Saturday, September 11, 2010

Turn and Face the Strain

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who struggle with transitions and those who embrace change.

When it comes to transitions, I hide, I deny, I run as fast as I can in the other direction until the change swallows me whole. Then, like Jonah, I sit in the dark counting whale teeth until life spits me out before those digestive juices can do their job. It's not a brilliant strategy, but it's mine.

Normally, I cling to my imperfect strategy and it gets me by until things settle back into a predictable routine, but this fall, this season of change, finds me overwhelmed by the sheer number of transitions.

My twins graduated from high school in June are now in their new roles: one as a part-time community college student also exploring his opportunities through the new high school Transition House (I'm not making that up); the other as a full-time student at a schmancy east-coast school where she is learning to look down her nose at us Midwesterners even as we speak. They have handled their respective transitions quite smoothly (damn my superior parenting skills).

Me, not so much.

The next boy literally has one foot in the high school (for math) and the other in the middle school, while the youngest is working toward that great Jewish transition, becoming a bar mitzvah in April. They're doing well.

Me, not so much.

The oldest son got married this summer; the elder girl just got a new job and moved to a new city. They actually sought out these changes.

Me, not so much.

I wish I still embraced change with the joy and anticipation of my adolescents. Their lives have been blessed enough that they believe all change is good. I can still touch that feeling in my memories of the first days of college. So when did my feelings about change change?

I can tell you exactly. When I was a kid and even into adulthood, I loved roller coasters. The rush and swoop, the climb and fall, the tingle up the spine as your stomach rolls along the curves and your brain floats high above it all. I could get off of one ride and run to the next, panting and laughing and wanting more.

Then sometime between my last two pregnancies, my body lost its equilibrium. Maybe it was carrying those alien beings around in my womb. Maybe it was three pregnancies of hyperemesis that made the idea of flirting with G-forces somewhat less appealing. Maybe it was simply the fact that I was now responsible for other human beings (how boring is that?). In any case, I really can't do roller coasters any more without throwing up.

In a college philosophy class, we spent a great deal of energy on the constancy of change, the perception of time, and the seeming acceleration of both. If we're lucky, when we're young change means new schools, new jobs, new friends, new relationships, new places to live, and new things to see and do. But now I know that many of the changes to come in my life will be sad ones, irrevocable and final.

In just a few days, I'll be forced to acknowledge a "significant" birthday. My usual tactics of duck and cover have been working pretty well, unless I make the mistake of looking in a mirror. Just a bit ago, my friend Kate gave herself a fabulous "significant" birthday party, complete with dancing to songs where I actually knew the words. I swore then and there that I would not hide, but would welcome the dawn of a new age with just such a festive event.

Too bad the forces of transition have seen fit to throw the start of school (four schools, mind you), a 2,000-mile round-trip delivery, the Jewish high holidays and a ton of work in my path. It's hard to plan a party when you will be fasting on the Saturday before and your big day falls on a Monday.

I've watched in awe as my children have embraced the changes in their lives. I've seen my parents plan well, choosing their transitions instead of waiting for changes to be forced upon them. I've also seen the trauma that the denial of inevitable changes can bring.

Change will come, whether we're ready or not.

Change will come, whether it is celebrated or not.

So why not celebrate?

It may not be on the day (or even the week or month), but my significant change will be celebrated. In the meantime, I'll just keep riding that virtual roller coast known as my life.

How do you handle transitions, big or small? Tips and tricks are welcome here. And in case you haven't noticed, I have made a few changes around the old blog as my own private celebration. What do you think?


Victoria said...

Happy Birthday, Susan! Significant or not you Must celebrate :)

The blog looks great! Hmmm I'm going to have to disagree and say--some mucked-up people are both changers and hedgers. *raises hand*

I'm kind of a change addict, but then futz around and worry and stew and get belly aches and don't sleep...

It's good too, you know, all these great things your kids are doing. You did (and are still doing) a fine, fine job. These are huge transitions, but there will be much more good change to come.

Of course, you know that already.

Alice George said...

Yeah, I'm kind of a double-dipper too when it comes to it then wrestle with it. Sounds like a Russian Fairy Tale where the princess (me) encounters an ugly traveler (change?) who then eats her (oh shit, this allegory went all wrong).

My youngest is off to college, son back at home after graduating from college, so I'm watching the revolving door flip--and it ain't so bad, truly. Adult children are surprising and stealthy teachers. And I am learning.

congrats on your blog and birthday...

Beverly Patt said...

Have you been hijacking my computer whilst I sleep???
Just wrote the ending to my current WIP where the main character writes a song about change!
I like to see myself as an embracer of change and so far, my first daughter's move to college has been easy (thanks to the wonders of cell phone technology).
But, talk to me when #2, #3 and #4 fly the coop and I might be singing a different song.
Happy Significant Birthday - and I'll be joining you in just a few short months:)

lbg said...

Nice changes, although I have to admit I liked the old one, too. I can't believe you changed it! (Yeah, that was intended.)

Happy birthday, Susan! Join the rest of us old people on the other side of this milestone. It gets easier. Have a wonderful celebration.

And come back soon.

Susan Bearman said...

EVF — Thanks for the feedback. I do know that these changes are great for my kids, but isn't it all about me?

Alice — I'm kind of a double-dipper, too, in some respects. Some times I push for change, other times I run. How's your freshman? My sax player is very happy that your sax player is around.

Bev — You discovered my secret. Brilliant writers know the best way to stay brilliant is to steal from other brilliant writers, so I have installed a spy on your computer. We WILL celebrate. Expect an invitation to the fest (whenever it happens).

LBG — It was great to see you, too. Thanks for the good wishes. And be careful with those invitations, since you are so conveniently situated between Chicago and Mass.

Unknown said...

Love the photo of the leaves, and of course your new look here.

Change use to scare me when I was young too...Then the world as I know it began coming at me way too fast and because of all that was happening I had a choice to totally sink, or learn to swim against the tide, FAST. I had three boys: all ADHD, and LD; all with physical problems that needed attention; way too many surgeries between only three boys...I could go on - but I won't. When I look back, I really had no choice!

I didn't like it, and I often longed for just a bit of the, "ho, hum," everyday if only for just a moment. I still do.

Megan Frances Abrahams said...

Hi Susan
Really enjoyed reading your blog. It takes courage to write about issues like this.
Regarding change - I admit I've often been in denial about some of the major transitions in life, partly because of trauma from past events. It was difficult for me too, adjusting when my son went to college, for example. I strive to live life gracefully - but it still requires reflection and work - a concerted effort.
And happy birthday!

Anonymous said...

I love change, don't know why, just wired that way. Has been a major part of my career. Can't do roller coasters anymore, clearly less adventurous on that point. My family gives me a ton of crap about my ability to change, I just don't get sentimental about stuff and out it goes as soon as it has served it's purpose.
Happy 50th, gal! The "me not so much" is very much so the ramp up to 50, we can all tell you that who are there, after your bday, it somehow melts away back to WTF. It's a WEIRD birthday!
Marcy Carlson

Susan Bearman said...

Ciss B. — Thanks for the wishes and kind words. I have a special needs son and did years of therapy with him and his sister as they overcame developmental delays and other issues. Funny thing is, now I wish I could do it all over again.

Megan — thanks for stopping by. I don't know if it takes courage so much as just a big mouth translated to the keyboard. And thanks for the birthday wishes.

Marcy — Change is good. Wish I was better at it. Sentimental can be good, too, so I won't apologize for that. And, thanks a lot for putting the number out there. Not like it's a big surprise to anyone, but did you not read the part about me and denial? Oh, well, as you say, WTF.

Girl on a Hill said...

That was a lovely 2KOP installment, Susan. And happy birthday to you! your blog is looking good. A bit sleeker, perhaps? As for me, sometimes I accept change smoothly (maybe I meditated that day!). Other times I feel the pain and irreversibility of it. So I remind myself that nature is perfect because it constantly changes.

Susan Bearman said...

Thanks, Ardis. I hope your weekend show was a success. Everything I've seen about you shows that you embrace change (cautiously, with a lot of planning and research). I agree that nature certainly would be perfect if we would stop messing with it (and if we could get rid of mosquitoes!).

Shari A. Brady said...

Happy Birthday Susan! You must celebrate and have loads of fun. We just helped my cousin celebrate his milestone wearing Togas and TP-ing the neighborhood!

Change....hmm...well I must admit, I don't have too difficult a time with change when it comes to my life. But adjusting to changes where my kids are concerned? That's a whole different story. Put it this way: I still get choked up when I see the school bus pull away with my MIDDLE SCHOOLER on it!

Thanks for another great post, and I like the changes you made to your blog!

Susan Bearman said...

Shari — I think you're right, it's the kid changes that are the hardest. A celebration will definitely come, but I think I'll skip the TP. Maybe silly string, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Susan. I think transition is hard for most people, but I've always considered it a challenge to be in that limbo. It's the only place in life when I really feel cut off from the past and the future not just as a goal in my mind and spiritual life, but physically. All trappings aside. Creature comforts minimal. No clutter. It's a time to blow out the cobwebs and dust bunnies; the scum and little misgivings. I think it's a good practice to live out of a suitcase, for instance. One small roller bag where your life is simple and lean. I'll be doing this for the next few weeks of book promo, and it always reminds me how little we really need. See you soon! yrs. Laura

Christi Craig said...

Susan, Happy Birthday! I just celebrated my fortieth. *whimper*

As for roller coasters, I can barely stand to look up at one. I get queasy riding the Ferris Wheel.

On change, I'll deal with it, but I won't be happy about it (I'd much rather be napping through it -- wake me when it's over). It's the fear of the unknown that keeps me tethered to routine. Staying in the moment always helps me; that, and laughing at my little idiosyncrasies in the midst of change.

"Celebrate change" is a great mantra!

(The blog looks great, BTW!)

Anonymous said...

I've got no tips. All I can tell you is that if someone else's choice require me to change, I whine and stomp my feet up until the last moment that I graciously accept the new world. If I'm initiating change, I close my eyes and jump in OR I ponder and ponder for way too long and then whimper as I close my eyes and jump in.

Those, of course, are the conscious changes. Mostly what happens is that I self-improve or make huge shifts and don't notice until I'm on the other side.

All of this may be why I've tattooed the word "truth" on my arm. Just in case I get too full of myself and my small (cosmically speaking) problems.

Susan Bearman said...

Laura — I feel like I've been living out of a suitcase for months. That part was pretty liberating. I could definitely do with a little more cleaning out. Funny, I don't do much writing when I'm on the move or in transition. Maybe that's the time to renew. See you soon!

Christie — You're a mere babe in the woods. Staying in the moment — I still struggle with that. My son has a short-term memory deficit and is brilliant at being in the moment. He's a great teacher.

Sue — Good point about the changes forced upon us vs. the changes we choose. I'm not sure I'm qualified to ring in on truth, but aren't all our individual problems small (cosmically speaking)? They're only big to us.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...

I generally leave claw marks on what's right in my little tight fist in front of me for fear of letting go and welcoming what's to come. Would love to be a wide open truster and rush to the next rotation of the Wheel of Fortune, but I'm still not good at it. Don't know if I ever will. But I do love that grace, you know, when all the anxiety leaves off with its white noise at 2 a.m. and I'm finally just resting, breathing, on the other side. See you there! Cheers, and happy birthday.

Susan Bearman said...

Tania — Thanks for the birthday wishes. I still have six more days on this side of one great divide! I find that I'm alert and working at 2 a.m. My sleep cycle has always been a mess. I'm a born night owl in a world that lives by the sun. said...

Excellent post. EMBRACE IT BABY!! I may not be able to hug every change with open arms, but I sure as hell try. It'll come whether I stress over it or not, so stressing is just a waste of energy,right?

Hope you throw a wicked party!!