Herding Cats and Butterflies
At least a few and more often several times a day I beckon my group towards the front door with the goal of venturing outside. Here is what happens. As we approach the front door from various directions in the house, one daughter will dart back towards their room: “I need to get…” , which reminds the other daughter that she has forgotten something vitally important, too. Emmett takes this as an opportunity to just run…anywhere. We seem almost to make it again…”mommy, I’m thirsty. I want to take something with me to drink.” “Me, too!” Emmett runs again…maybe to look for his sippy cup. This process happens a few times.
Herding cats is what I call it. A friend of mine who has more children calls it herding butterflies. That sounds so pretty. Herding butterflies. My experience is that the cries and screeches and screams that often accompany the herding warrants the feline characterization over the quiet, pretty flitters of butterflies.
I would like to say that it is only my children who contribute to this dynamic and not include myself in the picture, but that would be dishonest. More times than not all three children will be converging at the door only to hear their mommy cry out: “Oh, my phone! (or my keys! Or my sunglasses! Or…!) I am one of the cats, too.
We all finally get to the front door and I wait for the three of them to file outside. It is at this point that something I have grown to expect (and be exasperated by) always happens.
Or, one stops, in the front with the door half-way open.
Whichever child it is seems to be in deep thought with absolutely no care that there are three people waiting on him or her to move forward. Staring off at who knows what.
Umm, I’m not sure if you are aware of this or not, but we are all waiting on you to go ahead so we can leave. The door is open. We are letting the cool air out and the bugs in. Oh! Ok. And, finally we make it out the door. Through the threshold. Sigh. Phew. Alright. I think we might make it on time. Maybe.
When Jon and I moved to Prague, which ironically enough means “threshold” or “doorway” in Czech, we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned that I get the grieving, the messy crying, the dear-God-what-have-we-done transition stuff over at the beginning. I stare culture shock down, playing both truth and dare with it…telling the truth about how much it hurts and daring it to take over my life too much, too long. Jon, thank God, goes into survival mode as soon as we get there. His comes later. My wrestling at that time may have had to do with the fact that I had a 20 month old and was 4 months pregnant getting ready to give birth in a foreign country. Maybe. I tend to think it had more to do with me and who I am and how I handle doorways.
Doorways bring out odd behavior. Change is hard. Even if the grass is, indeed, greener on the other side of that door, it doesn’t matter…doorways are difficult to go through. Sometimes the change is a wonderful, wonderful thing…full of opportunities and a new, grand world. Sometimes the change is very, very hard. It isn’t welcomed at all. We are being pushed out and not given the chance to walk out on our own. Either way, good or bad, the change itself is a challenge
Doorways are often what bring clients into my office. They tell me they are anxious and depressed and can I fix them, can I tell them what is wrong? What is my plan? Where is my magic wand? In the first session I make sure I tell them two very important things: I do not have a magic wand and the process is usually more of a crockpot than a microwave. Even though we know that food in the crockpot usually tastes better, we so desperately want or hurriedly resort to the microwave.
Not too long into the first session I ask about what has been going on in life for them lately. Any major changes the last year or so? Oh, well, sure, I changed jobs or I had a baby or I graduated from school or I moved or…or just any one of these incredibly MAJOR life things. But, I shouldn’t be bothered by that. I mean, I should be over that. I should, I should, I should.
Of course, there are a lot of things we “should” do. We “should” all love one another and be kind and pay our tithes and taxes, but the “should’s” we tell ourselves are rarely these things.
If I COULD I WOULD strike SHOULD from our vocabulary.
Somewhere we have lost sight of how important, how significant, how challenging doorways can be. We go a little crazy trying to get out the door and don’t make any connection at all between the doorway and our behavior and feelings. We make no connection between our anxiety and our blues and our struggles and our acting out with the threshold we are crossing over.
I have been facing a doorway the past six months or so. I’m not moving across the country or even to another state. But, because its life and life has doorway after doorway, threshold after threshold, I am facing some changes in my professional and personal life again. It is all wonderful, wonderful things, full of opportunity and a new, grand world. And, because I know me and I know how people tend to handle doorways, I have been watching myself. I’ve watched me run after the “what if’s”. I’ve watched me cry out: “I think I still need…” And, I’ve watched me stand, with the door open, waiting, not realizing that I am letting the cold air out and the bugs in.
A few weeks ago at church, I was standing in this doorway, letting the cold air out and the bugs in, and I got a clear message: “I’m not sure if you realize this or not, but you’ve been standing in this doorway, frozen with anxiety while I am waiting on you. The door is open. Time to go on out. It isn’t what is on the other side that is wrong and hard on you or your family. It is your indecision and anxiety. You’ve been standing here long enough. Time to walk on out.”
I’ve learned to accept and to be ok with the fact that I run after things on the way out the door. I am even ok with the fact that I, like my children, stand in the doorway for a while, staring off at who knows what. If we find ourselves anxious, it can be helpful to look around and realize that maybe we are running and standing and staring because we are at a doorway. Once we realize the significance of even small doorways in life…that come over and over and over again…we can understand and be patient with our running and standing and staring. We can stare our own little culture shocks down, telling the truth about how hard change is and daring the change to take over for too much, too long. We can run and stand and stare…and then walk on through.
This is really good! Keep writing!!
Thank you, Tammy!
So true, Emily! I can’t count how many times I’ve said I can handle the tough parts of life, but the areas of limbo wear me out! I like the idea of connecting that state of limbo to pausing in a doorway–it may make me more patient as I stand waiting to make sure all my dear ones have everything they need:)
Thanks for reading, Anita! I am glad to know you can relate!
[…] before I have to board my plane to move back to Prague after living in the States for 3 years, that post came back to my mind. (Incidentally, it would really be worth your […]
Oh, how I can relate! I loved the parallel you drew. Thank you for sharing your lovely words.
[…] are in the everyday transition of walking out the door any one of our three children is likely to suddenly stop in mid-transition and stare off into space, causing the rest of us to come to a screeching halt. Unless we are stressed from running late it […]
I just love your writings!
Aw, thanks, Beth!
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