This morning I woke up to a sweet four-year-old face. I, alone, guessed what she might eat for lunch, cleaned up the yogurt squirted all over after arguing about why cookies aren’t a good option for breakfast, fought over flip flops or fast running shoes, pretended to be a hair stylist at a salon to get a brush through the tangles and acted like a flight attendant of my car just to leave the house. She and I sang happy songs and talked about puppies on the way to school and I walked her in and tried to set her day off to a good start with a giant hug before leaving to get busy with work.
You are probably smiling as you read this, because just this morning you likely had your very own version of this exact scenario. I smile when I think about it too, because tomorrow I’ll wake up and I won’t see that sweet face. I’ll crawl out of bed, it’ll be quiet. I’ll walk downstairs to take the dog out, and it’ll be quiet. The only sound in the kitchen is that of my coffee maker, pouring the caffeine I love to guzzle up in my favorite mug. I don’t explain that cookies aren’t for breakfast for the umpteenth time, I don’t conjure up some lunch concoction and there are no tangles to comb out. I embrace the solitude of being a single mom, and I’m still smiling.
When I think about the wave of life I’ve been surfing for 33 years now, there are countless things that didn’t turn out the way I planned. And I’m a planner. I like control, I like details and I like assurance. Throughout the last 10 years, I’ve struggled to accept what’s happened to me that I had no control over. That regardless of all the puzzle pieces of my plan I perfectly fit together, the table gets knocked and the pieces fall all over the floor. I picked them up each time, slower than the last, hesitating to put them back together fearful that they’d get knocked over again. Many tears of confusion I’ve cried. Why is this happening to me? What could I have done to prevent this? What part of the plan failed me? Where do I go from here?
It wasn’t until I came to grips with the fact that the more I tried to control, prevent, plan, organize or super glue those puzzle pieces in place, the more I set myself up for disappointment, fear and anxiety of what could happen. So, I decided to focus on what I know I can control. I learned that I’m in control of my own choices. I choose to laugh at things that give me joy, I choose to dedicate myself to work I love, I choose every day to wake up with a smile. I choose my own happiness.
I didn’t choose to be a single mom. In the puzzle of my life, that piece wasn’t part of it. And yet, here I am. I spent much of my marriage in fear of losing my marriage. Clinging on to the “will have a long lasting, happy, intimate, loving marriage” piece, and somewhere along the road replacing my happiness piece for it. My fear consumed my thoughts – what could I do better, how could I be a better wife, how could I make him love me more, how could I guarantee that he’d never leave and what would I do if he did? Always seeking assurance, affection, something I could hold on to. It was exhausting. In the 5 years my marriage lasted, I lost myself.
One Friday morning about 9 months ago, I was in a spin class at the gym. We’d been going hard for 45 minutes already, I was beat, sweaty and feeling accomplished. The instructor switched gears for the end of the class and told everyone to lighten the weight on the bike and just enjoy the ride, imagining your happy place. My daughter’s bright smile pops in my head. As I hear the beginning of Sweet Disposition, a song I’d long forgotten about but loved very much, my emotions start to whirl. The instructor tells the group to imagine there’s a line from the middle of your chest straight down below your belly button. The center of your core. That if you feel tired or ready to stop, you visualize that line and pull your energy from there. As I closed my eyes and breathed in as deep as I could, I imagined that line and I instantly felt an overwhelming burst of energy. With my eyes still closed, pedaling quickly, breathing deeply, I listened to her explain what it means to have intention. That maybe some people came to the class with the intention to burn calories, or to join a friend, or to get out of the office for a bit – that whatever the intention was every person in the class that day had one when they decided to show up.
And it hit me. I mean it hit me hard. I was pedaling faster at this point, eyes so tightly shut. My intention in this moment was… me. It made me happy to come to this class. I felt good about myself after I was done. I felt strong and healthy and proud. I started to think about only the things that made me happy. I envisioned riding my bike down a path through the forest, I imagined myself standing on the beach with the wind circling around me. And then I started thinking about all the things I loved about myself, for the first time in longer than I’m willing to admit. My intention that day was my happiness.
From that day on, I knew that there was only way to move forward. I knew that no matter how hard I tried to find happiness with my husband, the happiness I was seeking could only be found within myself. I imagined myself in one large swoop, throwing all the puzzle pieces to the floor. I was wiping my own slate clean. No expectations. I choose my own happiness. I choose my intention each day. I choose to make my own success at work. I choose to show my daughter that my strength comes from within.
For the past 5 months, I’ve focused on me. Just typing that out sounds selfish, I agree. But hear me out. I’ve come a long a way in adding all this up. Nothing is guaranteed, everything changes and we can’t control it. We can control our own happiness and the choices we make. The strength we have each day to make these choices comes from nowhere but our own line that runs from our chest down below our belly button. When we use that energy to keep us grounded, we can channel it to make choices that bring us happiness and strength in even the most trying situations.
Now don’t get me wrong, line or no line some things just suck. Am I sad that my marriage failed? Yes. Do I get frustrated when my daughter unrolls a whole roll of expensive wrapping paper and stomps on it while I’m in the shower? Uh, yeah. Do I feel defeated when she throws a tantrum and I don’t know how to help her? Every day. Am I overwhelmed some nights during bedtime when it feels like it’ll never end? Who isn’t. Am I lonely when she’s not around? Sometimes I am. Am I worried about missing out on the half of the life I don’t get to spend with her? I think about it many times a day. And some days I celebrate the end of by trying to get that very last drop of wine from the bottom of the bottle.
The freedom from this comes from intention. Bad things happen to us regardless of whether we want them to or not – but no matter what bad happens it can’t dictate your intention. Only you can do that. The puzzle pieces are scattered all over the floor every day for me and I think nothing of it, because none of them have anything to do with my intention of that day. Instead, I go back to that line. I give myself some love, I let myself feel the feels and I start to make my choices for the day.
The most rewarding part of finding this arsenal of power that lives in my midsection is that the single most important person in my life positively benefits from it every. single. day. When I live my day with intention, I have focus. I have clarity on what matters most – to me. And she does. I have the clarity to be the mother I want to be, to show her to stand strong, love big, smile often and fine, unroll the wrapping paper and stomp on it. Because as frustrating as it was for me, I’m able to see that she was channeling her inner energy – curiosity, playfulness, silliness. All things we lose as adults because we start to set expectations for ourselves, ignoring those traits that make us truly happy. Have you ever unrolled wrapping paper and jumped on it? You should try it sometime.