Ocean At Our Doorstep

Newsletter Final Thought: May 2013

It’s amazing how sometimes many days go by when I forgot to appreciate how lucky I am. I mean, sometimes I’m exhausted and underslept. Sometimes I fight with my partner and I’m in a bad mood all day. Some months are more scant than others, money-wise, and I have to coach myself out of the tension I occasionally feel about it, reminding myself that “money is just energy,” etc. Or, sometimes I find myself intensely irritated to be spending time in ways that, hhm, well, let’s just say they don’t seem like the best use of my talents. Washing diapers, for instance. Standing in long line-ups to pay a phone bill at a Chinese bank. Sorting and deleting junk mail.

This is everyone’s reality. It can’t always be a beach and a sunny day. There isn’t always a light breeze glancing our bare shoulders reminding us that we’re alive and happy. Sometimes it’s work. Sometimes it’s not easy to remember to be patient and relaxed, to breathe.

I’m writing this while on vacation in Thailand. (Click here for pictures!) I think this might be the definition of paradise. The bungalow we’ve rented on Koh Pha-ngan (island in the south) comes with a hammock in front and a beach ten steps away. For less than $1.50 a glass, I can have a smoothie made with any fruit I can imagine. It’s a blue sky every day. Why don’t we live here again?

I know that this is what being on vacation is about: breathing, relaxing, taking a moment to reflect, staying present. Of course, babies keep us present even when we’re not on vacation. When Echo needs something, she doesn’t wait for a convenient time to ask me for it. I am constantly thanking her for this. Since becoming a mother, she has reminded me so many times to just stay in the moment, respond, breathe, and smile. And when things go wrong, to laugh. What else can we do?

Let me tell you a recent situation that happened in our home before heading to Thailand. I had a pile of wet laundry in my arms ready to be hung out on the line when Echo discovered that the house plants are all sitting in lovely, squishy dirt and that her hands feel really nice when plunged into the soil. Of course, I had to deal with that situation. I put the laundry down, scooped her up and promised she could play in the dirt sometime when it was “dirt playing” time, but that right now it was laundry time and Mommy was going to wash her all up and then, I told her, I was planning to actively distract her into another activity. (Part of the excessive information she gets from Mommy is also to keep English flowing into her ears!)

That worked, but I inadvertently managed to distract myself, too. Later that afternoon, Guo Jian got home from rehearsal and had been the one up with Echo that morning, so he wanted a nap. The problem is that when I’d scooped Echo up to wash her hands earlier, I’d hastily deposited the wet laundry on the bed and then promptly forgot about it. There was a big wet spot waiting for him, much to his delight.

Of course it wasn’t intentional, and I apologized for my brainlessness, but he was not impressed. Then, because he was irritated with me, it made me mad that he wasn’t more understanding. I think of these kinds of reaction cycles as mini tornados worth avoiding. It resulted in a quick but deflating exchange of not-so-warm words, mine being the final (less-than-mature) phrase that stung the air: “If you don’t like the wet laundry on the bed, then hang it up yourself!” (And he did, grumbling.)

My point is that life isn’t always pretty. It skids along recklessly sometimes. There are lots of exchanges we wish we could redo but we can’t. We can only be in this moment, right here and now, and laugh about it in reflection.

Guo Jian and I have since laughed about this laundry incident, for instance, especially after he burnt through a pot that was reheating Echo’s lunch while struggling with a sudden (and nasty) diaper emergency. And then snapped at me about it. It happens. Laugh. What else is it worth but a laugh?

These are some of the lessons I’ve learned from my daughter. She is an amazing teacher. Irritation and frustration are reaction tornados to be side-stepped. If we can just manage to do that, maybe life will always feel like it does when we’re on a beach in the sunshine, the ocean at our doorstep.

Happy spring from Beijing (via Thailand) and I hope to see you in Canada this summer!


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