A friend and neighbor called on Sunday in a slight panic mode. She was trying to burn some CDs for her sister's little boy as a Christmas gift but their family computer picked that inopportune time to stop working. I invited her to come by and use my laptop and she rushed right over, a pile of CDs in hand. As I looked at the list of titles (The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins, Beethoven's Wig, and my personal favorite, Sandra Boynton's Rhinoceros Tap) I remembered that years ago, when L. was just two, a family friend gave him one of the best gifts ever: a cute bag filled with children's CDs--read-alongs, song compilations, lullabies, and books on CD. For the longest time we took that bag with us wherever we went, and we played CD after CD in the car and at home, while I cooked dinner, or worked in the kitchen. I miss those days, because now L. rarely wants to sit still and listen to a book on CD or even music, but T. at least is still enjoying the music I've downloaded for her, and she loves books on CDs, which she can listen to with headphones during those long car trips.
Anyway, while I helped her with the CD burning operation we had the chance to chat a little, which was nice. She's a busy mom and elementary school teacher and struggling as we all are with getting everything done for the holidays, with finding balance juggling it all.
"I just haven't had much time for white space," she told me.
I looked confused, I'm sure. I wasn't sure what she meant by "white space".
"You know," she said. "That space to just be alone with yourself."
Of course I knew exactly what she meant. I love white space! We all need our white space, our breathing room, our Me Time. Probably one of the more challenging parts of becoming a parent was the temporary loss of this white space. It felt permanent and crippling at the time but, of course, it didn't last forever. Little by little I reclaimed some bits and pieces of white space for myself--at first it was just in the form of an extra-long hot shower, then a few minutes outside on the porch, or a short walk around the block; now I might escape once or twice a week for a longer walk by myself, or a trip out somewhere just to be alone with my thoughts. I can't imagine not needing this time and space to myself--a time to exercise my mind and body in different ways, ways that are sometimes wholly selfish, but so necessary, too.
After our busy whirlwind weekend I woke up on Sunday craving a small slice of that white space for myself. After our pancake breakfast I showered and left the kids and Scott to spend some more time with his Nana. I slipped out to catch the last teaching in a series of talks and teachings sponsored by a local meditation center. The topics of the teachings these past few weeks have been centered around the holiday season, and on family dynamics--both the joys and tribulations of large gatherings, and the expectations that come with them. I have found many of the discussions valuable and interesting on so many levels, but this past Sunday I was so taken with a bit of advice that morning's speaker shared with us, that I have to write about it here. She started by talking about how easy it is, during family gatherings, to get frustrated and annoyed with family members who refuse to change for us; who doggedly continue on in their own set and sometimes maddening ways and we find ourselves sucked into a spiral of negative feelings. She admitted that she's struggled all her life to connect with her own father, who doesn't seem interested in any of the choices she's made in her own life. He also loves football, and watching football over the holidays, while she has no interest in the game. Instead of remaining angry and frustrated with her elderly father's inability to meet her where her own interests lie, she did some soul-searching and decided the most important thing for her was making a connection with her father, who may not be around for too many more holiday celebrations. She began watching football games with him and discovered that by asking questions about the game, and engaging him on that level, she's been able to establish an important connection with him--a connection that has been missing all these years.
And she ended with this piece of advice:
We can't change the people in our lives, we just have to be happy that they are here.
Because, of course, one day they may not be, and then there's nothing we can do.