‘Just take each day as it comes.’ If I had a pound every time a well-meaning friend or even complete stranger said this to me …. I don’t think I need to finish this sentence, do I?
If you are a regular reader of blogs authored by the parents of children born prematurely or with additional or complex needs, you’ll have no doubt read many wonderful ‘what not to say’ posts, listing those often kindly-meant sentiments that can plunge us into despondency or despair. A particular favourite one of mine, by one of my particularly favourite bloggers, can be found here on Tatum’s Ain’t no Rollercoaster.
Much as I cringe or internally combust at the ‘I’m sure he’ll grow out it’ (brain damage? you’ll think he’ll grow out it?) or ‘well he’s a boy and they’re always a bit behind because they’re lazy’ (lazy? he has fought meningitis and battles the mixed messages his brain sends his limbs every minute of every day just to do the simplest things and you think he’s lazy?), my personal pet hate is ‘just take each day as it comes’.
After a concerned and kind mum said this to me (it’s probably about the 850th time someone or other has said it to me this year) at the school gates this morning, I started to ponder why this galled me so much. Living in the moment, after all, is an important life lesson and one I’ve come to appreciate the hard way over the last 13 months, during which I’ve spent so much time worrying about what was or wasn’t happening that I frequently failed to appreciate the little miracles (clenched fists opening, arms reaching out) that were happening each day. But she didn’t say ‘live in the moment’. And I don’t think that’s what she meant. She meant, I surmise from the rest of our conversation, don’t think too far ahead, don’t burden yourself with worry over what the next 18 years has in store. Take a step at a time.
It’s good advice, but I still can’t take it. What’s my problem?
First of all, it’s that this is such a redundant comment. How else can you live life other than by taking each day as it comes? All parents do this and, dare I say it, parents of babies born early or sick or with special needs have to turn this into an art form. So much is thrown our way. Everything can be fine. You can learn, as I did, to ‘take it’ that your little boy probably has cerebral palsy. And then when you think you can’t take any more infantile spasms can come out of nowhere to sideswipe you and ruin your little girl’s Christmas. But you know what? You take it and you deal with it.
So parents like me take and get took on a regular basis. But I still don’t want to take each day as it comes. Because underlying this trite little phrase seems to be an implicit criticism: that I am not leading my life in the best way; that I am looking too far ahead; that I am worrying too much.
Maybe. But you know, looking ahead, planning for the future, worrying … they are my prerogative. My job. I do these things for his healthy, older big sister and I have every right to do this for Mr Boo. In fact, he needs me to do it more than his sister does. Because very few things, beyond love and laughter, come naturally to Mr Boo. He and we have to MAKE things happen for him.
And that’s the crux of it all for me. Taking is such an ambiguous verb. We can ‘take the bull by the horns’. Great. Or we can be resigned and ‘take what’s coming to us’, ‘take one day at a time’. Let me tell you: there’s no room for ambiguity in our lives.
We are makers not takers, and as exhausting as it often is, I’m not going to relax into our new life. I’m not going to resist it either or tell myself I can conjure up a new reality by a misguided act of will. But I am going to plan ahead, to work out different possibilities, to research all the options and work with my family to do what’s best for all of us.
I know you’re trying to be kind. I know you want things to be easier for us. I am grateful. Believe me. I really am. But please, don’t tell me to take each day as it comes.
You see, I just can’t take it any more.