I could tell my daughter wasn’t feeling well as soon as she sat down for breakfast.
She was less of her jumpy-goofy usual self and her eyes had that look I know well. Call it mom’s six sense, but I know it when I see it.
Kiddo was sick. It wasn’t anything horrible, just a nasty bug. It happens, not a huge tragedy.
Except we were on the fifth day of our week-long vacation.
A special vacation we had planned so my daughter could spend time with her best friend, whom she is not getting to see at camp this summer. A vacation in a warm, tropical paradise that was such a magical break from the long Boston winter. A vacation I badly needed.
“I can’t believe the universe is so cruel as to ruin our vacation,” I thought, as I settled my daughter and her friend into a shady spot under the palm trees.
“How dare the universe make her sick now, when we are supposed to be having this amazing vacation!” I kept thinking, feeling frustrated, upset, and almost angry.
“This is not how it should be!” I kept repeating in my mind. “This is not how it should be!”
My daughter’s best friend, whose family came to meet us in paradise so that the girls could spend time together, also got sick. She caught some different bug, but she didn’t feel well either.
So Instead of going off kayaking or trapezing with their “kids’ club”, the girls ended up spending the rest of our vacation chilling together in the shade, taking short swims in the ocean, napping, and generally just taking it very slow.
“So awful that the girls got sick and didn’t get their full vacation,” I said to my friend, the mom of my daughter’s friend.
She seemed to be taking it all in stride and appeared less consumed by the frustration that was, by this point, coming out of my ears.
“Doesn’t this happen to you guys every time?” she asked me, matter-of-factly.
“No, this is the first time Mia got sick on vacation,” I replied.
“Oh, you guys are lucky! One of our kids always gets sick on vacation. It’’s just how it is,” she said.
It’s just how it is.
There it was, the simple difference between how she reacted and how I reacted to the same situation, our daughters getting sick in the middle of a paradise vacation.
She didn’t need the vacation any less than I did, she didn’t anticipate it any less — for herself or her daughter — she didn’t hope to enjoy some chillaxing time away from the kids any less.
She just thought that’s how it is, kids get sick.
And I thought, that’s not how it should be, kids shouldn’t get sick on dream vacations they anticipate for months.
I can trace so much of my unhappiness, frustration, anger, suffering, and disappointment in life to “that’s not how it should be.” The delta between how it is and how I imagine it should be is like this deep valley of suffering. The more I focus on it, the greater the difference between the two is, the more suffering I feel.
This vacation is not going how I think it should be.
I can’t do my yoga pose like I should be able to.
My job isn’t working out like it should be.
This project is not as successful as it should be.
My friend is not being as kind to me as she should be.
It’s endless. I’ve probably spent a total of several years of my life in this valley of suffering, between how it is and how I think it should be.
I’m aware of it. I’m aware that I can look at any situation differently, from the point of “it’s how it is”, and suffer less. But c’mon, does that mean I have to like and be resigned to the fact that my kiddo gets sick on vacation or that a certain project I poured myself into is not going well?
“Acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what’s happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgement that what is happening is happening. Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do, that has to come out of your understanding of the moment.”
This quote, by John Kabat-Zinn, from his wonderful book Wherever You Go, There You Are, is written in one of my journals. As I was struck by the very different way my friend was dealing with our daughters getting sick, I remembered it.
Acceptance of “this is how it is” doesn’t mean liking how it is or not doing anything to change it. It’s simply a place to start. From there, we can choose to try to change how things are, and if we can’t, try to find something within how they are to appreciate. But it’s a way better — and more productive — starting point than “that’s not how it should be”.
That much I can very much attest to.
“I’ll tell you guys a secret,” I said to my daughter and her friend, as they laid around in the shade next to me, chatting.
“I kind of like that you’re not in kids’ club and I get to see you guys a lot more.”
They both smiled and promptly went back to making music videos on their phones. (11 year-olds, what can I expect, right?)
I did love the chance to hang out with the girls more. Within this less than ideal situation, it was truly something I felt grateful for.
And I won’t lie and tell you that I banished all thoughts of “this is not how it should be”, but I did replace many with “this is not how I’d like it to be, but it’s how it is” variety. (A mojito with fresh passion fruit helped a bit, if we’re being really honest here.)