We had decided that given the relatively short holiday break, we would all stay home. No trips to visit the family. No travel at all.
We would just be together.
“Be” unfortunately was conflated with “do” – as is often the case. Each of us had long lists of things we wanted to accomplish; projects to complete, ways to be productive, ideas about how to do fun things. These lists didn’t overlap much.
About halfway through the week my frustrations began to mount as it became clear that I wouldn’t get to do half the things I had put on my list. There would be no time for writing, no organizing my room, no exploring new tools and tricks to increase my productivity, creativity or happiness in 2023.
Aside from starting with an unrealistic list to begin with, part of my realization was that I would not get to my stuff because I needed to help others with theirs. “Daddy can you help me…” Setting up one daughter’s Nook, another’s new Chromebook and a number of other Christmas related tasks began the week. But the most significant time suck was my offering to paint my daughter’s bedrooms that we were planning to do at the end of it.
When I first realized that my “week off” would be spent working with and for others, I was resentful and frustrated. But then I had an epiphany. This stress I was feeling was all self-inflicted. It had little to do with what I was doing and everything to do with how I was choosing to be.
The definition of “be” is simple. It means to exist.
Two weeks ago, I interviewed Deepak Chopra for my podcast Attribution. He told a story about how much of our stress and negative emotions start with failing to accept the reality of the situation. A colleague had once told him this was akin to “resisting existence.” Let that settle in for a moment.
The reality of my existence this week was I was home with a family who wanted or needed me to do things. I could either accept that and be the best father or husband I could be or I could be frustrated and resistant.
This is harder than it sounds. I had to consistently catch myself, check my ego, and ask myself how I was being right now and why.
It didn’t help that I’d occasionally see a text or post from a friend who was off skiing with their family or visiting some other state or country. Imagining that they weren’t experiencing a single moment of stress – instead spending every waking moment doing countless fun activities.
Rather than allow feelings of envy to set in, I tried to reflect on my more mundane but no less special moments over the last week with my family.
All five of us dressed in the same pajamas posing for goofy photos. Our three daughters locking themselves in their room for hours trying to finish their handmade Christmas gift to us. My oldest daughter snuggling up beside me after everyone else had gone to bed to watch an episode of The Crown. My youngest sitting with me in her bedroom as I was painting, sharing her feelings and her appreciation. Our middle daughter jumping in my arms to carry her like a baby. All five of us laughing while playing the game “Parents vs. Kids.” Sharing a quiet hug and kiss with my wife right before I left to go to write this.
Of course there was some yelling, moping, and arguing in between. But that’s part of the reality of a large family spending time together. Accepting that reality allowed me to be better in how I reacted to all of it.
Many think the classic Beatles song, Let it Be, has religious undertones. After all It’s opening verse is
“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be”
But the Mary that Paul McCartney is referring to is not the Virgin Mary but his mother, Mary. It is the wisdom of a parent not just telling her son to accept the reality of the world but to be the light that is necessary to change it.
With the new year upon us, let us all be the light.