"I just don't feel like myself. I feel like a fox being stuffed into the body of a falcon."
When this is what your kid says, after a hard OT session, on the Monday of spring break, it's time to shake things up.
Sometimes, we just don't feel like ourselves. Sometimes it takes a six year old saying something awesome to remind us that he is as prone to that weird, stretched-thin, aching in your own skin feeling, as any teenager or thirty-eight-year-old.
And when it happens, even when you know that the reason for the feeling is likely the rhythm-less world of spring break, when there is no school, and nothing is like it usually is, and there's been too much screen time and not enough time outdoors or sleeping, even then, it calls for letting go a little more, so you can bounce back into yourself.
Eating ice cream for dinner.
And when it was suggested, that we get ice cream, the brow unfurrowed, the eyes sparkled, the gap-toothed smile came back.
The sun came out.
And when the first stop doesn't have pecans? Do you settle?
Drive to the next ice cream shop, and order what you really wanted.
Yes, children require rhythm, wholesome food, fresh air and deep sleep. We all do.
They also require deep listening, and moments of puckish, topsy-turvy delight. We need those, too.
I needed ice cream for dinner, and now I can face the day-to-day, the laundry and the tidying and the endless dust bunnies.
When you are a fox, being forced to be a falcon hurts. But being invited to fly? That's joy.
Last week, I got news I didn't want, news that a hope was in vain, that something I'd been working for and praying for was not to be, not now.
It was a hard week, made harder when my poor dog had to have 13 teeth pulled instead of one, and we didn't know until it was done because of a misread phone number.
This weekend, I was in a tailspin. A conversation with my dad about my future made me cry in a restaurant, and I had a terrible time sleeping. Last night, all I could think of was how a child had slipped away from my group last year at camp, and even though she was found unhurt, and unfrightened, in our own classroom, I was sure that I will never be hired again. Anywhere.
Last night it snowed. Today, the earth and sky are the same color. Today, the kind words of all the parents whose children have honored me with their trust are almost loud enough to drown out my clamoring fears.
I'm trying to envision a new possibility, one I hardly dare to hope for. One where I share with parents and teachers more about how to make storytelling the heart of a life together. One where my family is supported through my employing my true gifts.
The snowfall gives us a fresh start on spring. The thirsty earth has a drink of cold, fluffy, crystal-spun water. Where I am, the flowers are still tucked into their dreaming beds. Maybe this snow can be their awakening.
Typing this now is going to make us late. That's okay. Because this week, I will be gentler. I will trust that things are unfolding as they must. I will cling to stories of phoenixes and ravens, fire and water of life and death. I will walk in the soon-to-melt snow with my still-trusting hound dog, and I will learn from him.
A fresh start on the week, Monday morning. You aren't behind yet. Stop. Look around. Here you are at the beginning. Choose love over fear, delight over dullness, gentleness over regret.
My brain lies to me. It tells me I have nothing to say. That there is nothing of value that I could put here. That my life, my stories, are better kept to those who already know and love me, who will overlook my faults because they are good, kind people.
My brain says there is no sense in writing at all. It says my words are unoriginal and trite and of no worth to anyone, not even to me.
It whispers that there is no sense trying to change anything. That I am a terrible mother. That I shouldn't have nice things -- I'll just ruin them.
When I am running late because I took the time to feed the birds, or to do one more thing for my child, or to take a shower when there really weren't enough minutes between 7:15 and 8:00 to fit in those activities, my brain tells me what a failure I am. How disrespectful of others. How selfish and unthinking. How I couldn't plan my way out of a paper bag, or if I did make a plan, how I would never be able to follow it through.
My brain tells me I will never have my own classroom again, because I failed before, and there is no sense in anyone hiring me because I will just mess up again.
And maybe, really, these aren't technically lies, because they are a little true. All of those things are true. I will fail again. I do make mistakes, big ones. I have moments of selfishness and cruelty and self-indulgence.
But they aren't the whole truth.
It is also true that I am a fantastic teacher. That the kids I spend time with are as lucky to be around me as I am to be around them. That I am a great mother and partner. That I really care about others. That I deserve nice things. That showering, writing, eating delicious healthful food, meditating, feeding the birds -- they're worth the time.
I am trying this Lent, to be more consciously loving. To be more kind. That includes me. Kindness means telling the truth, gently. Kindly. And telling the light and the darkness, the good as well as the bad. Not just the heavy, the sharp, the painful.
It's true that it's cold, and snowy, and winter has been weird and long, and yet not as cold nor nearly as snowy as last year. And it's also true that spring is coming.
My brain lies to me about a lot of things.
We have a tendency, we humans, to look for evidence of what we already believe to be true. Statistics can be bent to tell a lot of different stories. I want to learn to look for evidence of kindness, of goodness, of the growing beauty of the world.
The thing that does a pretty good job of shutting my brain up, is to take steps when it's not looking. When my brain is busy, and not yelling abuse at me, I do things that confirm my growth. I look for ways to delight my child and spouse. I sign up for, and follow through on, online courses that will build my skills as a teacher and a writer. I make phone calls, pay bills on time, send emails. I have to take action before I can think myself out of it. Once I do, I can point to the action and say, No, Brain, look. You are only telling part of the story.
What if we told stories that left us in the forest, the dungeon, the belly of the wolf, the tomb? What if we still told children, Red Riding Hood was a bad child, was eaten by the wolf, and that was the end of the story? What if Vasilisa went into the forest, and we left her in Baba Yaga's house? What if Lent, and Good Friday, were the end of the story? How could we go on?
Maybe your brain lies to you, too. Maybe it tells you awful things, hurts you, tells you the trauma you endured as a child or as an adult was your fault. Tell it the rest of the story.
Someone once told me that we only remember nightmares because we wake up. If we stayed asleep, we'd find our way out of the pain or fear or awful distortion, back into safety, and remember nothing of the struggle when we woke. I tell my son, that when he wakes with a bad dream, he has the power to finish the story in a beautiful, funny, safe-feeling way. We tell the story of the dream together sometimes.
We all have the power to finish the dream, to tell the end of the story, to find the other half of the truth. Sometimes, we can only stick with it, hoping and trusting that there is another side, another part of the story, more to come that will make it okay.
This may not work right away, and it may not work for big, awful things over which I have no control, but it can make it easier to be myself, and to get through the day with some sense of goodness intact, even if it's just a tiny spark.
It can take a while for my brain to quiet down enough that I can talk over the lies. Days or weeks, even. But eventually, the other part of the story, the other side of the truth breaks free of the netting of despair and bursts back into the light. Let's help it to come forth. Keep whispering, singing, shouting the other part of the dream, the other half of the truth, the happy ending.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.