The wrinkle in her forehead was about as deep as it ever got. That wasn’t saying much since she worried a lot. Never mind those articles and books and Dr. Phil telling her and legions of women if they would just stop worrying, life would be nicer. Doh, call her Homer Simpson. Do you think she chose to worry?
No, her worry was a natural by-product of living in a situation where others made decisions that affected her life and she often had to self-soothe and find new ways to handle and respond to things than she had before. As a stepmother, the rules weren’t written down anywhere, but they were there, unspoken, unseen but loud and very, very clear. Problem was, you couldn’t know them or hear them until you did something wrong. It reminded her of driving in France where the rules of the road were slightly different from the United States and you knew if you were making a mistake when the person behind you laid on the horn insisting you move.
She didn’t mind learning new ways of doing things, she didn’t mind going along with the flow, and she didn’t mind letting go of her old ways. She was as adaptable as anyone. It was more that the pressure of that elusive “will everything turn out alright?” that got carried into every single situation was taxing. At some point, she didn’t care if it all turned out right. She didn’t mind saying no and listening to some whining. She was ready for the time when she and her husband would make a decision that fit their life and just let it be that way. If others didn’t like it, oh well.
It was with all this resolve that she pondered the subject of sleepovers. Every time the subject came up, she felt herself contract. She stopped breathing and her shoulders got closer to her ears. She could feel the clamp around her heart increase in intensity. She would rather just say no and move on. No to sleepovers. No to the mess that followed. No to the last-minute requests. Her body said no, it was as simple as that.
One day, when they had the courage to do more than talk around the subject, her husband said to her, okay, look if you feel this strongly about it, I don’t want to make you more uncomfortable. I don’t feel that way myself, but I will support you.
She thought she had mis-heard him so she asked him to repeat it. But indeed, he was supporting her and giving her space.
They let the subject go, knowing it needed gestation time. She came back to it soon enough. It was on a walk, on her way up a huge steep hill to their rented apartment while they were on vacation and there were no children around and she was away from any sense of pressure, that she imagined what would make her be okay with sleepovers. What would be enough that she could say yes. She walked and pondered all the things that might be enough.
And, the knowing of what it really was came flowing in like the nearby tide water. She needed to be involved and know what was going on. It was about control and feeling like she was part of it. Simple, but not, as you can imagine.
Then, on the next walk when she had more time to ponder, she wondered what it would feel like to say yes and not worry about the control and knowing. She wondered if that was even a possibility. She walked. She pondered. She imagined what her body would feel like to say yes to this thing she’d been digging in her heels about all along. She noticed when she imagined it, that she could breathe. She could move. She felt okay. When she imagined saying yes and the sleepover happening, nothing bad came of it.
There was a lot more to get sorted out, but she returned from that walk and brought up the sleepover subject again and they made some agreements about how they might handle things and how the lines of communication would go.
The air suddenly felt light. For her and for her husband. Not because she had given in or changed her mind. It was more that she felt free to make a this-or-that decision. She was no longer boxed into only one answer. The box of the one answer was the constricting place. From the this-or-that place, it felt like she could go here or there, forward or back, nowhere and everywhere.
She liked that feeling. And she liked the feeling that she could change her mind and voice her opinion and that she and her husband were still connected. One thing was for sure, her forehead was no longer furrowed. It was soft and smooth and ready for the next problem.