On a morning walk along one of the biggest roads in Jacksonville, ear buds gently placed in my ears and Ben Folds serenading me with every step, I kept my eyes forward and cleared my mind. When a rain drop tapped the toe of my Ugg boot, I felt it soak in and chill my little, sockless toe. I have a habit of putting my boots on without socks, and this time it wasn’t working to my advantage. Not only was I 20 minutes from home, my boots were far from water-proof. I started walking faster as the rain started falling faster. Can someone outrun the rain?
Frustrated at how quickly my tank top soaked through, I felt my anxiety level rising. What a mess this rain is. I’m going to have to strip my clothes outside and run to the bathroom to the shower to warm up and grab a robe. In hindsight, what a silly thing to worry about.
I remembered a writing prompt as I power-walked that our Executive Editor gave to my team last week: take a moment to go outside, listen to nature, see the tree leaves both dying and living, feel the air, taste the sun on my face. My plan was to sit on my back porch with a cup of coffee and do just that on a sunny afternoon when the birds were invading the Holly Trees and the vulture who lives on our block soared overhead, searching for a mole or a rat I’d imagine. That is how I wanted to complete the exercise, it was my plan.
And yet, here I walked, out of control and far from the ideal and serene circumstances set forth by my own expectations. What an opportunity for growth.
Once I finished having my tantrum over the rain interrupting my walk, taking away my very controlled and planned writing exercise, I stood still on a sidewalk and gave in to life’s circumstances. Guess what, Erin? You don’t get to control it. This is the experience you were given. Make it beautiful.
I sat down on a small, brick wall outside of a doctor’s office next to a hibiscus tree. Everything was soaked, including me, as I took the ear buds out of my ears and stuck them in my pocket. I sat, resigned, open, and I began to notice my surroundings. The rain, “big rain” as my son calls this type of downpour, ran down my face, my arms, my knees. It was cold, it was uncomfortable. I closed my eyes, partly because I wanted to use my other senses but more because the raindrops were mixing with my mascara and burning my eyes. The cars whizzed by, puddles interrupted and ripped apart by busy tires. I worried for a split second that all those raindrops purposefully got together to form a puddle, a family, and that they were being forced away from each other with each work-bound splash. The rain drops plopped down onto the hibiscus leaves, and the sound asked me to open my eyes and watch as they slid down from one leaf to another, giggling like the biggest water slide ever for a raindrop.
And what’s that? An owl? How could an owl be awake right now?! Maybe he’s complaining about the rain keeping him awake. Or maybe he’s talking about how nice it feels to take a bath.
I got comfortable with being uncomfortable and accepted life on life’s terms that day. I couldn’t control my surroundings, but if I surrendered to them, I learned that what life gives you can be way more awesome than anything I could dream up or control. The rain dripped off my hands and for a moment, I couldn’t tell if tears or raindrops were falling from my eyes. The writing exercise turned into a lesson: there’s beauty in everything, experience in everything if you give yourself the space to go with the flow, and an unexpected Florida rainstorm reminded me of that truth.
I walked home, slowly and soaked through, with a slight smirk on my face. I did it. I let go, I listened, and I noticed the world on the world’s terms. It was far more beautiful than the sunny, bird-chirping day I imagined this experience would include. Life isn’t always sunny, but learning to walk through the rain offers up lessons that a sunny day couldn’t compare to.
Thank you, Katie, for posing the writing prompt. And thank you life for taking away my need to control it. The outcome was far more beautiful than anything I could have planned.
It finally happened tonight.
“Mommy? Girls have a vagina. Boys have a penis.”
Obviously, I’ve purchased condoms and contacted a therapist. I’m planning on having “the talk” with him tomorrow. Too soon?
“Mommy? What is that?”
“That’s a bus.”
“That’s a bus?”
“A school bus?”
“No, it’s a city bus.”
“That’s a city bus?”
“I don’t know how to answer that, Abe.”
“There’s no answer to that question.”
“Because it’s not a why question.”
“It’s not a why question?”
“Abe. Mommy needs a break from talking.”
“Mommy, you needs a break from talking?”
“Yes. No more talking for a few minutes.”
“Ok, mommy. No more talking?”
“Ok, mommy. I’ll be quiet.”
(10 second pause)
“Mommy, you need a break?”
“Yes, Abe, I need a break.”
“Ok, mommy. You need a break from talking.”
“You’re taking a break?”
“Abe, you’re still talking.”
“I’m still talking?”
“Yes, you are still talking. And mommy needs a break from talking.”
“You need a break from talking?”
“YES, ABRAHAM. WE’RE TAKING A BREAK FROM TALKING.”
“Ok, mommy. I’ll be quiet.”
(3 minute pause)
“Are you still taking a break?”
“Because I need some quiet for a minute.”
“You need some quiet for a minute?”
“That’s ok, Mommy. I’ll be quiet.”
(10 second pause.)
“It’s ok you need a break, mommy.”
I don’t answer.
“It’s ok, mommy.”
I still don’t answer.
“Mommy? It’s ok.”
I still don’t answer.
“Mommy? Mooooooommy? Moooooooooooooooommy? I can’t hear you!”
“Mommy? It’s ok you need a break.”
“Ok, but when you’re talking I don’t get a break.”
“Because you’re still talking.”
“Because I’m still talking?”
If you haven’t started drinking yet, you should, because this went on for another 30 minutes.
I’ve survived on cleverness and my unending ability to prove myself capable for years. When someone asked something of me, I often said what I figured they wanted to hear. I could charm the pants off anyone (and have). It gave me a huge sense of pride knowing that I could predict what made someone happy. Never without the answers, never bewildered, I was the Type A everyone could rely on to make the right choices. I even made an entire job out of it. I’m the Directoress of Happiness for my company.
So during my last work retreat, I made a suggestion to my team that I give up my title. I no longer want to be in charge of directing other people’s happiness, ensuring they have what they need at all times. I don’t want our clients thinking that I am here to make them happy. It’s an impossibility. I can certainly advocate for someone’s happiness, or listen to them at a time they feel scared or uncomfortable. But I can no longer make myself responsible for anyone’s happiness but my own. It’s just too exhausting.
I’m lucky that they were incredibly receptive.
Practicing the art of keeping myself happy at work is a microcosm of life. Focusing on my own happiness in life is the real challenge. It’s one I have to work on everyday. The other night someone kindly purchased two small appetizers for me, both containing gluten. I don’t eat gluten. Old Erin would have said thank you and eaten them, worried that she’d hurt the friend’s feelings because they went to all the trouble of purchasing them. However, New Erin took a deep breath and said, “These look delicious, but I do need to eat something without wheat. Maybe I could order one more thing for myself and you can eat these.” My friend felt horrible, embarrassed, but that only lasted a moment. It became a joke, something we now look back on and crack up about. And my friend will probably never make that mistake again. Not to mention I didn’t get sick the next day in order to protect my friend’s feelings.
That New Erin that now focuses on her own happiness, and that doesn’t make everyone happy. That sucks. I love making people happy. But I rarely give other people the gift of making me happy, and the folks that truly matter actually want to do that. When I let them, low and behold, they don’t leave in a huff, disgusted at my selfishness. They actually become a bigger, more important part of my life.
So, here I am, writing about what I feel like writing about today and not what I think my readers want to read. And I’m happy. I haven’t decided what my new title will be at work; my team is working with me to give it just the right flare. Maybe Erin Cohen – Get it your Damn Self or Erin Cohen – I Don’t Wanna. Whatever it is, it’ll be an honest and new representation of someone who takes care of herself and her son first.