If you were to sum what the inside of my head is like in two words, those words would be what if.
What if the reason my husband is late getting home is because he was in a car accident?
What if I haven’t received a reply to that email because no one received it?
What if they received the email, didn’t like it, and are now angry at me?
What if they received the email, and they reply soon and I have to do something about it?
What if I haven’t heard from that friend in a while because I said something that upset her without realizing it?
What if I had said or done something different in 1993 and managed to avoid that stupid fight back in high school?
What if I call someone and once they’re on the phone I forget what I wanted to say and I sound ridiculous?
It’s not all bad, though. Sometimes I what if about things that might be considered positive.
What if everyone loves this blog post?
What if my kids totally rock at school and everyone loves them?
What if I really love the tap dancing classes that are starting this month?
What if I get around to writing that book proposal I’ve been sitting on for ages?
What if I have a lot more free time now that both kids are in school?
What if I get sushi for dinner so that I don’t have to cook tonight?
What if I get some new furniture for my living room?
Whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the what ifs aren’t really positive for me. In either case, they take me away from what’s actually happening around me, and focus my attention on intangible outcomes in the future. Or, in some cases, they focus my attention on events long past that I can do absolutely nothing about right now. When I’m caught up in all the what if thoughts, I’m not present in my life as it is right now.
Sometimes I describe myself as ‘delightfully neurotic’. Really, this is shorthand for saying that I’m an anxious person. The truth is I more or less always have been. I remember, at six years old, sobbing because I had to make a phone call. When I started swimming lessons my mother had to carry me kicking and screaming to the car because I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do, since I didn’t know how to swim. For as long as I can remember I’ve been overly invested in outcomes, worrying about what would happen next. It’s why I read the end of the book first – only when I know how it’s going to turn out can I relax and enjoy the ride.
I can see the my daughter Hannah shares some of my anxieties. The first thing out of her mouth every morning is a question about what is going to happen that day. She wants to know what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner, when we’ll go and buy her Halloween costume, and what time we’ll be leaving to go grocery shopping. I can understand how she feels, and at this point I’ve mostly stopped blaming myself for passing this trait along. I’m not sure I ever could have avoided it, and the truth is that I have a pretty happy and fulfilling life. I know my daughter can, too.
Sometimes I wonder, though. What if I didn’t spend so much time wondering what if? (The irony of this question is not lost on me.) How would my life be different if I looked at what was in front of me right now, instead of what may be in front of me later, or what was in front of me that one day 12 years ago? I don’t know. With September here, though, I can’t ignore that 2013 is starting to tick away. Since my word for this year is presence, I really would like to focus on spending less time on the what ifs.
The good news for me is that I actually have the space in my life right now to be more present. As I near the end of the first week of having two kids in school, I am beginning to see how this transition will impact my life. I am spending more time alone. It actually feels a little bit like when I was working in an office. I have more control over the little ways my day is structured. I can eat lunch when I’m hungry, and choose food I like. I can take time to make a cup of tea, or stand up and stretch. I can listen to my music and choose when I take breaks. This is giving me the ability to connect more with my own rhythms, to breathe a little deeper, and to sink into the present moment.
Of course, I still have things to do. I still have work that takes up my time, deadlines to meet, extra-curricular activities to shuttle the kids to, and multiple obligations competing for my time and attention. The shift is there, though, and I can feel it. For today, I’m doing my best to just be here, and let it seep under my skin. I want to fully inhabit this space before I make plans about what to do with it, or descend into all the what ifs about what it means to have school age children. For this moment, I’m doing my best to just be.
What if it turns out I’m good at it?
What if I’m not?
What if I stop asking, allow this blog post to stand, and eat some lunch?
For today I’ll choose option three.