I recently tried to sync my phone and couldn’t because it was too full. I couldn’t even update my podcasts because of all the pictures and videos taking up space — so I had to pare down. I opened my laptop and plugged my phone in so I could save everything in iPhoto, and then stared at my phone. Deciding which photos and videos to save and which to delete was a challenge: what if I had a few minutes on the subway and wanted to look at pictures from a few years ago? I wasn’t ready.
It took me two days to start going through everything, and I had more than 2300 pictures and videos of my daughters. I went through every single one of them. My partner Johnny and I spent hours laughing and remembering how tiny our daughters once were. We oohed and ahhed over pictures of me pregnant, and pictures of our daughters as newborns. And then I did it: I deleted the photos, and put the phone down.
I’m involved in a Book Club with a few co-workers. We usually read books about management and leadership, and meet every week or so to talk about them. We recently read Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. There was a passage (found on page 203) that really struck me:
“For many of us, the happiest future is one that’s precisely like the past, except a little bit better.”
Reading this on the subway a couple weeks ago, I was suddenly wide awake. I sat up and whipped out my yellow highlighter.
“We’re good at visualizing this future, and if we think it’s not going to happen, we get nostalgic for it. This isn’t positive visualization, it’s attachment of the worst sort. We’re attached to an outcome, often one we can’t control.”
I swallowed hard. This described me at my very worst. I thought of the many times in my life I had been completely undone by nostalgia for the future. Like the time I was dumped by a boyfriend I now refer to as “the meathead.” For so many reasons, this guy was not the one for me, but he broke up with me first and I was heartbroken. All I could think about was that honeymoon phase when he could do no wrong. Back then we had so much potential. In our early days, we’d fantasized aloud about marriage, kids, a home and a life together. A year later and we were done with each other, but I could not get past the fact that we once both thought we were in love. Why aren’t we like this anymore? I asked myself over and over. Why can’t we fix it? I’ll work harder. We were there. Don’t leave me — I know we can get back there! It was just so hard to let go of the future I had envisioned with him, even if I knew it couldn’t ever happen.
When I was pregnant with one of my daughters, who I’ll call T, I assumed I was carrying a normal, healthy baby girl. She looked perfect when she was born (and still does). When she was less than a day old, I held her in my arms and talked to her — like I did her sister. I told her how much we wanted her, how loved she was, how her whole life was ahead of her. I read to her from my favorite books and dreamed of all she would do and see and become.
“If you had a chance to remake your life with a wish, what would you wish for?”
I wish that my daughter didn’t have cerebellar hypoplasia. I wish she had a normally developed cerebellum and pons, like everyone else. I wish she could walk and talk like other toddlers. I wish that at barely nineteen months of age she didn’t have the busiest schedule in the family with occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapies every day.
If I could remake my life with one wish… I can’t even complete that sentence.
“The stressful part is the hoping. Hoping against hope that your plane will arrive, that you won’t miss it, that your seat won’t be given away, that you won’t crash, that you’ll land close to on time. Hoping that the surgery will turn out okay. Hoping that your boss won’t yell at you. All of this is nerve-wracking for many people.”
Do you ever do this? It is so me. Running late for work, I am sweating bullets, pulling at my hair, squirming in my seat on the subway. I have a half-hour train ride, and bouncing up and down like a four-year-old needing to pee isn’t going to change the fact that it is still a half-hour ride. I can’t possibly get there any faster. I may as well relax and listen to music, read my book, review my notes for the meetings I have that day, or just close my eyes and enjoy my commute. But no. I am twisted in knots, driving myself crazy, worked up into a frenzy, as if this self-torture will exonerate me from my tardiness. It’s insanity.
“And the reason is your nostalgia for the future. You’ve fallen in love with a described outcome, and at every stage along the way, it appears that hope and will and effort on your part might be able to maintain the status quo.”
Boom. Propelled forward by this notion that if I just hope it hard enough, will it hard enough and put enough effort into her recovery, I have been trying to “fix” my daughter.
It’s been a long six months since the MRI revealed what it did, changing our lives forever. I am still sad. Looking at her newborn pictures, unable to delete them, I thought about how little I knew then. If only I knew then what I know now, I’d… what? What, indeed? I have no reason to feel any differently now. She puckers up and leans in for kisses now. They are wet and sloppy but they are delicious. I can hear her voice in my head: Mama, I need you now. Stop trying to fix everything. I’m here now. Enjoy me now. Love me now.
So I am letting go of my nostalgia for the future. I know grief is a normal part of the process, but enough is enough. I don’t want to be crippled by what will never happen and what might never have happened anyway. I know deep down that the future I envisioned holding my newborns is as unlikely to happen for one daughter as much as it is the other — just because nothing ever works out exactly the way you think it will. And what more do I really know, anyway?
I know that so far, parenting has taught me that I have control over absolutely nothing. What I can do is focus on what needs to be changed in myself instead.
This morning, I had a few rare moments with T all to myself. I sat on the floor and held her in a standing position by her hips while she and I stuck out our tongues and blew raspberries. We laughed together until her legs buckled and she put her arms out for me to hold her. I held her tight and she held me tighter. “Mamamamamama,” she murmured. I breathed her in and felt present with her in the moment, just holding her and loving her for who she is right now.
So maybe it’s safe to delete some of these pictures. I want to make space for new ones anyway.