By Guest Blogger Andrea Ropko
“I think he might be bored.”
This was a concern I expressed to my mother as we sat on the couch and stared at my four-day old newborn. He was tightly swaddled and soundly sleeping.
“Sleeping and eating is all he needs to do right now,” my mom mused with a cooed whisper without taking her eyes or smile off that sweet baby boy.
Of course, I had no idea at that moment that the eight-pound bundle of joy was going to wake up and become a non-sleeping colicky year-long nightmare. I definitely didn’t know I was going to tumble into a postpartum depression that I am pretty sure 11 years later I am still (with lots of help) crawling out of. Had I known, I’d like to think I would’ve curled up and taken a nap to prepare for those unexpected challenges. And I definitely like to think I would not have been tightly wound with fret regarding his activity-level and sufficient stimulation. As a matter of fact, now that we are a family of five regularly and consistently pulled in AT LEAST five directions, I like to think I would’ve propped my feet up on that couch and spent just a few more minutes staring at that brand-spanking-new, fuzzy-headed creature.
As fun as it is to consider crystal ball, wishful 20/20 thinking, I am also clear on how I am wired. Doing nothing does not come easily to me. Collectively we have a ten-month academic year that is jam-packed with a working man’s eight-ten hour shift, plus extracurricular activities that keep us running and zooming back and forth across this wide 336 area code. The month of June rolls around and much of the frenetic hurry-scurry comes to a screeching halt. While I knowingly crave a break in this ceaseless must-attend, have-to calendar (especially after the insanity that the month of May brings), I do not do this time-period well. At all.
As an adult, I suck at summer.
Rather than stay spiraled down in that purposeless misery, I have decided to take a closer look at what I really do with this summer time period. Why ponder this? Because my mental health and well-being of those wacky Ropko kids depends on my NOT staying in the I suck mode. Trust me. Summertime should be restorative and regenerative. But I know myself. What I have the tendency to do with this “free time” is manufacture worry.
For example, my oldest is moving on to middle school. School decision has been made. He is good to go. But I have had a little thinking time on my hands. Maybe that decision isn’t made? Maybe he isn’t good to go? What if I haven’t done all of my research? What if there is a school I didn’t visit?!?! What if he hooks up with the hooligans and has to spend the latter part of his teens in juvenile detention?!?!?! What if HE IS the hooligan?!?! I suck at parenting.
That, folks, is what doing nothing looks like for this lady. Overthinking replaces activity.
To combat this overthinking my go-to answer has traditionally been to add more activity. For a few summers, I taught classes at the community college. This was great. I had lessons to plan, papers to grade, and childcare schedules to figure out. It was also hectic and full of babysitter cancellation panic and eyeball-straining essay contemplation.
Other summers I have busied myself with marathon training. Nothing beats back incessant brain chatter quite like preparing for the Grandfather Mountain marathon. That particular summer everyone was under the age of five, so I purchased myself a used triple jogger from a Craigslist post and wore myself ragged by steering my kids up and down the hills of Southeast Charlotte.
Two summers ago I rallied the troops and moved us to Winston-Salem.
I am not saying these activities and pursuits and additional work are not valuable. They are. But this time, when the claws of May released me into a quieter June (especially since I had the gift of being out of school a full two weeks before the kiddos were finished), I found myself exhaling and inhaling at a relatively free and gentle pace. I was ready to embrace this summer with a sense of ease. My plan was to do nothing. I mean, you know, nothing with a 21st century resolve to do it with deliberate intention. After all, this family can’t really do nothing, right? Nothing has to include swim team. Nothing really needs to include getting out of our rental home and into a purchased home so we can finally truly root ourselves in Winston. And yes, of course, our oldest should absolutely compete in a basketball tournament. And football tournament. And oh my goodness, I gotta keep my youngest on track with reading. Can’t lose the progress that was gained this school year. And oh crap, my middle child. So easy and sooo under the radar. She’s good. I don’t know…maybe she isn’t…I should know this…why don’t I know this? Maybe I should homeschool them? I suck at parenting.
It is truly amazing how patterns and familiar states of being, no matter how unnecessary or unhealthy they may be, creep their way back into my spirit.
Just as I was ready to spend our entire summer manufacturing worrisome scenarios and sliding down rabbit holes that ultimately lead me to a new level of exhaustion, I read the news about Kate Spade. A well-known, successful, innovative mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, committed suicide at 55 years old. As I read the shocking report, I had several competing first thoughts.
~ Our Kate Spade wedding china is far too lovely to stay cooped up in a box in our basement.
~ My heart breaks for Kate and her entire family.
~ I get it.
~ I absolutely get it.
I have gotten it for years. At 20. At 30. At 35. At 40.
At 45 years old, I am a mother of three, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a colleague who understands what it is like to be bewildered and frightened and overwhelmed by life.
The tragic news shifted my focus back to my original summer plan. Nothing with intention. And what that intention means for me is take care of myself. By taking care of myself, I can take care of my children and believe, hopefully, that I am absolutely, unequivocally enough for them.
So what does nothing with intention look like?
Each day has been a little different from the next. I’ve been to a lot of swim practices. I have packed a few boxes for our move. I have watched my daughter collect fireflies with her friends in our front yard. I have paid attention to how I talk to myself and how I am feeling. If it’s unkind or disparaging or unforgiving or hopeless, I let friends and family that I love and trust know I am overwhelmed. I, with much faith, put it out into the universe that I am willing to say I get it to anyone out there who may have periods of feeling the way that I feel when it feels like too much, because maybe, just maybe, I can be helpful. I have listened to Jane’s Addiction’s Summertime Rolls while I unload the dishwasher. I have played Monopoly with my youngest and rubbed my oldest’s back when he says his football practice was a little rough. I go for a run when I feel like it, and take a nap if I don’t. I open myself to new ideas to help quiet the noise of worry and the not-good-enoughs so I can live the life that has been gifted to me.
This morning, I found myself with one child at the beach with a friend, another child in Charlotte with a cousin, and one child sleeping in my bed. Apparently, his summer party ended at the foot of our bed last night. I watched him for a few minutes, reminding myself that we were not at all late for swim practice. Sleeping and eating is all he needs to do right now.
Turns out, I had all the time in the world to simply sit and stare at him.
If you would like to speak with someone, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
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