The dreaded flu took over me this winter.
As it is, getting sick is a source of embarrassment and stress for me because, unfortunately, it happens to me a lot. So being totally out for a week felt unacceptable to me.
At the beginning of the first round of the flu, I did my best to ignore the oh-so-clear signs. I kept preparing meals, and sweeping the floor, and ordering the kids around, and schlepping the younger ones to and from preschool.
Then, I recalled a fleeting comment my neighbor made twelve years ago, and it brought me to my senses.
Back then she had been a mother of 5 fairly young children—now she’s a grandma. She was known for her calm parenting and also famous for the free-standing loom she had in the center of her home.
She rang me up one day to cancel the weaving lesson that I had scheduled with her that week. “I’ve had a cold for quite a while now”, she told me. “This morning the doctor’s order was to put on my pajamas and get in bed.
“Either that, he said, or I’ll end up spending even more time in the hospital with pneumonia.”
So I made a firm decision that from this winter on, I shall regard these sage words as advice intended for me personally.
For seven days, I lived in my husband’s oversized socks and Princeton sweatshirt.
I locked the door to our bedroom,
I ate the chocolate bar that was supposed to be my children’s snack…all by myself.
I followed my own guidelines and called my BFF to tell her I have to miss her daughter’s wedding that was scheduled for the following week, out of the concern that participating will hinder any progress I’d made in my recovery.
I didn’t try to act sicker than I really was, but also not less.
I wanted to feel how it is to be sick without feeling and behaving like a martyr.
So I listened to hours and hours of everything Elizabeth Gilbert I could find online (curious to know about the author behind Big Magic, the excellent book I had just finished reading.)
I put my trust completely in my children’s father for their well-being. And in God.
I’ve become a house-elf who comes out of her hiding place only when her kids are sleeping or off to school.
If you’ve ever tried this total-rest approach, you know that it’s impossible to pull it off entirely without guilt.
It was hard to hear my kids crying downstairs (and they cry just as much as when I’m the one in charge).
It was hard to carry conversations with them behind the locked bedroom door without looking them in the eye.
It was hard coming downstairs to a house that wasn’t in order the way I like it (it’s rarely ever ideal, but when I’m healthy I can at least do something about it).
It was hard to release and “let” my husband do things his way.
But I realized that I was being tested on my parenting values, and I really wanted to pass go, and collect $200.
Yes, succumbing to your PJ’s in the middle of a regular, busy weekday, is like waving the white flag: “I surrender!”
You need to be served.
You’re incapable of telling them what to do, so better trust that they can figure it out.
You can’t help them now—you can barely help yourself.
You’re suddenly not wonder woman.
Your socks look funny and you have bad breath.
But you’re present!— you’re not in denial.
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be now, in bed with sliced onions in your socks;
You show (some) faith that your husband can handle the kid who refuses to listen;
And that he’s actually supposed to miss work for 4 days because his wife is sleeping (or binging on Liz Gilbert interviews);
Not exaggerating your situation but also not apologizing for taking so long to be strong and on your feet again.
Yes, presence means coming with a plan, and being open to a better plan that reality may have in store for you.
It’s the ability to respond to what’s happening right now, whether or not you like what’s happening, whether it was included in your to-do list or it came upon on you like the traffic light that a hurricane once sent crashing through the front window of my father in law’s eyeglass store on Miami Beach.
I certainly hope you’ll be able to stick to your to-do list this season, but if that doesn’t happen—it’s helpful to remember this:
The quicker you get into your PJ’s, the quicker your family will accept the new, temporary reality and get on the same page as you.
When you’re less busy arguing with reality, healing may kick in faster.
Whatever you plan is Plan B; Plan A is whatever happens.
And here’s the best part: when you surrender, and your expectations from everyone—and mainly from yourself—drop below zero, one of your kids might just come over with some hot tea.