So one of the things that you learn when you are in the middle of a cancer diagnosis (or other major crisis, actually), is the importance of living in the present moment. You learn to value each happy day, each healthy day, and to not dwell on the “what ifs” of the future.
Now how many of you, reading that last paragraph, felt just mildly annoyed? Like, you KNOW you’re supposed to “live in the now” and embrace the present, and cherish each minute, but how many of us are actually able to do this?
I would very dearly like to live in the now. But I’m afraid that my kids will destroy my house if I do. I’m fairly sure we will all get quite hungry pretty soon if I choose to embrace only the present moment all the time. And although some people in this home (I’m not naming names) would be perfectly happy just throwing out the dirty dishes instead of washing them for the next use, I have a feeling eating breakfast cereal with milk directly off the kitchen counter would eventually ruin the experience. And frankly, I think if I don’t at some point wash that pile of laundry waiting for me, it will come alive, get up and walk out of our home in disgust.
The problem with “living in the now” is that the future is just waiting there, lurking around the corner, hoping you won’t bother taking out the garbage so that suddenly, when the future becomes the “now” you have to live in the unpleasant now because the old fun now is now the past and the new now stinks.
Did any of that make sense?
My kids are pretty good at it though. They seem fairly confident that everything will always work out and there is no need to really plan anything because somehow, magically, food will appear on the table, clothes will become clean, new shoes that fit will be bought in time, and anything broken will be fixed before it is desperately needed again. This is truly the magic belief of youth… Another name for this magic is “mom”.
In some ways, since I had my first batch of kids at a fairly young age (I just like how that sounds, “batch” of kids, like I’m an oven making cupcakes), I feel like I have been cleaning up people’s nows for a long time. And sometimes the nows seem to repeat themselves. Am I caught in some kind of cosmic time loop? Is that what living in the now truly means, that I get to repeat things over and over (and over)?
The other day, Elliot (sidebar, just want to mention, he already has some hair! Ok it’s just some peach fuzz, but still), decided that since he was going to be sitting on the toilet for a while (5 minutes total, which is a long now for him), he would bring a little toy car to play with. Don’t ask me how you are supposed to play with a car while sitting on the toilet, these are debates I prefer to avoid. In any case, the inevitable happened. And in the hopes of salvaging the situation, he flushed. So the now was now a flood.
And suddenly I was brought back in time 15 years to the same (almost) situation. (That is, different bathroom, different kids, same result).
Rewind to the “now” of one day in 1997. I walk in to the bathroom to find two boys, ages 3 and 6, standing next to the toilet staring in to its depths. The water in the toilet has already risen to past the halfway point and is continuing to rise rapidly. The two guilty looking kids (my sons, I admit) are staring in unblinking fascination at the spectacle as the rising water quickly reaches the brim.
“Hey” I yell, running in just as the water starts to pour on to the floor. “Hey” was the best thing I could come up with on the spur of the moment, though I admit it was not very original. My kids obviously thought so too, as they ignore me but quickly jump away from the waterfall surrounding the toilet bowl and up onto the edge of the bathtub, holding on to each other for balance and wobbling slightly. They stare at me with the same fascination they had bestowed on the toilet bowl, eagerly awaiting my next move as they teeter on their perch.
“Hey, what happened in here?” I ask, quickly grabbing the plunger and throwing an old towel on the floor. The extra “hey” is for effect. Obviously, it has none. The boys continue to stare, mouths wide open in surprise, heads moving back and forth from me to the toilet like fans watching a tennis match.
I fight with the toilet for a few minutes and the tidal wave subsides. Exhausted, I turn around to face the guilty parties and unleash my wrath. They are perched on the edge of the tub, the youngest one, Daniel, clutching on to his older brother’s pyjamas with both hands while the oldest, Jesse, holds onto the shower curtain. Both of them rock back and forth like tightrope walkers about to lose their balance. Jesse speaks first: “Why did the toilet do that?” he asks, tentatively. Daniel, sensing his cue, adds “yeah Mommy, why dat happen?”
Two sets of eyes stare at me in complete innocence, awaiting my response.
Well, I think to myself, everyone in this country is innocent until proven guilty, right? I usher them out of the bathroom and sit them on the couch. “Did anyone put something in the toilet?” I ask, voice a calm reassuring blanket covering my extreme frustration. It is possible, I am reasoning crazily to myself, that the boys were standing innocently gazing into the depths of the toilet when suddenly for no apparent reason (perhaps a very localized earthquake with my toilet at the epicentre) the water suddenly started to rise out of control.
The boys look at each other, then back at me. Twice. Then Jesse, the responsible one, the mature one, the type of person who is willing to accept the consequences of his actions, fesses up. “Maybe Daniel did?”.
“No!” Daniel counters. “Just a wittle toily paper!”.
“How much toilet paper?” I sigh.
“Well,” offers Jesse “It wasn’t too much at all! But it WAS still attached to the toilet paper roll and when I flushed the toilet it just kept rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling (his eyes get very wide at this point in the story) and all the paper on the roll got pulled into the toilet… And then the water thing started to happen.”
I take a deep breath, trying to summon up as much energy as I can. “Look”, I explain patiently, “if we put too much paper in the toilet, or anything else in the toilet, it plugs and then the water can’t get down into the pipes when we flush. So this is what happens, ok?”
“What happen?” asked Daniel.
“The toilet plugged and the water spilled out” I answer, still patient.
“Oh.” Daniel is thoughtful. “But why?”
“Because you put too much toilet paper”
“No! Just a wittle piece!”
“But the little piece was still attached to more pieces and that’s just too much”.
“Because the toilet will plug.” Said with finality.
“Why?” Innocent eyes staring.
“Because that’s the way it’s made.” Trying to end the conversation.
“Why it’s made dat way?”
“Because all toilets are made that way” Starting to feel cornered.
AAAArrRRRggghhh, loss of control, desperation sinking in, will now do anything to stop the madness.
“Daniel how about a cookie?”
And fifteen years later I am having the exact same conversation about not flushing objects down toilets, with roughly the same results (it was a muffin this time, not a cookie).
So is this what living in the now means? Being stuck repeating the same situations because there is actually no lesson to be learned?
I know I’m supposed to embrace the moment, seize the day and all that jazz. And it’s definitely true that cancer has made me realize that our time is limited. But despite all that, I do find that planning for the future is great. We’re heading off to Paris today. I’ve researched hotels and sites we want to see, what time of day is best to visit the Eiffel Tower without waiting in line too long. Elliot is insisting we have to take the stairs up, not the elevator. Not looking forward to that “now”, while it’s happening. But the memory of it will be worth the pain, just like the memory of Jesse and Daniel’s little faces as they perch precariously on the edge of the bathtub is all that now remains of the infamous Toilet Paper Incident.
Anyone else have advice for seizing the day, living in the Now?