I should’ve known not to get so confident. I hadn’t gotten lost once in this new big city of mine. I’d traveled interstates, back roads, and busy thoroughfares. Every time I’d punched an address into my new navigation system, it had taken me there without fail.
I’d become so confident that I even stopped printing out paper directions as a back up or calling people ahead of time asking for landmarks along the route. Those were the safeguards I’d used for over a decade to compensate for my severely flawed sense of direction. I am known to turn the wrong way out of the bathroom at a restaurant and not be able to find my family. I am known to fear that my car’s been stolen until my Noticer daughter tells me we’re in the wrong parking lot. When my friends heard I was moving to a new, much larger city, they worried. They suggested I not leave a two-mile radius for awhile. But with the help of a new navigation system, I’ve had a new lease on life. I’ve been taking my children to places I never thought I could go by myself. I stopped gripping the steering wheel with sweaty hands when venturing into uncharted territories.
Well … until Saturday morning.
My daughters had their first swim meet with their new team at an aquatics center that was about twenty minutes away from our house. After years of stressful crack-of-dawn departures, we’d learned to get prepared the night before. All the bags were packed. Swim suits and flip flops were laid out. I had the address of where I was going written on a sticky note next to the bags. All I had to do was punch the address in. The night before I thought briefly about gathering my direction back ups, but I happily reminded myself I didn’t need them anymore.
That morning when I punched in the address of the swim center, it didn’t show up. I tried typing in the name of the facility. No luck. I tried just the street. That didn’t work either. For five minutes, I punched anything I thought might get us in the general vicinity. I noticed my fingers becoming more aggressive with each fail and the air in the car was getting warm. Suddenly my hazard lights came on automatically. I frantically felt around the steering wheel for the off button. The obnoxious clicking sound was nearly loud enough to wake the neighbors. I had a full-on sweat going now.
“Why is this address not in existence?” I growled to myself. “And how in the world do I turn these hazard lights off?” I angrily punched more buttons on the dash and ended up turning on all the lights in the car and opening the trunk.
I threw the car in park and ran back in the house. I decided I would print out the directions like the old days. Of course, the computer was slow. The printer was slower. We were going to be late. I could feel my frustration level rising. It was my children’s first meet with their new team. I’d wanted to get there early because so much of it would be new.
I returned to the car with directions in hand. The hazards were still going strong. I tried a few more buttons to no avail. I headed out of the neighborhood creeping past two of my new neighbors’ homes. Although I felt like I knew them well enough to ask for help, their houses were dark. I decided waking them on a Saturday morning would not be the neighborly way. I stopped my car and punched a few more buttons. The agonizing clicking stopped. “Oh thank you, God. Now please help me get there,” I cried out.
We began driving. I told myself rational things like, “The girls are going to miss the warm up, but that is okay. It is not the end of the world.” Those thoughts were quickly drowned out by my inner critic, “They are going to miss their warm up. This is a bad first impression. Why didn’t you figure out where you were going last night?”
And then from the backseat, four dreaded words: “Did you wear shoes?” the big one said to the little one.
I turned around to see my shoeless child staring at me with a shy smile.
“Where.Are.Your.Shoes?” I asked through gritted teeth.
“I forgot,” my younger daughter said meekly.
“Ugh! Your only job this morning was to put on your suit and shoes,” I said barely calmly, struggling to keep my voice down, “and that was all you had to do.”
Surprisingly, it was the big sister who started crying, not the guilty party. “She didn’t mean to, Mama!” she defended. “Please don’t be mad at her.”
My older daughter knew all too well that Rachel With No Direction and Little Sister with No Shoes was a terrible combo. I knew why my older child was crying. She thought I was going to blow like I used to. And I thought I was going to too.
“Why? Why? Why? Why is this happening?” I felt myself becoming irrational with each passing kilometer. My inner drill sergeant (who I’ve worked on chilling out) was about to show her face—I could just feel it. But for a brief moment, I was able to think through our options. I imagined my child walking from a parking lot to a natatorium without shoes. Not ideal. I also imagined that like most swim centers there was a policy of wearing shoes in the building. We had to have shoes, I surmised. I glanced around hoping a Wal-Mart or a drugstore would magically appear. Nothing. I turned the car around to retrieve the shoes sitting by the door at our house. But I wasn’t going to go quietly.
This weird little whining voice started coming out of me. It was the same voice I used at age eight when my dad wanted me to take a very large dose of Pepto-Bismol, and I had a complete meltdown about it. “I hate being lost. I hate being late. I don't know where I am going,” I whined. “And she doesn’t have shoes. No shoes. And usually there's always a random pair of flip flops in the car, but not today. No, not today. And I don’t know where I am going.” I realized I was talking to myself in a slightly disturbing way but I could not stop. Because if I did, I would scream or curse or do them both simultaneously. I managed to keep it to a high-pitched whimper.
After retrieving the shoes and hearing a small “thank you” and “I'm sorry” from my younger child we headed back into the unknown. I handed my phone to my tech-savvy older daughter. “Try to see if you can find something called Maps on there. Make it talk to me. Make it tell me where I am going like Daddy makes his phone do,” I begged.
After a few minutes she exclaimed, “Got it! There’s an aquatic center by that name 93 miles away.”
I held on to my paper directions with dear life and tried not to cry.
We made two correct turns and when I wasn’t sure about the next turn, I did my other foolproof method of getting where I needed to go: Go to the Direction Asking Place that has gas pumps and cold sodas.
The gas station attendant and the customer both pointed and spoke slowly to me. They saw a sweaty woman on edge.
Within five minutes of driving we spotted the swim facility right off the interstate. The girls cheered and I said a prayer of gratitude for our safe arrival. The center was brand new which explained why it was not in the navigation system or on the phone maps. Apologizing is not one of my strengths, but I have learned its vital importance despite how hard it is to say those words at times.
“I am sorry I got upset. Getting lost is really scary for me, and I really wish I could stay calm in those situations. Next time I will plan better. I will search for the location the night before. I learned something today. This was a learning experience for Mom,” I rambled.
“It’s okay, Mom,” my children said in unison.
“We know about you and directions,” said my older daughter matter-of-factly. I found it comforting that she understands my weaknesses just as I try to understand hers.
We went inside and immediately asked for help getting to the pool area. It was crowded, loud, and intimidating but we were able to join the warm-up in progress. A few minutes later, it was time for my older daughter to swim. I didn’t see her in the lane she was supposed to be in. Pretty soon she came up beside me in tears.
“I missed my event! They do the swimmer check-in differently here. I thought I was waiting in the right place, but I wasn’t.” My goggle-clad child leaned into my chest trying to hide her despair from passersby. “Can we go home?” she asked on the verge of tears.
I looked into her eyes and held her gently by the arms. “Today is the first swim meet you had in your new state, in a new pool, with new rules. They do things differently here. We will go talk to someone to make sure you know what to do on the next event. This day is a learning experience. You now know something you didn’t before.” After she nodded solemnly and looked a little more hopeful, I added one more thing. “You know how you have that qualifying time on your bulletin board as your goal? Well, you are closer to that goal today than you were yesterday because of what you just experienced.”
My older daughter went to talk to her coach and my younger daughter motioned me over. “I am not sure where I am supposed to go,” she said nervously.
She and I walked around the two huge pools looking for the Clerk of Course. We heard the officials testing the notification system. We learned that the race would pause momentarily while the buzzer was adjusted. My inner drill sergeant wanted to fuss, complain, or at least let out an exasperated sigh, but instead I looked down at my child and realized this lull might just be an unexpected blessing.
My daughter was staring out the window. “What are you looking at?” I asked.
“There is something yellow out there. Maybe a bird, maybe a flower. I am just thanking God that we made it here today.”
I leaned down next to her, my eyes filling with tears. As she directed me to the yellow dot, I realized something. I hadn’t handled myself as calmly as I hoped that morning. I wish I could’ve laughed it off like my husband does when problems arise. I wish I could have said, “It’s an adventure!” like my laid-back friends when they get lost. But nevertheless, there was a silver lining. My child honed in on something I said in my time of distress and it had stuck with her. And what she remembered was a good thing; it was a good thing. I am not quite where I want to be, but I am closer than I was before.
So in light of finding my way to this place of peace and self-acceptance, I offer you some words of direction. Take these words as a gift of camaraderie … my “we’re in this together” … my “we’re not perfect, but we’re trying.” Take this message and hold on to it for those times your inner navigation system threatens to steer you away from what matters most.
Closer Than I Was Before
My angry words spilled out. I spoke too soon. Morning got the best of me.
But I didn’t let guilt consume me like I used to.
I said I was sorry and asked to begin again.
I am closer than I was before.
My inner perfectionist reared its ugly head. I compared. I criticized. I told myself it wasn’t good enough.
But then my heart spoke up and said, “Stop. That’s not what matters.”
I looked past the mess and the mayhem and saw the flowers instead of the weeds.
I am closer than I was before.
My day was too packed. I overscheduled. I underloved. I was too rushed, too hurried, too frenzied.
But then I stopped in the middle of the chaos and removed the ticking clock weighing heavy on my soul.
I touched the fading summer freckles on my daughter’s nose and felt the pressure wane.
I am closer than I was before.
Every second is not grasping what matters, but now I have awareness I didn’t have before.
I am only human.
I am learning too.
Love, forgiveness, and grace will be the fiber that holds this day, this family, this one precious life together when it threatens to come apart at the seams.
I am closer than I was before.
© Rachel Macy Stafford 2014
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, I have been WAITING for the day this book would be available to you! Yell Less, Love More by The Orange Rhino comes out next week on Oct. 15! Sheila McCraith has helped me so much on my journey to chose a peaceful response. In this book, she provides action plans, tips, and powerful revelations that will empower you and enable you to feel hopeful (and normal) about your struggles. Yell Less, Love More yanks the cover of shame off yelling in a way that I have never experienced before. I was privileged to read an advanced copy this summer and found that it enhanced every aspect of my life by enriching my relationships, my health, and my happiness. This book is a life-changing gift. You can learn more here or pre-order here.
Also, I will be sharing my revolutionary perspective on Hands Free living with Experience Life magazine during their “A Healthy Revolution: The Virtual Conference.” By registering for this FREE online event, you can hear from today's most progressive experts about how to live happier and healthier even in the face of real challenges. Click here for more info on this life-changing opportunity.
In the comment section below, please share your stories, struggles, and triumphs on the topic of finding your way to a more peaceful response in the midst of frustration and stress. Each time you share, you help someone else not feel so alone. I am grateful for you!