I’m a planner. A compulsive planner, actually. An obsessive, compulsive, list-making planner attempting to control my world at every turn. In some ways this tendency has been a positive force in my life. My ability to plan for every possibility without so much as batting an eyelash has made me an expert administrator in my career, and my ability to maximize every moment of every day through reflexive time management at all times has given me nearly superhuman powers of productivity in this incessant sprint of a marathon we call working momhood.
In other ways, though, this habit of mine can only be described as an obstacle to actually enjoying life. My constant need to function at a level of extreme efficiency has a way of putting a damper on some of the simple things in life like having fun, taking a night off from work, relaxing for a few minutes on my new front porch, getting my daughter dressed in the morning without using a stopwatch, catching up with my husband after several days of not seeing each other. You know, the basics (also known as the whole point of life), and as I careen toward the birth of my second child, I’m keenly aware of the misery my life may become if I fail to allow myself the space to savor this life expanding experience.
I’m also keenly aware that there is really no way I’ll survive a newborn sleep schedule, keep my job, not burn the house down, and not have a nervous breakdown without keeping myself accountable to a certain level of structure in my personal and professional affairs (particularly considering how frequently my husband’s job means I need to keep this circus running on my own).
How then, am I to find this fine line I know I need to walk?
On Saturday I threw my daughter the birthday party of her dreams – as in, she actually said “my birthday party was like a dream come true.” Peppa Pig cake, Hello Kitty piñata, art stations and play-dough stations, helium tank, popcorn machine, dozens of toddlers running around like maniacs all over the brand new house that she’s so proud of. I can’t remember ever seeing her so overwhelmed her with joy, and I did it all without a list. Not one single bullet point. And I think this was the key to my daughter’s experience – I approached the party as an expression of my love for her, as an expression of my desire for her to feel loved, as a super special day in which all of my rules and regulations and gosh darned discipline could just go out the window. Real candy in the piñata? Why not? An actual television character on her cake? Yep. A giant mound of presents with zero utility in her life but other than the generation of more fun? Yeah, even that too.
Then, on Sunday, I started having contractions. Not the uncomfortable but nothing more than a nuisance Braxton Hicks I’ve gotten so accustomed to, but intense, painful, no question about whether or not they’re real contractions. And while the planner in me freaked out and went rummaging for that list I wrote out a couple of months ago of everything I was supposed to have done before baby arrived, another less familiar part of me just smiled. Yes, I was having contractions a month sooner than planned. No, I had not yet cleaned out the baby’s closet or sent the most important final emails for work. But somehow I knew that everything was going to be okay. I forgot about the list, packed my bag for the hospital, sent the one most critical message to work, put away some of the little guy’s new clothes, then put my feet up and took a rest. Whatever was to be was out of my hands.
Somehow I sense that there is a connection here. Somewhere between the horde of children diving for candy without sustaining even one sugar related injury and the way this flurry of changes and aches and surprising bouts of swelling within my body suddenly funnel perfectly into a millennia old moment of half hope and half fear, somehow I find myself accepting that I have no control.
Maybe the connection is a growing appreciation of the potential for the spiritual fulfillment within the liminal space I’ve been swinging around in for the past few weeks as I watch one child growing and feel another child being born.
Or maybe the connection is entirely practical and of this world – maybe it’s as simple as other people. The party wasn’t a success because I didn’t make a list; it was a success because I had lots of help. And I didn’t spin out about the contractions because I was too busy talking them through with family and friends.
I know from experience that the spiritual atmosphere created through liminality is not likely to stick around long after the threshold has been crossed. Soon enough I’ll be elbows deep in dirty diapers and so sleep deprived that meditation will become just another word for nap. Even though I hope, of course, to hang onto some of the spiritual principles that have taken root during this pregnancy, I know my only chance of that will be to remember that even when I’m left as the only ringmaster in the tent, I’m never, ever in the midst of a one-woman show.