Letting Go

The most helpful piece of writing advice I received in my grad school program was “Lower your expectations.” Yesterday, a good friend and newly certified yoga teacher (and fellow writer) suggested I revise this to “Let go of your expectations,” since lowering implies a value judgment. I agreed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations recently. Not in regards to my writing so much, but more in how my plans for the day affect my parenting. Despite almost two months of my son showing me otherwise, I’ve continued to wake up in the morning as I did pre-fatherhood, thinking that I can control the day. Even before sitting down for breakfast, I’ve composed a mental list of things I “need” to get done in between caring for Felix.

But on days like yesterday, when hours were passed holding and bouncing a fussy, sleepless baby, most of the items on my list go undone. And you know what? That’s ok. Because caring for my son is more than enough. So what if I didn’t clean the bathroom or mop the floor, or if the washing machine was still chugging away when my friend came over for dinner? In the grand scheme of things, these aren’t such a big fucking deal, but still they pull at me.

I’ve skirted around this subject matter before, but it’s something that continues to plague both S and I. Before Felix, our days were typically a blur of activity. Even a lazy Sunday might mean home cooked meals, gardening, writing, progress made on projects, making calls, etc etc. Even a nap was a “to-do.” The only time we let the day just run its course—allowing meals to spread out long and leisurely, whiling away hours reading, doodling, or lounging in the sun—was on vacation. And that’s what we’re on now. The first and perhaps only extended vacation we’ll ever take as a family. We’re fortunate to both have time off to spend with this beautiful, cool little kid, yet we have to keep reminding ourselves that he’s not another chore to fit in among the other tasks we think we have to accomplish.

I don’t think that we’re unusual, or that we’re anal-retentive overachieving perfectionists (ok, maybe some of the latter applies). After all, the urge to go go go comes at us all the time. For the contemporary parent, raising a child becomes just another line to add to the job description, another task to fit into an already busy day. But when you think of it that way, you miss the whole point.

Spending time with Felix isn’t a chore (if it were, it’d be a Sisyphean one). It’s easy to worry how I can fit him seamlessly into my life, what with all the other things that feel important to me. I don’t have this figured out yet and can see how it’s going to be an ongoing balancing act, probably for years. But seeing how he lives his life moment by moment helps slow me down and makes me appreciate that I’ll never have a 7 1/2 week old Felix to hold in my arms again. Even when he’s bawling his eyes out, when you think of the fleetingness of time, even his puss faces are beautiful.

So last night, when S and I handed Felix off to our friend and popped out for a drink, I let go of my expectations on both the small scale—forgetting about what I had or had not done during the day—and on the large scale—not worrying about my nonexistent career or what I want to do with my life. I let it all go, until I came home to a pile of unwashed dishes, and unfolded laundry, and a drowsy baby who started shrieking as soon as we started the pre-bedtime bath. This letting go is going to take some practice!

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