Disappointments from childhood are the most complicated to unpack. I say this without reservation and with total authority.
When I was twelve, my mother was diagnosed with a (then) rare but very treatable form of cancer. It shook us all to our core since she was the one who “lived clean”–juxtaposed against my Dad–she had no history of drinking, didn’t smoke, avoided the sun. We found out that it had also metastasized (spread) and she was going to have to have surgery to remove the cancer and aggressive treatments of iodine therapy to remove anything left. During iodine therapy she couldn’t have visitors and couldn’t touch certain types of people so I could not see her. The therapy coincided with a pre-planned annual vacation we were to take, so my father decided instead of being home and not visiting my mother we would go and I would bring a friend with me.
This period was one of the hardest of my youth. I could go into it for days, but that’s for another day… I was so sad, so lost, so effected by all the converging events happening during this time that they all were tied up in the change of this stupid vacation.
So that’s one example of my relationship with change and it doesn’t get better from there.
As an adult I’ve been very lucky to enjoy vacations with my husband alone as well as family vacations with our children. I treasure the latter even more now as they have gotten older and more fun to be with and family time is more precious as we all start going in different directions. This spring break we were planning an annual trip for all of us to go to the USVI. My husband has been managing some non-life threatening health conditions that make him quite uncomfortable and effect his quality of life in major ways but he has been working towards the goal of improving for this trip.
Well, you know that saying about best laid plans… This week–less than one week before we are to leave–it became clear he should probably not travel. He and I both went through varying stages of denial around this until finally last night we decided he would not go. I didn’t handle this well. I became that twelve year old girl again whose life was chaos. And I wanted to protect my children from the impending chaos I was certain they were fated to experience… I did, certainly they would too… Right?
Wrong. My nine year old son, on his own, said: “this is supposed to be a family vacation, I don’t want to go without Jay.” My daughter on the other hand, saw this as an opportunity to have alone time with her mom in the Caribbean. I’m not quite as adaptable. I couldn’t (and to some extend still am having a hard time with) transitioning and adapting to this new change in plans. Instead of focusing on the selfless gesture of my son (nice job, Mom), the opportunity to be one-on-one with my daughter, not to mention the fact that my husband will be more comfortable at home. I thought about seeing other families on vacation, how I would be missing my other halves, how all the things I was looking forward to doing with all of us would not be happening… So although all these things are possible–and even true, in fact–by focusing on them I was (and am) making it impossible to be open to finding new opportunities for joy within the change. And if that’s true of this situation, perhaps it’s true in other instances of change.
Now, who likes change…Even positive change? Most of us are creatures of habit, so I would wager practically no one. It’s scary, it’s unknown and often it comes out of nowhere. But there are ways to realize joy if we are open to it. My son knows that. He’s NINE. He’s spending the week with my husband and they are going to watch movies and sports, eat ice cream, play video games and baseball and hang “like men.” Because he not only embraced changed… he INITIATED it.
We are supposed to guide our children and coach them through tough decisions and moments. This time he coached me. I’m not only proud, I’m humbled by his maturity and I’m convinced we are not all born automatically resistant to change. So I’m optimistic this too can change in me.