I was stringing lights on the tree the other night, when Cate grabbed my can of Diet Coke off the table, pressed it to her lips, said "Um" (yum without the "y"), and then dropped it on the floor.
And she didn't drop it in a she's-just-a-baby-it-was-an-accident kind of way. She dropped it in an I'm-totally-finished-with-this-thunk kind of way.
"Cate!" I shouted, as the fizzy drink oozed out. "No, no!" Then the next five minutes was a series of scolding, mopping, pleading with my husband to get the kids away from me because "I can't get anything done around here."
And that was the moment when I'd reached the point I promised myself I wouldn't get to. I knew this month would be like this: my husband's crazy travel schedule, my suddenly picked-up freelance work schedule, and well, Christmas. And I'd tried to be prepared, on-the-ball, organized. One step ahead.
And, really, I'd done a pretty good job of it. I was "taking care of business" as I like to say when I'm feeling proud of myself. I'd been feeling pretty cheery, too. Good busy, I call it.
So when I went all crazy mama over a can of spilled Diet Coke, I realized I had run out of margin. Crazy mama means I've drained my resources and entered a mental state that leaves no more room for error. I can't adjust or sway or roll with it another second.
And the minute I lose it—each time I feel like I've gone and lost my mind—I instantly feel silly for overreacting. But then I begin to feel better because I've released the energy I've been suppressing. I pull back, slow down, calm down, and start working to build the margin back in.
Recently, I read the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, and it really changed how I feel about the word balance:
I feel and fear that the lovely word 'balance' has accidentally become yet another weapon in the arsenal that we use against ourselves - yet another piece of evidence that WE ARE NOT DOING IT RIGHT.
She goes on to say:
Here's the thing about balance — it is, and maybe should be, a momentary and fleeting condition. We may reach it at certain instances, and it is glorious in those instances.
there's no shame in being mostly out of balance. That's kind of what it is to be alive.
When I finally got back to work on the Christmas tree, I realized I didn't have enough lights and couldn't finish the job, anyway.
And yesterday, when I looked at my to-do list (which included running to Target for more lights), I made a more realistic assessment of what really needs to happen (personally and professionally) before the holidays, and what will have to wait until the new year.
Then, I checked off the list in reverse order. I sat at my desk, drank coffee, caught up on emails and blog posts. I went to the post office and Target, and ate lunch by myself in the food court in the mall.
And through the course of this day of filling up, breathing and adding the margin back in, I felt a physical difference. It's funny how stress feels so real and forceful and permanent in the moment, but it turns out, just like balance, it can be fleeting too.
Last night, some neighbors and their newborn baby showed up at the door holding a bag of amazing homemade treats. We sat down on the floor in the foyer and talked while I held and loved on the baby. I'm not sure how that happened, how we ended up sitting down, right there on the floor—except that my living room was a mess because I was still trying to get the freaking lights on the tree. The visit was spontaneous and festive, and I felt the difference.
I felt the margin. The space. I want to live in that world most of the time, but I'm getting better about not beating myself up when I don't. When I can't. When balance feels impossible.
Later, after the kids went to bed, I sat down and had a beer. Yes I did. And then, my husband helped me string lights around the kitchen sink.
I joked that it looked like Snoopy's dog house. And the sight of it filled me up with a sense of joy and goodness, and I left them on all night (while simultaneously running up the electric bill).
Even in the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas, the characters are acting crazy through most of it. And then, Linus cues the lights and offers a gentle reminder of what Christmas is all about. Almost instantly, the mood is transformed.
When I'm losing it, it never feels that easy or simple. But maybe sometimes it really is that easy and that simple.