Sunday, June 3, 2012

Everything you need

Last weekend, we had a housewarming party.  It was the confluence of all the rivulets of love in our life: friends and family, neighbors and classmates, colleagues and former colleagues, softball teammates and book club members. From three generations of Paula's family to Rebecca's best friend since birth, we were swimming in a sea of joy.

As throwing a party is not something I often do, and as I love to cook for a crowd, I approached the date with great anticipation.  I spent weeks planning.  I stayed up late at night, pulling recipes from Cooks Illustrated and Martha Stewart, creating shopping lists in Excel (with a "category" column for Type A shopping), making a schedule of what was to be done each night leading up to the party.  Buy avocados; shred cheese; juice limes; make pie crust.  The little cells in my spreadsheet swelled with a sense of purpose.

A week before the party, we announced some big changes at work.  I went from an individual contributor to a manager with direct reports in three countries overnight.  I promptly earned my new team's confidence and respect by coming into work for a grand total of four hours that week.  My bones ached, my throat swelled, my nose plugged itself shut.  I lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling because turning pages of Bossypants seemed too hard.  Thursday morning, I croaked my way through a 5AM all-hands meeting with the team in Israel, then curled up in a ball on the carpet with a fleece blanket over me.  The columns of my spreadsheet, each labeled with a day of the week, sat patiently waiting for me to get off my ass and chop something.  "Up and to the right", I kept saying to myself; but as the days marched to the right, I just couldn't get up.

Thursday night, my sinuses finally started to clear.  Paula came over.  "We'll get it done," she said.  I wasn't so sure.  My to-do's went from cell A1 to G23.  It wasn't possible.

So arrived the pivotal and predictable moment when it was time to redefine the "it" that would get done.  The moment of epiphany that our guests would not care whether they were having homemade key lime bars for dessert or Chips Ahoy.  The moment when the pie chart of "want" vs. "need" got refreshed and we relaxed into the realization that everything on that list, up to and including the party itself, was optional.

I am a sucker for wants masquerading as needs.  They fool me every time.  And yet the ability to distinguish the two spells the difference between a life of stress and one of equanimity.  Most of us run ourselves ragged with the list of things we "have to do", only to realize that very little of it is either necessary or all that satisfying.  Imagine if all the anger and anxiety associated with that to-do list got channeled into something positive.  What a wonderful world this would be.

Re-learning this lesson in the days leading up to the housewarming party was timely, as I am two weeks away from another two-week trip to Israel- this time with my kids and my mother in tow.   The plan is that I'll work during the day while Mom, who has been to Israel many times, explores with the girls.  We'll take a long weekend in the middle of the trip to go away together.

It's the opportunity of a lifetime - and yet traveling with kids is like the challenge round on a game show called Wheel! Of! Patience!  When people ask what we're doing this summer, I say with enthusiasm, "I'm taking the kids to Israel!" but the reality is that I'm stressed about it.  Their presence doesn't exempt me from productive days at the office, but it does mean that going running in the morning, collapsing into a chair at night, or catching up with Paula on Skype will be a lot harder.  They're good travelers, but that doesn't mean they won't be crabby, hot, jetlagged, bored, picky at the dinner table or at war with each other - and happy to let you know about it.  In other words, they're still kids.  For my mom, who doesn't live with this every day, will two weeks as their primary adult be exhausting?

So it's time to reset.  To remember that just being there constitutes an adventure.  To allow the trip to unfold organically, and to remind ourselves that whatever we see, do, or experience is perfect - even if it doesn't match the itinerary.  This isn't to say we won't set our intentions- only that we need to detach from the outcome.

Aided by a Costco-sized dispenser of what my younger daughter calls "hansitizer", we managed to pull together a glorious feast last Saturday.  I wore a new yellow dress I loved.  I baked the tamale pie I'd prepared, while Paula served up her famous chicken tacos.  I walked among our guests passing out key lime bars- feeling more like June Cleaver than like a workaholic mom for once, and loving every minute of it.  Every time another guest came through our door, I beamed.  I was reveling in the extended family that has made our life in California, thousands of miles from my own mother and sister, such a beautiful thing.

Mr. Jagger was right - you can't always get what you want - but if you try sometimes, you do.

Here's a poem for you, to close out this post.  When I'm way out of balance, I find myself repeating the first two lines.

Everything You Need


Everything you need is right before you.
You will find it in the corners when you sweep.


Take out the broom from behind the coats in the entryway.
Bring what you collect to the ocean.


There is nothing to be afraid of.
Open your robe and walk out into the water.


If you fall, you will land in the hammock
you have woven from passions and tendons


and the muscle of your heart
will pull you to your feet.


When you emerge, shivering,
take a moment to absorb it in your bones


before wrapping yourself up again.
You have a gift you can open anytime.


Watch what your arms and legs can do.
You are capable of so much joy.