When I was a kid, I thought it would be great to be a grownup, because grownups got to do whatever they wanted to do, whenever they wanted to do it. Now don’t laugh, I know you all thought it too.
We all know better now. As adults, we get to direct the big picture more than we did as kids. Sometimes we even get to direct the little things. But I don’t think there’s a single part of life that you get to spend doing just what you’d like. There are always limitations and obstacles, and that’s more true in adulthood because there are so many more responsibilities. You do what you can, when you can, and you either make peace with it or you become, as my kids have taken to saying with great giggles, “Mr. Grumpy Pants.”
These days I find myself constantly having to regroup, redirect and re-organize my plans and expectations. I tell myself again and again, “It is what it is.” This summer, I took a hiatus from writing magazine features. Last summer I had myself tied in knots, trying to juggle four kids at home with the work, and I didn’t want to repeat that experience. Besides, I figured without the deadlines, I could finish my novel.
As you might imagine, it didn’t work out that way. As day after day passed, it became a mantra: It is what it is. I ratcheted my expectations downward, and didn’t meet them. Ratcheted them down again, and missed them again. We had no access to respite, and every time I had a sitter there were errands that had to be done. Kids bickered. Kids whined. I abandoned my work time again and again to break up their routine, trying to break the cycle of fighting and bad attitudes, and the attitudes retrenched. It is what it is. Face it and go on.
Someone–I don’t remember who, but it stuck with me–recently expressed how much they hate that phrase. I puzzled over this for a while, and I think perhaps the reason is the human need for control. This phrase, with its overtones of resignation, is an acknowledgment and acceptance of our lack of control. None of us like to be reminded that we don’t have a choice most of the time.
Actually, that’s not true. We do have a choice. The choice is to gnash our teeth and fight the inevitable, or to accept with some semblance of grace what cannot be changed, and look for an alternate solution.
To me, that’s what this mantra encapsulates. There’s an awful lot about my life that I can’t change. I can’t make Nicholas have a better attitude. I can’t stop Michael from wailing every time he doesn’t get his way (which is all the time, because he inevitably wants what someone else already has.) I can’t change the brutal school dropoff/pickup schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I can’t change the fact that Julianna needs hands-on help with all her homework.
The choices we’ve made were made for good reasons. If they come with side effects, well, I have to deal with it. Raging at the inevitable is just a recipe for misery. Multiple mother-writers have confirmed recently that this is absolutely, 100%, the hardest stage for juggling child-work responsibilities. It is what it is, and I will just keep doing the best I can with the time I have.