On the first day of our family vacation, we woke up early and headed out—not to Door County where we had been planning to go—but to the emergency room with two lethargic, dehydrated two-year-olds.
We were way overdue for some quiet time under the stars; unfortunately, the universe had other plans for us: another night in the hospital where I spent a week after having pre-term labor, the place our girls were born, and the home of the NICU where they spent their first month of life. Even though we hadn’t been there for two and a half years, it felt oddly familiar when we walked in, and not in a comforting way.
While our daughters were resting and getting hydrated, I tossed and turned on the fold-out bed. On top of being worried about them, I was having flashbacks to the day they were born and the turbulent weeks that followed. Logically, I knew they were in the right place and getting what they needed, but it was not an easy place for me to rest.
These past six months have been a restless whirlwind of uncertainty for our family, building momentum and crashing forward to its peak—our lost vacation. Starting with iron deficiency, tantrums, and insomnia in addition to the hospital stay, we realized things weren’t working so well and we needed a change. We stripped down all of our assumptions about where our family is going to live, what jobs we’re going to have, what income we need, everything. But when you’re in the middle of the storm, it is full-on survival mode, getting through the days and making sure there are groceries in the refrigerator and toilet paper on the roll. It is responding to the crisis at hand and there is always another popping up. The garage door is broken and no one has a key to the side door. There is a raccoon living between the walls of your apartment. Your toddler is breaking out in hives for no apparent reason (a few hypothetical examples).
After one trip to our neighborhood farmers market I collapsed into a puddle of tears on our kitchen floor, wondering how on earth I was going to make it through the next four hours before I could lie down again and attempt to sleep. It wasn’t any one circumstance that put me over the edge—it was the whole picture crumbling at my feet. Something meaningful was brewing, something larger than any one day.
Many people I know have been going through major changes this year. Several close friends are breaking up after years of being together. Family members are moving to new cities, changing careers, starting businesses. On Facebook last week, three friends posted obituaries of close relatives. Someone else lost their job. Every day there is more emotional news. Maybe this is what life is like as you get older—more heartbreak, more surprise, more sadness. More change.
I feel the calm after the storm now, where the sky is a clear shade of blue and the wreckage surrounds us, but there is one thing still standing—the gleaming tower of impermanence. Neither the strongest will nor the most powerful wind can knock it down.
Thankfully, the girls’ hospital stay this summer was short and they were able to quickly heal back to their hydrated, hyperactive selves. Being in that hospital again made me realize that the emotions I had when they were born are still close to the surface. During that first hospital stay, we didn’t know how they would be breathing one minute to the next and it was terrifying. In the end, they became healthy and strong and came home—both times. My anxiety-induced insomnia had nothing to do with that outcome; it only took my energy away from having a calmer, more positive perspective at the time. The emotional rollercoaster of the NICU was an impermanent state, too.
When I look at all of the big life changes happening around me, I realize that any one day can be filled with that same state of anxiety. When discussing these thoughts with my grandma, she said simply, “Well, the only certain things in life are change and death.” She is clearly wiser and more concise than I am.
Embracing impermanence in everyday life has been a major challenge for me lately, but the more I do, the more I am able to take everything a bit less seriously and have much more fun in the moment. Our plans may change at the last second when a phone is lost, someone gets sick, or the sky explodes in a rainbow of sparkling flower petals. (Hey, you never know.) I’ve learned that I feel stronger and more in control living with impermanence at the forefront of my thoughts. I know I can handle the changes ahead, whatever the forecast may be.