Monday, February 25, 2008

The Nagging Feeling That It's Time to Change Your Life

My friend wrote to me from Brooklyn yesterday. She's been getting that nagging feeling that it's time (after 20+ years) to leave the city, move her two kids and hubby and everything she owns Upstate. She said she has a painful longing down to her bones for green space and sky. You know, I grew up in Oklahoma, so I soon realized, when I first moved to New York in the 80s, what an advantage I had over people who grew up in the city, because all that sky was inside my head. On the other hand, she has little girl birthdays in Central Park, with carriage rides through the snowy landscape. Her kids are so happy, so content.

I know all this so well, the pondering and the weighing, the looking back, the hesitation on the threshold. But as my Dad wisely reminded me when I myself was swaying, "Don't look back, or you'll turn into a pillar of salt!"

There's a couple of things, in the weighing and comparison of options, that I believe should be given extra credence:

1. What is your day to day reality? I love every worn down, worn out, smelly, stinky rock in Brooklyn with a passionate love - and I went there originally, at 22 (22 years ago!), because I loved people and ideas and creativity more than animals or plants - but my day to day reality with three kids and a cat stuck in a top floor sweatbox was insupportable. There just wasn't enough money or time. It was breaking my back.

2. You yourself are not a rock. You might look like a rock and behave like a rock, but that is to fool predators. You are really a chrysalis.

As a young girl I asked my Ma-Ma, how do you know when it's time to have a baby? She said, "When it's your time, you'll know."

How did you know when it's time to lose your virginity? How do you know when it's time to get married? How do you know when it's time to have a baby? You know it in your bones.

Yes, it's complicated. But the best thing to do when it's time to change (as I read a Zen Buddhist say), is change. There is nothing more painful than forcing oneself not to grow.

One reason we prevent ourselves is we see how happy our children are in the lives we have created for them. Remember that it is a happiness we could not have imagined when we conceived them. It is a happiness based on love, support, respect, creativity, and those, and the moments and friendships you cherish, go with you. Always changing, always growing: moving forward. Something there is that needs you to grow a bigger life to fit your expanding self.

Here's what I wrote back to my friend:

So many nights my girls cried at bedtime because they wanted to go back to LA, and now they cry because they want to be back in Brooklyn. I also have to admit that I personally wrestled that angel (the one that told me in no uncertain terms to get going) for three years before my intuition to go to Brooklyn became so uncomfortable I finally had to make a move. If you
want to read more about the agony part, I refer you to the early entries of this blog - which are no longer "up," but you can just
click on them - like "Course Correction" and "Hitting the Fan." They serve as historical reminders of the "Before" phase of our move.

The agony is an agony of indecision.

My wise friend Andrea, who extricated herself from LA about a year before I did, encouraged me to believe that the end of all the pain would be light, freedom, joy, peace, and I can safely attest that it is so. Unbelievable in those moments of dire pain and crushing disbelief that one could ever be as happy anywhere else, but, having lived through childbirth, one begins to recognize when one is hitting "transition." The most painful part means something brand new and unique in this world is about to be born. Absolutely the first day, landing in Brooklyn, I was filled with a huge release of energy and joy.

New York is still the right place for me. It still belongs to my kids, too, and one day we will go back there. Now LA is the giant happening art scene! (One day we will go back there.) But so is Berlin....

One thing that took me by surprise is that I had changed a lot in the 20 years that I was away from New York. I didn't realize what a toll it would take physically to raise three kids in the city, without a car. The part about not being able to take one's eyes off them, not being able to send them outside to play, and also the part about schlepping 20 lb. boxes of cat litter.
Funny, I was just lying on the floor in the living room doing my Pilates and thinking what hermit crabs we were, and what an effort to move out of our tiny shell and into a bigger one. What resistance, I mean!

If you are in an agony of indecision, my best advice to you is...do nothing. Relish everything you have - house in the country, world's best bagels, a lovely home, happy children, best friends. I too was the only one that was exhibiting overt symptoms of dis-ease, and it was anguish to think that my need to change might be the cause of my family's pain, confusion and dismay. In the end - to continue the crab metaphor - they have all come out of their shells, in so many ways. There is half a foot of snow on the ground Upstate. Wyatt and Laura were skiing down Ridge Run at Catamount during winter break, in the falling snow!

I promise you that if a move is mandated, you will get clearer and clearer messages from the universe that the time is right. The third year we were finally seriously pondering putting our house on the market, we had an unprecedented household equipment failure. Finally when our sump pump went out, and we had to use a bin full of cat litter for a week, we listened up!
The silver lining on that one is because we actually did move when we got the message, we caught the tail end of the hottest housing market in history.

So all will be right. My seven year-old daughter was the only one of our family who had never been to NYC before we moved, and she is a country girl by nature, but she ended up being perhaps the most satisfied of all of us with her new life.

Life is short. Follow the light.

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