Monday, January 24, 2011

The Only Way Out Is Through

It's been a long couple of weeks.

Between snow days and sick kids we've been cooped up in our house for a loooong time. 

Last week, in particular, was trying.   Finn got Greta's strep throat, we were buffeted by snow storms and plunged into a deep freeze, and we were all sick of each other and being trapped inside.

For five days straight I left the house only to go to the doctor's office or the pharmacy.    By the end of the week I felt ready to peel off my own skin.

Every now and then, though, I'd remember that I'm going to Nashville to attend the Blissdom blogging conference.    My stomach would do a little flip-flop of excitement and nervous anticipation.

The idea of traveling to Nashville, speaking on a panel, networking, and attending events seemed very far away, given that I had been wearing sweatpants for days, showers were a rare luxury and my primary conversationalists for over two weeks had been an eight and five year old.

Now it's not far away, though.  I leave tomorrow.    Predictably, the butterflies in my stomach upped their game, and the ambivalent mother-guilt tugging began.

As I've talked about before, I have a phobia of flying.   I'm determined not to let it cripple me, so I'm not going to miss opportunities like this one just because of fear.   That doesn't make the irrational thoughts go away, however.    Rationally, I know flying isn't any more perilous than the myriad of other dangers we expose ourselves to every day, but the unwanted thoughts show up anyway.   The phobia of flying is at the root of all the guilt, too, because it creates of foundation of fear in my mind that is fertile ground for all the other negative thoughts:

Who are you to put yourself in danger just to go to a blogging conference?  my mother-guilt voice says.  What if the kids get sick while you're away?    How selfish of you to stay away so long.   You should have gone for three days, not six.  

I can't pretend the anxiety isn't there; I have to face it head on.   I do my best to counter-balance the fear with healthier thoughts:

Moms need time away, too.    This is an opportunity that doesn't come around very often, to get outside your comfort zone, learn a lot, meet new people and see old friends.   Your kids benefit from seeing that you try new things, have outlets and interests that don't revolve around them. 

It's a nearly constant tug-of-war in my mind.   I know this is something I need to go through, not around, so I let the thoughts come, and I sift through them one by one as I make my way to the other side of fear.


This morning the kids were eating breakfast while I packed their lunches, and I was talking to them about the plan for while I'm away.

Greta grew quiet, pushing her waffles around on her plate with her fork. 

"What is it, hon?"  I asked.

"What if..." she paused for a moment.   "What if your plane falls out of the sky?"

My stomach twisted, but I put on my best poker face.    I wanted to tell her she was being silly, to stop awfulizing, but I didn't.   Oh, she's just like me, I thought, and my heart sank.    I have never talked about  my fear of flying in front of the kids.   I know this anxiety is just bubbling up from somewhere deep inside her, as she gains more understanding about the world.

"Oh honey,"  I said, "are you worrying about that?"

She nodded, and tears brimmed in her eyes.

"It's hard, sometimes, to stop the worry thoughts from coming, isn't it?"   I said, stroking her hair.

She nodded again.

"I understand,"  I said.   "But if I only thought about the bad things that could happen, I'd never do anything new.  I would never try something for the first time.   Life would be very small and boring."   

She gave me a weak smile.

"Think of all the things that made you nervous once, that you do now and love,"  I said.   "Like going on the school bus?   Remember how scared you were to go on the bus for the first time?   Now you LOVE the bus."

"Yeah," she said, "and remember how scared I was to do my first presentation in front of the class?    I didn't sleep for two nights!    Then two weeks ago we had another presentation due, and the teacher called me FIRST to do mine and I was a little nervous, but I wasn't really scared anymore."

I gave her a squeeze.   "Sometimes, when things make us scared or nervous, it's because we're about to learn something really cool about ourselves."

"Are you nervous about the conference, Mom?   About speaking in front of a bunch of people?   Of traveling by yourself?"

"Yes, a little," I said.  "Especially when I let my brain think about all the things that could go wrong... like if I get so nervous I forget what I want to say.    I try to give my brain other things to think about, too, like how cool it will be to do something for the first time, or how proud I'll be of myself that I did it... no matter how things go.   And I've traveled by myself before, so when I start to get nervous I remind myself that I can do it.   Just like you did with your presentation.   It really helps."

"Can I have some more waffles?"  she asked, grinning her sweet gap-toothed smile.


As I prepare to leave, time seems to shift into slow motion;  moments snap into focus with crystalline clarity.   I feel my love for my family - really feel it - in ways I can't always access when I'm mired down in the daily grind.   This can provoke its own guilt-inducing twinges:   what's wrong with you that you can't access this love all the time?

But you know what?   It doesn't matter.   Sometimes it is easier to see all that I have when I view it from a distance, when I take time to gather myself around myself again.


As Greta waited for the bus this morning, she was kicking at a pile frozen of snow, lost in thought.

After a few minutes, she looked up at me with excitement flashing in her eyes.  "Will you bring Flat Greta with you?"  she asked.   Flat Greta is a school project; each second grader made a little paper doll in their own image.   Friends and family members travel with their Flat Doppelgangers, send pictures back, and create a little journal of their Flat Travels.

"Flat Greta and I are gonna rock Nashville,"  I grinned.
"Yeah," she grinned back.   "You ARE."

**Note:  something has been acting up with my comment section, and it randomly disappears sometimes.  If you want to leave a comment you can do so by clicking on the title/link to the post (so you're just viewing the one post) and the comment section will re-appear.   Where, or where, is my cracker-jack techie team?   Oh yeah.  I don't have one.