Sometimes, by changing just one thing, you can change everything.
I’ve learned by now that there’s only one thread in all the tangle. Find a loose end and pull, and I feel the tug snarl through every part of my life. Or sometimes, with a little grace, a tiny part of the knot slips free forever. These epiphanies feel like relief, and usually make me cry.
I’m finally wise enough to consider the Gordian complications when I make my New Year’s Resolutions. I have two children under the age of six and stay home to take care of them while my Husband runs a couple of fairly new businesses. I have only the emotional space to change one thing at a time, really, so I have to pick the thing that counts.
After six years of incubating, feeding and caring for very young children, my body needs a little attention. I have neglected my exercise, my eating, my weight and my mental health to the extent that the Husband has recently felt compelled to sit down with me and initiate convoluted conversations with me about longevity.
I do want to grow old with my children. And I want to be the eighty-year old climbing ladders and sitting cross-legged on the floor with the great-grands. There are a couple of models in my family for this, so presumably there is genetic hope. I remember when my mom started walking first thing in the morning, every day. She had gained some weight post-surgery from drug treatment for a medical condition, and like me now, was ready to get her body back. I remember her calculating the distance around our development as one mile. I remember her bundling up in the brown and white pompom hat and scarf, winter and summer in our beachside town, to walk that mile every morning at five a.m.
She didn’t do it for just one month, or one year, or two. She’s done it every day since. Not perfectly, I’m sure. But my mom is still getting up before dawn every day, bundling up against the subzero midwest winter she lives with now, and walking at least a mile. Watching her live makes me want to be sixty already – she’s got so much figured out.
So I have chosen my one thing: Every morning, for the rest of my life, I will get up and walk first thing. I’m not too particular about the distance. A pointy hill conveniently located near my house will serve. It includes a neat little loop that passes by a tall stand of eucalyptus where a pair of owls nest. Up and down the hill completes a mother’s mile. A few extra passes on the loop can easily make it two or three, plus extra chances to catch that magical moment when an owl silently swoops home to roost.
I hope that by tugging on this one thread, much more of the tangle that is taking care of myself will come loose…I’ll have to go to bed earlier to be able to get up and walk, so I’ll get better sleep….I’ll be thirsty first thing in the morning, and reconnect with my body’s need to refresh its water supply throughout the day….I’ll get three things I need daily first – exercise, fresh air, and time alone – before I’m asked to take care of anyone else, and before the day runs away with all my opportunities….I’ll start each day with time to think, time to clarify my goals, my boundaries, my feelings, even my list of things to do….Time to think means thinking about writing, so if I get up early enough I can walk and write each morning….Writing means learning and change, because for me, putting words onto the page has always been the best way to make it so, and so the circle comes around. By changing just one thing, I can change everything. So I hope and believe.
I have all the normal human challenges with motivation, plus the extra challenges of life with young children who quickly figure out that I’m now waking up at 5:30 a.m. and decide that must be when all people start their day, and a Husband who travels up to forty percent of the year for weeks at a time. This same Husband has thoughtfully pressed upon me an iPhone, which took no time at all to love. It reassures him to be able to find me anywhere in the world by text or call, it keeps my crazy calendar at hand, and delights my senses every time I run my finger across its shiny screen or stroke the soft matte surface of its Mophie case absentmindedly with my knuckle. This elegant object even has a sense of humor – the apps on board have the sense to shake with fear when my children get their hands on my phone and adeptly begin rearranging their world.
There are only a few apps that I use every day, and even fewer to such effect. First among them is Unbroken Chain. With this app, I can track my efforts to make this one change in my world – to walk first thing every morning, for the rest of my life. Its simplicity matches my effort. If I walk, I get to touch that calendar square with the tip of my finger, and a satisfying bold red X appears on that date. At the top of the screen two ticker counters inform me of the number of consecutive days I have met my goal, and the total number of days as well. I could keep track of multiple goals, but I insist on keeping it simple. Just one thing. Someday perhaps the developer will create a widget that I can use here in this blog, so the world can root me on. Everyone can use a little moral support, me more than most at this hour in the morning. My stats for January? Two chains of six and eight, and one unbroken chain of ten, for a total of 23 days walked this month so far.
Every once in a while I yearn to shed this being human, this thinking so much about everything I do. Be a cat, and just bat the big tangled ball of me around without worry. Sure, I might end up paws bound to my puzzled cheeks like the confounded kitten in a calendar. But maybe, with one lucky swat, I’ll get to watch the entire ball of yarn roll across the floor in the simplicity of a straight line, all the way to its uncomplicated end.