Giving Up the Cape
Excerpted from The Change Your Life Challenge by Brook Noel.
“I find it interesting that the very cape I tried to use to fly became so heavy it kept me grounded.” –Brook Noel
One day I was racing around town, errand to errand, mission to mission. When I stopped at my house to grab a few papers, the phone rang. It was a dear friend, so I carved out ten minutes to tell him about the hectic pace I had been leading for the past twenty-four hours.
The night before there had been a full-Wisconsin blizzard and I had gone out to shake the snow off my old rosebush so the branches wouldn’t crack under the weight. While doing this, I heard a crackling sound. Looking up, I saw several sparks shooting out from a neighbor’s tree. A wire, weighted down with snow, was blowing against a fork in the old oak. Realizing this was probably a fire hazard I called the fire department. The fire department asked me to call the electric company. I did. The woman on the other end said there were emergencies left and right due to the storm.
“But what about my flaming tree?” I asked.
“Well, we can’t get to it until we fix the power outages. Would you mind just keeping an eye on it?”
“I guess not,” I replied before hanging up the phone.
So I made a makeshift bed near the window using a few sofa pillows and set up my “tree stakeout.” While I’m watching this thirty-foot tree crackle and spark, I realize if the tree were to crash down, it would go through our roof. Realizing this could be a disaster, I rushed upstairs to rescue my husband and daughter who were both sleeping soundly.
I shoved him, pushed him, and finally awoke him from his slumber to tell him the tale of the sparking-tree. My husband stared at me through his one half-opened eye. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to move downstairs and is more concerned with his sleep than his safety. Fortunately, after a little prodding, I persuaded him to join me in my tree-stakeout. I then rescued Samantha from her crib; she was about eight-months old at the time.
We took our perch and Andy made a longer makeshift bed for him to sleep on. Determined not to lose sight of the tree, I tried to stay awake. Despite my best citizen-watch attempt, I fell asleep. Samantha did too, tucked securely between my husband and me.
I awoke around two that morning. I glanced out the window. The tree was still there. Andy was still there. Samantha, however, was not. I shook Andy’s shoulder. “Where’s Sammy?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied, shaking himself awake.
So we began our search. Samantha had just begun the rolling phase and had rolled through three rooms and was on her way, full speed, to the kitchen. Nestling her in my arms, I resumed my place in our living-room-camp.
Samantha woke up two very short hours later with a scream like that of an elephant seal. Knowing this was probably one of her chronic ear infections, I bounced into action with my cooing and cuddling routine. I began to count the hours until the clinic would open. There were four hours between the clinic, and an antibiotic, and me.
After a sleepless, scream-filled, four hours had passed, and a quick shoveling of the snow to get the car out, I ran Samantha to the clinic. There, my suspicion of an ear infection was confirmed. Then it was off to the pharmacy. Then it was back to the house. That morning a call had come from the forestry service. They would be coming out to take a look at the tree and wanted to make sure I was home.
Then it was off to my computer desk where I balanced Samantha on one leg while finishing an advertising campaign with my one free hand. Of course, the campaign was due at the photographer’s that day. To deliver the campaign, I would have to drive 45 miles in a blizzard with a sick child, around the schedule of the forestry service.
In my rush to meet deadline, I forgot the ad as I hurried out of the house. So I had to-double back. As I pulled it off my desk, the phone rang. It was a dear friend asking how my day had gone. I informed him of my adventures with the tree, the forestry service, the clinic, and the campaign.
“It’s always something,” he said in a soft voice. Though I couldn’t see him, I knew he was smiling.
“What do you mean?” I had asked.
“Last week when I called it was training your cat, starting a new book, and accepting a new campaign. The week before that it was making homemade edible clay with Sammy, giving painting lessons, and starting a novel while re-wallpapering the kitchen. Why are you doing so much?”
“Well,” I paused. “I…um…”
“I don’t do that much,” I said meekly.
“You’re going to go with that?” he questioned again. I remained silent. Then my dear friend said four words that were a gift: “Give up the cape.”
Shortly after that day, I began to-do just that. Instead of trying to accomplish everything and please everyone, I began to focus on what was important to me and my family. I began to accept that there will never be enough time to-do everything so we must do what is important. We must decide and take action on what matters.
Since I’ve discarded that cape, I’ve been much less restricted. I find it interesting that the very cape I tried to use to fly, became so heavy it kept me grounded. Instead of living up to the “shoulds” and “woulds” that bound my life, I live by the desire to create harmony within my family. It’s a great cape to outgrow.
Participating in soccer, cleaning, cooking, sewing, working, party-organizing, PTA, and church choir doesn’t make a person better than one who might only do three activities. Society has taught us that the more you have and the more you do, the more successful and fulfilled you will become. The odds are, in fact, that the person engaged in frequent activities is more likely to become haggard, frustrated, or burnt-out.
I think this is definitely an area where turning back to basics would do us good. Today, when making any decision, contemplate the thought that “less is more.”
In what ways have you been trying to-do more than is realistically possible while still staying sane? Begin shedding the super-parent cape by stripping back unrealistic expectations. Try listing out all your responsibilities and expectations. Then imagine this list was not your own, but that of a dear friend. What advice would you give her for leading a more balanced life?