Earlier this season I traveled to Central NY to attend a memorial service marking the one year anniversary of the death of one of our elder family members. I hadn’t originally planned for Zachary to join me, but when his Father had to travel South for a different funeral on that same day, we decided Zachary accompanying me and heading North was the best option.
I have shared Zach’s love of travel in my writing. He can ride in the car for 12 hours, and still object when we get off the highway to rest. He loves to be on the road, and loves hotels, mostly getting there, and then when we arrive he is ready to make the next plan. I’m not sure if he likes that we are all in one place, or the change of scenery or if he is just open to adventure. Either way asking Zach to get in the car for a road trip is not something I ever have to ask him to do twice.
It was a sunny June morning when we attended the intimate and respectful gathering at the cemetery. Our hotel was near-by and I decided to spend some down time with Zach while others were getting settled for a luncheon at the home of my Uncle. I consider this to be an important lesson learned: Zach has a shelf life for tolerating social gatherings so plan ahead.
It’s as if Zach has a reservoir of patience for interacting in social situations. (Who doesn’t?) When it is depleted, all hell can break loose and we find ourselves in meltdown city. Objects fly, things get broken, spilled, people get injured and there is no getting that horse back into the barn once we are on “Lose-Our-Shit” Lane. So with great care and attention, I have learned how to replenish that reservoir of patience, and also look for warning signs that we are approaching full TILT mode.
When we departed the cemetery, we didn’t go straight to my Uncle’s house. We did the replenishment thing instead: we went to Target. For whatever reason, Zach’s reservoir of patience gets a bump from shopping (I don’t think he is alone!) and I have learned to look for pockets of time to restock the patience in between the times we have to act right. This learning came painfully, but I am still grateful for it. And on this day, I knew a trip around the big “Bull’s Eye” store would buy us some tolerance on the back end of our day.
So in we went, taking the usual tour. Zachary likes to shop by department: He peruses the $1 section when we enter the store. He then likes to look at the games and puzzles, followed by a trip down the isle of books just near the toy section. If he’s in the mood we walk around the food sections too, where he occasionally picks something out. It’s usually candy, and I am usually the one to eat it.
Our Target tour on this day was uneventful. We went in to blow off a little steam, did that, and then wrapped it up and went to the hotel to feed him and freshen up before heading to the lunch.
Zach is so handsome. I know I am him mom, and am therefore terribly biased. But he is very special looking because he is 23 but is so small at just 70 lbs. There is a wisdom in his mature face, a weathering that I have learned to admire when I observe him.
Zach was especially handsome this day, dressed for formality, freshly shaven and showered (not an easy process, btw.). I asked where he would like to have his tube feeding. He pointed to the bed, and I brought his phone and headphones for him.
So Zach is sitting atop the hotel bed, looking dapper, excited to make our next plan. And I am sitting next to him preparing his syringes and flushes, as I have done thousands of times. His usual feed is six, 60-cc syringes and he likes to get them done fast. That way, we can hurry along with the next “plan.”
A syringe or two of a bolus feed in, just like that, the syringe catheter tip popped right out of the infusion port. I sprayed his preppy pressed golf shirt, clean shaven face, the white bed, and my own dressy clothes with the sticky, predigested formula that has kept Zach alive for two decades. It happened so fast. I braced myself as I am well-trained to do, for impending violence, tantrums, and consequences of my cluzt-i-ness. Zach reacts differently depending on what else he has going on during these moments. So I looked him right in the formula covered eyes and took a deep breath.
And then this magical thing happened. There were seconds, during which it felt like time had stopped. Zach and I locked eyeballs, I looked at him, he looked at me, and at the very same time we both smiled. It was a shared smile connecting us and simultaneously letting us both off the hook. “Oops!” I said to Zach as we both sat there stunned by the sticky mess. “Isn’t it funny that after all these years your mom can still make a mess of things! Let’s get some towels…”
It was an opportunity for disaster, and also a chance for a good laugh. Together, we chose the latter. It was a chance to choose laughter instead of tragedy. One moment we were clean and dressed up, and in an instant we were a hot sticky mess. We had a choice: Make the situation worse by bringing all of the pain and frustration of clumsily doing this so many times over the years to that moment, or marvel at how silly and messy we were in an instant.
The driving forces behind making this choice: to suffer or to laugh together, are complicated. They have to do with Zach’s threshold for bullshit, and mine. Meaning in any given moment, we may or may not have the tools to manage to go for the laugh instead of the suffering.
But on this day, we responded in parallel, like a well-oiled machine. We were all reservoired up, having just been to Target. So we could handle it. And it turns out that creating these little spaces which allow for patience replenishment to occur may just be the best kept secret in the Universe. It’s a lesson in non-resistance.
We didn’t break the levy of stress or the grief threshold, and fly into victim mode (which looks something like: “This always happens! We can’t get a break! It’s bad enough we are here for a sad occasion, now we are a mess. I give up. I can’t do this anymore. UGH!”). We simply had the spaciousness, the slowing of time, to decide how we would respond. And this spaciousness is a game changer. Not always possible, but a compelling best practice nonetheless.
Obviously we didn’t get to my Uncle’s exactly when we’d planned. And when I got the “check-in” text from my mom to see if we were ok, I wholeheartedly replied “All good, be there soon” and got sorted out. Then we we were on our way, with some patience to spare, which we would definitely need later that day.
These gaps are magical. Don’t feel poverty stricken if you have no idea what I am talking about. Just look for them, see if you can find a choice point today that arises, and challenge yourself to actually choose the thing that is good for you, instead of the fast, rushed, technology overloaded fried out decision that you arrive at from living in an overstimulated, chronically exhausted ecosystem.
Fear not. There are plenty of blunders throughout the day that can help us sharpen our pausing skills. Keep a sense of humor and whenever possible, lock eyeballs with the person you are with, and together, smile. Smile and even laugh, because in recognizing we have the choice, we begin to ask ourselves, why not laugh at our own humanity? It seems preferable to the alternative which is to unleash a Mock-10 self-esteem attack instead, which doesn’t really help the situation anyway.
Let us know how you notice your choice points, and how you may opt for the laugh, instead of falling into victimhood. And look for the pauses, they are everywhere.