I wrote a blog post a couple of weeks ago about being grateful. It’s so easy to talk about, but harder to walk the walk isn’t it? This week has been filled with the usual challenges of being a working parent – sick kids, disrupted sleep, very early mornings. “Be grateful… Be grateful” I mutter to myself as I struggle to keep my eyes open at 9pm while cleaning the kitchen. My husband and I have had to share the multiple days of unexpected childcare with two kids sick in succession and this means work that goes undone, papers that aren’t written.
Then, as though the Universe was anticipating what I needed, three things happened across my awareness, giving me a profound reminder of what really matters.
A young patient of mine was suddenly diagnosed with cancer, likely terminal.
I watched the movie “Gravity” (Warning: Spoiler alert coming up!) and Sandra Bullock’s character Ryan Scott said, in a flat voice, “I had a daughter. She was four years old” and then gave the news that her daughter had suddenly died. There was no need to say anything after this point. Every single parent was imagining the torment, the grief, the world coming to an end. “Tell her I found her red shoe,” said Dr Scott later, and I cried and cried. Such simple things, the daily things, the tiny little details of our lives, carry so much meaning.
Then this morning, I saw a young man who was blind, crossing the road. That struck me most of all. I can see! I can hear. Walk. Hold things with my two hands. Go to the toilet on my own. Etc. The list rolled on and on. And as I walked home, chastened by my epiphany, I realised that I get so caught up in life’s unimportant details and sweat the stuff I cannot change. Am I missing out on life by feeling overwhelmed by the busy-ness of it all? The bath times, the bedtimes, the messy meals accompanied by bribing of my fussy eater Star, the drop-offs, rush to pick up, rush out for a run, rush back for a shower… Even the midnight calls, the early mornings sitting bleary-eyed on the couch with an irritatingly chirpy baby… All this is life. My kids are still very little and they need me in very demanding ways. One day they will wipe their own bums, dress themselves, feed themselves, learn to read. I’m so fortunate to be an able-bodied mother who can see, hear and touch her children and pick them up when they cry. The sheer joy of every moment has eluded me for the most part. But I’m trying. And the reminder that every day could be my or someone else’s last, without our knowledge or control, has sunk in. For now.
This doesn’t mean I’m buying into mother guilt. I acknowledge that it’s human and even healthy to feel this way. But I’m building my self-awareness and trying to move out of unhelpful patterns of thinking.
I’ve been listening to the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” audiobook. Yesterday I heard Covey talk about the Circles of Concern and Influence. The Circle of Concern includes those things in our life we have no control over. The weather, our boss, illness, the time our kids wake up, a dented car bonnet, government policy, foreign exchange rates. The Circle of Influence refers to the things we can change, such as our attitude.
Proactive people expand their Circle of Influence. Reactive people complain endlessly about the Circle of Concern. Guess who is happier and gets ahead in life?
So this week, I’m expanding my Circle of Influence. Instead of being grumpy about having to stay home again because of a sick toddler, I’m enjoying his irrepressible antics. And my Circle of Concern is shrinking. This doesn’t mean I’m turning into a Stepford Wife. I’m just trying to find a better way. Suppose my children were taken away from me tomorrow, or my sight, or my ability to walk. What can I do different today? And it’s working, it’s actually getting easier. You can change your habits. But you have to relearn your lessons every day. I’ll end with my new version of the Serenity Prayer. May you always having too many blessings to count
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