Updated: Nov 6, 2018
When I was growing up, my family belonged to the local YMCA. Tampa, Florida is hot and humid in the summer and the pool at the Y was a welcome place to beat the heat and play with friends. As a kid, I thought the pool was the size of the ocean! It was deep and wide with a diving board that was super fun to bounce off into wild poses before hitting the surface of the water with a squeal. Now, as an adult, I realize it was a regular Olympic size pool that met swim team and competition regulations. But that doesn’t diminish the memory of swimming away the days and feeling free in the big, deep wide water.
Until the life guard blew the whistle and ruined it all. At the top of the hour, the life guards blew their whistles with such gusto that it generated a shrill you could hear while swimming underwater. Above the water everyone would hold their hands over their ears, bracing themselves for the hourly life guard siren. This was the signal for all the kids to get out of the pool. We kids dreaded this forced break. Moms would fawn over us, making us visit the bathroom, rehydrate and then make us sit still while they slimed us with sunscreen. It was awful.
To make matters worse, the adults all got to enjoy the pool during our 15 minutes of torture. The life guards told us the break was to keep us safe by creating space to rest and hydrate. But we all knew that was a lie. The adults just wanted time to swim all by themselves. And it made us kids both angry and super jealous. I remember thinking how great it must be to be an adult! I would be able to stay in the pool as long as I wanted. No one would rub me down with sticky, smelly sunscreen. And I could jump backwards off the diving board without getting in trouble and having to sit out until my penance was over. Oh, I could not wait to be a grown-up!
When did you want to jump ahead to a different life stage? Maybe it was in high school when staring down an unending line of exams and final papers in subjects that you did not care about or enjoy. Maybe it was during your first job, folding unending piles of T-shirts and jeans for the next throng of customers to carelessly raffle through in search of an elusive size or color. Maybe it was when you were cleaning the bathroom and pining for the days when everyone would be potty trained. Or maybe it is when you sat down to eat leftovers for the fourth night in a row, thinking of the day when you could afford to try that new restaurant everyone was talking about.
Every one of us has longed to move forward or backward to a different life stage. It is completely normal to look forward to what is coming around the bend or backward with sentiment. Especially when we are experiencing frustration or discomfort, we look for relief in escaping our life stage. While dreaming is a good thing, we need to be careful that we don’t miss the beauty of what is happening in the moment.
I learned this when our girls were little and we needed a new car. Those of us that grew up in the 80’s swore to ourselves (made our friends swear to intervene to stop us) that we would never, ever buy a station wagon. Especially one with wood side panels. Nothing said, “uncool” like the station wagon. By the time I was looking for a family car the station wagon had been retired, but it was replaced by the ever popular Mini Van.
Let’s not deceive ourselves. The Mini Van is one great car. It is absolutely perfect for a family with small children. The doors open and close with a button. The dog can hop in and out with ease. Goldfish crackers can easily be vacuumed up from under the seats. Car seats are easily snapped into the Latch hooks and sit high enough for small ones to easily see out of the seats. The magic TV monitor descends from the roof to hypnotize all passengers during the road trip to Grandma’s house. Can I get an Amen? The engineers and designers have thought of EVERYTHING a family could ever possibly want or imagine in a car.
So why was I struggling so much in buying one? Image. The solemn oath to never own a station wagon was ringing in my ears. To me it meant that I was not cool or fun or had any sense of style. It meant I was practical, purely interested in function without regard to being hip or fun. It meant I was an adult, one who could swim at the top of the hour and impose tyranny upon kids sitting by the side of the pool.
During a visit with one of my life coaches, I shared my inner struggle regarding the Mini Van. She was ten years or so ahead of me on the journey of life and parenting. And she was light years ahead of me in maturity, both more disciplined and wise in cultivating an awareness of gratitude in daily life. After nodding while I made a rock solid case to why no one should buy a Mini Van, she calmly and simply said, “Kelly, embrace the life stage you are in.” She probably went on to share more wisdom, but that is all I heard. It was like a smack right across my face.
Embrace the life stage you are in. Summer days at the YMCA were carefree and beautiful. We swam our hearts out and went home with sticky, purple faces from the popsicles that we shared by breaking them in two and trading flavors. Who doesn’t want to go back and relive being a kid in summer? As I thought about the life stage of raising babies and toddlers, I was so happy and terrified. As a woman, I struggled with my identity as I stepped away from work to be present with these precious little girls. Who would see me? How would I be fed intellectually without work and the interactions with colleagues? What would productivity and contribution look like in this life stage?
I was dangerously close to missing the beauty and gift of the life stage of being a young mom. Do you know what young moms drive (or should drive)? A Mini Van! We bought a souped up Odyssey and named it MO. That car was all about about trips to the zoo, singing along with the Wiggles, taking the dog to play at the beach, and trips to Sonic for the afternoon Slushie. No, not everything was perfect. Raising kids is hard, hard work. More than one kid threw up in the Mini Van and it had to be repainted after the incident with the bicycles. But the Mini Van was a daily reminder to embrace my life stage and enjoy the moments of childhood that would not last.
And now they are gone. Yesterday my older daughter got her driver’s permit, and I can’t breathe. MO was sold years ago to make way for a new life stage and the reality of teenage drivers. As I write this my eyes are filling up with tears thinking about how beautiful and precious was the season with the Mini Van. To think that I almost missed it....
Whatever life stage you are in has both joys and challenges. It is healthy to look forward to all the moments and blessings that are to come in the next life stage. I don’t take it for granted that we are healthy and continuing to do life together daily. And it is important to look back with joy and gratitude for all the beautiful moments you have lived and shared.
As you reflect on your health and wellness goals, don’t miss out on what is happening in your life right now. Seize The Second! Don’t let image or fear get in the way. And don’t let the uncertainty of what might one day interrupt your ability to enjoy what is happening in your life today. I was missing out when I heard the words, “Embrace the life stage you are in!”. It’s a charge for your life, a mandate for your attention, and a fundamental in life design.