No good deed goes unpunished, right? Isn’t that the saying?
I have never been a fan of those “my word of the year” nudges that start trickling in around mid-December. “What’s your word of the year for 2020?” It showed up, seemingly, EVERYWERE, this winter. I always thought it was kind of simplistic to boil everything down to one concept, as though my needs would never change over the course of twelve months, as though my scattered, low-attention-span mind could hold just one word in the front of it for twelve months and then, once it had a good, solid grip on it, be able to just release it and pick up another.
Besides that: I love words. How would I ever be able to pick one?
But then, toward the end of 2019, a lot of big change seemed to be coming for me and my family. I had finally signed a contract with a literary agent for the memoir I’ve written; my oldest daughter was a senior in high school and applying to college; my parents, who live far away, were beginning to struggle with some health issues; and I just couldn’t picture any longer what my life would look like in three months, six months, a year. When my kids were small, the path forward was pretty clear: fourth grade and then fifth, middle school and then high school; I’d work and make dinner and go to their soccer games and plays on the weekends. Even when my younger daughter’s illness made some things murky (would she ever eat well? would she make it through this next surgery?), I could imagine life on the other side even if I didn’t like what was coming. At the end of 2019, though, none of the next steps were predictable.
As the new year began, a friend invited me to her birthday party at a local boutique where we could make our own hand-stamped jewelry. (Side note: this boutique sells wonderful things and is doing online orders. It’s run by a lovely person who could really use some sales, so maybe buy some stickers or jewelry or a mug or some greeting cards!) At my friend’s party, I was trying to decide what to write on my little piece of metal.
I’d been talking with friends the week before about how I’ve been thinking about all this change coming my way, and knowing it was all too big and too much for me to control or brain-my-way through, I’d just decided to roll with it.
Roll with it.
People who know me well understand that this is not my general way of being. I don’t roll with anything, generally, even small changes in plans. I find change very painful. I have expectations nearly all the time, some that I understand and some that I don’t realize I’ve been holding until I’m disappointed. So roll with it is a phrase that doesn’t sound like me at all. But as the agent explained to me how slow and lumbering the publishing industry was, and as my daughter’s college acceptance letters came in fits and starts with incomplete information, and as I puzzled over how much and how at all to help my parents, I realized that if I held all of my expectations for all of this tightly, my hands would crumble into dust.
It was then that I started thinking about labor with my oldest daughter. In the midst of all the crushing contractions and the fear, my midwife, Trish, said, “Debi, you have to stop fighting these contractions.” In a rare fit of externalized rage, I spit back, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. I can’t fight them! They’re coming anyway!” And Trish, this wonderful solid kind woman, leaned down with her hand over my back and said, “Your shoulders are up to your ears and you’re squeezing every muscle in your body. You’re going to wear yourself out. You have to let these contractions roll over you like waves. Imagine the water hitting you and you just…letting it. Just watch them roll over you.”
That was the imagery I needed to get through all the change that was coming. If I tried to strain the muscles of my brain outsmarting the change and planning for it and pushing against it, I would wear myself out. I decided to roll with it. I stamped “roll.” onto my little piece of metal and made it into a wrap bracelet.
However, I’m still me. The bracelet isn’t that comfortable, physically or — I admit it — spiritually. I don’t wear it much, but I take it out and look at it every day. And now, here we are, in the biggest test of roll I could never have imagined, here inside a pandemic that has dragged the whole world into roll with it:
My agent tells me publishing is at a near-standstill. She’s no longer pushing my book to editors.
My daughter’s senior year (and her little sister’s freshman year) of high school is taking place inside our house. Graduation is online. Prom is canceled. Nobody knows if college will be in person or online next fall.
Whatever my parents might need is out of my hands; they live nearly 2,000 miles away.
Those waves, they’re crashing. They’re crashing so hard that I feel, sometimes, that they are over my head. Sometimes I am doing more than rolling. I’m swimming.
So, I make bread. I take walks. I work in my tiny, messy office in the back of my bedroom. I hold my daughters while they cry. I clip my long, overgrown bangs back and take another very deep breath.
And, most days, I do my best to roll.
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post, hosted by Kristi of FindingNinee.com, with the prompt “Four months ago, I chose a word of the year. Here’s how it’s going.”