, do the brutal half-day kindergarten schedule, teach aerobics, do dinner, preschool, gymnastics, piano, four children, homework, family night and maintain my former schedule.

Nothing was wrong with me; I just didn’t see that my cheese had moved. The schedule I enjoyed previously with less children was not an option anymore. Maybe I could have looked ahead and thought about how the kindergarten schedule or late gymnastics class was going to affect our family. Many mothers naturally see how something like a new baby is going to alter their lives.  But maybe you’re like me and keep trying to do the same old thing, like a mouse returning to the old cheese, when your reality has shifted. Seeing clearly that change is occurring helps me to face my specific challenges with more clarity. I am much more able to make preparations and organize myself, mentally and physically, for what lies ahead. Some of the change is good, like a new baby–but even with good changes comes stress. Some changes are rather boring, like knowing the car is getting old and we need to save for a new one. Some changes seem small, like children starting a new grade, but they can actually have big impacts on the flow of our lives. A new grade means maturation and new trials. And some changes are heavy, like an ailing parent, serious illness or job cut. Preparations could make all the difference in our ability to handle these.

I have had to make some big choices about my time commitments to help shape our new family reality into something that is less stressful. Why? Because my life with my small children is my cheese, my happiness, and it is definitely on the move. I know it won’t stay the same, and that my children will be gone someday. So I’m putting on my mouse sneakers and running, with a lighter schedule, so that I can enjoy these precious moments of life with my little ones.

QUESTION: What changes are coming your way over the next weeks? Months? What preparations do you need to make to deal with some of these changed with courage? How do you usually react to change?

CHALLENGE: Write out some changes that could come to your family over the next weeks and months, i.e., financial, health related, scheduling, growth of children, extended family issues.  Discuss them with your spouse or family. What specifics steps could you take to prepare for those changes? Write them out, lace up your mouse sneakers, and get running on one of them!


  1. Beth says

    Oh my goodness, Dawn, this is precisely my problem! I was so sure I was a flexible, adaptive ‘mouse’. And then we had a big change in our lives (moving cross-country) and I found out that I’ve got a whole lot more in common with the mouse in the corner! When the lightbulb finally goes off I sometimes want to kick myself for not figuring out a solution (or realizing that there was even a problem) sooner. For example, it takes me seventeen thousand trips across our new kitchen hunting for something before it dawns on me to move it where I need it! (smacks forehead) The key for me has been to keep on trucking and not give up. And because of that I’m starting to catch on to the moving cheese earlier rather than later these days. Maybe with enough practice, I’ll become the adaptive mouse I dream of being!

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