October is a month of triggers for me. It has always been the month when I find it the hardest to balance work and home, it's the month when I storm around a lot, angrily stomping my feet and shaking my head. The newness of September has worn off, the weather gets darker and colder and wetter. Work ramps up to an eleven. And then, there's parent night, PTO dues, some field trip that I can't chaperone and forgot to sign the permission slip for.... just looking at the calendar is enough to cause chest pains. I start out with great resolve that this October will be different from all of the Octobers before it. But by mid October you can find me inhaling into the lunch bag that I forgot to put into my son's backpack and arriving at work with one blue shoe and one red shoe.
My self-directed agitation and anger at my lack of ability to balance my work and my life always peaks in October. I pull out of the top of the street and head to the train and look longingly at the women taking a morning walk down the streets in groups of 2s and 3s. They've got it all figured out. They chose to work in the home and raise their kids full time. They've got October licked. None of them are inhaling into lunch bags and all of their sneakers match.
Then one night, a couple of Octobers ago, I bumped into Donna at a local restaurant. She had been my next-door neighbor for almost 10 years. I was meeting friends and got there early, Donna was also waiting for her girlfriends to arrive. We were excited to have a minute to catch up. I was coming in flustered from a long day at work and amazed that I had made it to the restaurant at all. While I really did want to see my friends, I had that back of the throat, how can I fit this in, I have so much crap to do, feeling. I had that, HOW the?/WHY the? hell did I think I could do this feeling.
And then Donna got close and whispered. "I am so envious of you." (record scratch…) "You got to leave the neighborhood every day and go to work." She continued to share, "I never told you this but sometimes, I would stand at the front door and I would cry when I watched you pull out of your driveway."
And, I turned to her and said – "sometimes I would choke down the tears when I was pulling away, looking back seeing you at the bus-stop with all of the neighborhood kids made me miserable."
I just sat there, dumbfounded at my own myopic idea that her choice was better than mine or that her choice had made things easier for her - at my own wrong-headed idea that she had October all figured out. Turns out, everyone at some point has that how the/why the hell did I think I could do this feeling.
I never even considered that she would feel that way. I actually never considered that any of my friends who had chosen to raise kids as their full time occupation would be envious of me pulling out of the neighborhood. My own Mother once commented that she would never want to change lives with me. She was a Mom who chose raising kids are her primary occupation and she is still doing it today at 76 (but that’s a story for another day). I only considered that I was the one missing out and unable to balance things because I was working outside of the house. That moment with Donna was a huge turning point for me. It helped me with my October malaise. It gave me the pause I needed. I needed to stop storming around and stop being angry.
Since then whenever I have been triggered, in October or any other month by the work/life balance bug, I have thought about that moment. It gave me so much. I felt a deep kinship with my women friends where before I always felt different. More importantly, it gave me the ability to pause, to create a space between anger and action. Now, when I look down at my un-matching shoes, I can laugh rather than storm back to the closet. Rather than feel like I am missing out on all of the important things at school, I asked my kids to tell me what things are most important to them, what activities do they want me to attend? And, then, I make it to those.
I have learned that the only way to build that space between a trigger and an action is to have the patience to take a breadth, pause and recognize the trigger for as exactly what it is. Build that pause by cultivating patience and in doing that, I can cultivate deep self compassion.
For months now we've been working on 30-day challenges - saying NO for 30, then YES for 30, practicing being good enough and savoring the best moments. I would love you to join me in a 30-day practice to cultivate patience. It's the way I am going to get through October. Or maybe, I'll just put on a pair of different colored shoes and be okay with that too.
Cultivating patience doesn’t imply becoming apathetic
or succumbing to feelings of powerlessness.
Patience is peaceful awareness in the midst of weathering life’s storms,
giving us the ability to go on in the face of adversity.