We all have gotten some pretty fabulous practice at waiting over the last eighteen months, haven’t we?
I have said this before, but I will say it again: I needed this pandemic. In many ways, as it was happening, I felt like it was all my fault. It was my fault because I had gotten out of touch with my family, I had gotten caught up in myself and what I wanted, and had been more than willing to discharge myself of the duties of raising my children and investing in my marriage.
The pandemic lockdowns came on the heels of my post-partum depression and my ensuing mid-life crisis, a time at which I was at my least virtuous and most miserable. I will not hide that there were times in the eighteen months preceding the Great Lockdown of 2020 that I toyed with the idea of, not figuratively, but quite literally running away. Maybe not to join the circus, but I would have gladly scooped elephant poop over changing another diaper.
So yeah. I started 2020 with a miserable attitude. This is how bad it was: In November 2019, I I had decided that I was giving my family one month for every year I had been married. And if things didn’t straighten out by the time those twenty-two months were up, then it was over. I was checking out. This was an arbitrary timeline I set up. Where I came up with this idea, I have no idea. We had been married twenty years at the time I decided this, and twenty months in the future would take us to just after our twenty-second anniversary.
I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but I figured I had twenty-two months to figure it out. I just knew that nothing I was experiencing was sustainable. I was miserable. Period.
A better person than I might be thinking: How could a mother say something so awful? How could a woman imagine leaving a loving husband and her two children?
I’ve already told you that I am a horrible human being, so that that thought isn’t misguided. I am also committed to being authentic and telling the truth about just how awful I am, because I know that I am not alone. Awful, self-centered people like me are everywhere.
We don’t enjoy being awful or self-centered. We tend not to like to share what is going on in our hearts and minds because we know that it’s not right. We also are not born with the tools to help us change.
It seems to us that the only solution is to escape. If I had a penny for every time I thought, “they would be better off without me,” we would be rich.
Does why matter when you are waiting?
August 31, 2021 was the date on the calendar by when I would have to make the decision. That was the end-date on the twenty-two month challenge I had set. In the first few months, I tried to make an effort to make things work. I tried to be patient and listen and ask lots of questions, but I felt like no effort of mine was being met with efforts on the other side.
Let’s be clear: I was the problem here. Me, my cruddy heart and my feelings of futility were the problem. My marriage has its weaknesses, but my husband’s dedication to making it work has never been in question. I was the problem.
I had expectations from a twenty year-old marriage that were untenable. I had expectations about being the center of the universe that were incompatible with being a parent. I had expectations that cloudy communication strategies would get cleared up over night.
When I saw, after the first three months of my vow, that nothing was going how I wanted it to, I mentally checked out. In February 2020, I got COVID, although we didn’t know what it was at the time. It took a long time to get better, and by the time I was better, the entire world had ground to a halt.
So then, we were all waiting. Suddenly, I was faced with the realities of my family and my marriage, twenty-four hours a day, and there was no hiding from it, no running away. We were stuck. My reasons for wanting to run away were invalid and unimportant when faced with the just survive today urgency of togetherness therapy.
So no. The why did not matter when suddenly I had to wait. I just had to wait.
In all of this, I was still waking up early. In all of this, I was doing my Ideal Life Exercises. It had been something that seemed so critical, even at the time, to surviving the wait.
Formulating a plan of attack and checking-in on my progress towards my Ideal Life was something I had the time to do during the lockdowns last year, and it was something I clung to as a little piece of normalcy.
The parenthesis that was 2020 gave me time to really dig into what I had previously established as what I thought I wanted for my Ideal Life. Although I had already identified the broad categories and the areas I wanted to see change in, it was at this point when I started asking myself the questions, “What is working,” and “What isn’t working?”
In the midst of the waiting, I was seeing progress. I was seeing progress because I was looking for it. And the more progress I saw, the more encouraged I felt that maybe, just maybe, things might start looking up.
As the lockdowns droned off and on, I felt convinced that if there was anything I needed to give up, it wasn’t my family. (Not yet, at least.) It was the responsibilities that were distracting me from my family. It was the activities that kept my brain busy while I was reading bedtime stories. It was the duties I had, at some point, voluntary taken on, that were weighing on my heart and stressing me out.
The last thing in the world I would have imagined myself doing, back when I made my “twenty-two months to shape up or I’m outta here” vow, was giving up activities that I thought were important. But in the end, I needed to do just that.
So I did. This safely opened a pressure valve in my marriage. I had no idea that my stress was a factor in our bad communication. Removing that source of stress gave us both room to breathe.
Life got back to a semblance of normal. I was seeing progress. I was different, even if the situation hadn’t moved in the slightest; we were at least breathing. And this was making everything more bearable for everyone.
Around that time I found a quote which has stuck with me:
You are always half the magic in any relationship and you still have you.
As long as I was making progress, and as long as I was trying, then it wasn’t time to give up yet.
Things became so bearable, and I was seeing such progress in my own heart, that at one point, I forgot to keep track of where I was in my twenty-two months.
When August 2021 was nearly over, I realized that this was it. I had set this as the date for which I would need to make a decision about whether or not I would stay. Everything was different then…the world was different then. I hadn’t given my twenty-two month vow a passing thought in the preceding months.
Nonetheless, I was very very cautious to examine and actually make this decision. I didn’t want to simply brush off how very serious I had been about what I had said twenty-two months before. I wanted to honor myself and the very real feelings which had pushed me to the point of declaring that I would leave.
I was different, and I was feeling less dissatisfied, but I needed to actively, with full consent, bury that vow.
If I buried it, then there would be no more threats. I could not ever let myself, when the going got tough, even think that I was going to up and join the circus.
So I did. I chose to stay, months after I had forgotten that I wanted to leave.
The Art of Waiting
When we are in a holding pattern: either one of our own creation, or one that is thrust upon us, I have found that we are the only element that we have any power to control. How we wait is up to us.
Waiting, with an eye on our Ideal Life, means that we can see progress, even when it feels like nothing is happening on the outside.
Pursuing, in small, meaningful, regular ways what we believe is our Ideal Life means that we are being molded, tweaked, changed, as we wait. We can be surprised by the big changes that become possible as, day by day in itty-bitty ways, we pursue who we want to become.
The Art of Waiting consists of learning to not make rash decisions, learning to examine ourselves, learning to listen to the voice of reason.
When waiting is done right, by the time the time rolls around, we have forgotten what we were waiting for, because we are so busy enjoying our Ideal Life.
Let’s go back to the question that started this whole discussion last week: How do I want to be remembered by my family? I want to be remembered for being humble enough to admit I was a terrible wife and mother, and determined enough to do something about it.
Yes, I did it awkwardly. But I did it the only way I knew how. The one thing I did right was that I gave myself time and made myself wait.
Waiting is hard. I am not saying anything you don’t already know. But while you are waiting for something to happen is a great time to start diving into your Ideal Life. When you are making small progress towards your Ideal Life, you are investing in and building your future in the present tense.