Lessons in Chilling
"Give a man a bro and he'll chill for a day. Teach a man to chill and he'll have bros for life."
- Overheard in Oakland, by some guy who probably saw it on Twitter
I grew up in Southern California, where the No Bad Days ethos was strong. And even though I lived for musical theater and figured I'd end up tap dancin' my way through New York City some day, I also tried my hardest to emulate the seemingly laid-back attitude of my Cali brethren. As young as age eight, I remember trying to pass myself off as an easygoing optimist.
"Just relax, Mom," I'd say to my frazzled mother as I threw on my tie-dye shirt and L.A. Gears, "life's a beach." Later that day, I would wrap myself up in a blanket and stare at my bedroom ceiling, contemplating the concept of infinity and the fact that we all have to die someday.
In seventh grade I spent my $50 back-to-school budget on a pair of Ocean Pacific corduroy shorts and a striped surfer shirt, certain this marked the beginning of a new era for me. I was no longer the high-strung overachiever of the sixth grade; I was the chill girl, the girl with the long beachy hair. The one who skated, listened to reggae, really just carpe diem-ed the heck out of life. A few weeks later, my mom found me sobbing on the bathroom floor, wet hair scattered everywhere, after trying to give myself a Drew Barrymore bob.
In short, I’ve never really been that good at chilling. I've always been overly-concerned with how others perceive me, and considered my clothing, activities, and career choices defining factors in my personal brand. So every time my tastes or life circumstances changed I went into a bit of a tizzy. Was it possible to love competitive cheerleading and the Cramps? Could I be a straight-A student and still smoke cloves behind the archery shed? Could I quit teaching after just three years and still support public education? Am I a sellout? Is it ok that I hated La La Land??
Given my existing neuroses, adding "mom" to the equation could have triggered a whole new identity crisis. But it didn't.
Maybe it's just that I have less time in general, but I've barely stopped to consider what kind of mom I want to be. Neither Jon nor I have read any parenting books, and we've saved most of our questions for the pediatrician rather than asking Dr. Google. I have no philosophy on discipline, no idea how I'll react to her first bad report card, and couldn't care less at this point if she's college-bound.
I'm just enjoying her. And it's one of the first times in my life that I truly feel in the moment.
That's not to say that I haven't had my fair share of anxieties. I was certain for a couple of days that our building's fire alarm had rendered her hearing impaired, and I lose it every time Jon plays baby airplane or holds his cell phone too close to her head. I still wake up at least once a night to make sure she's breathing, and am terrified of pressing too hard on her fontanelles.
But overall, there's a pervading calm and quietness in our days together. Parenthood forces this upon you, I think.
I've attended enough mindfulness workshops to know that a focused mind is a peaceful mind, and I've relied on the practices of meditation, deep breathing and one-pointed attention to quell my anxiety for years. But inevitably every time life got more hectic I would slip back into my natural state of overthinking and multitasking.
Babies won't let you do that. When baby needs to eat, you stop what you're doing and sit quietly for 20 minutes. Oh, and you thought you could check your email during play time? Heck no, even at three months Avery can tell when she's not getting 100% of your attention. And then there's the whole cuteness factor, which which renders watching her make spit bubbles in her sleep infinitely more interesting than Facebook or – I don't know – taking a shower?
It all leads to an acceptance that this is our life now. It's slower, more measured, and full of quiet magic. Over the years I'm sure Avery will teach us just as much as we teach her, and I'm grateful for this early crash course in the art of chilling.
She is a California girl, after all.