I am a sucker for a romantic movie and a deliciously soppy ending. My heart rejoices at the tender sentiment of romantic love as I watch the beautiful couple finally realize that they are meant to be together and kiss passionately while the credits are rolling.
Invariably I leave the movie theatre with a curious mixture of melancholy happiness and niggling regret. The regret always seems to assert itself when I emerge from the comforting and disorienting darkness of the theatre into the brightly lit foyer, the overflowing garbage cans and the throngs of fellow movie-goers. The reality is that I just don’t want the movie to end; I want to go on living in that bubble of simplicity, happiness and romance. As I am walking through the parking lot to find my car I always wonder why life can’t be that simple; live through some challenges, work hard at overcoming them and then walk off into the sunset with the man of your dreams to live a simple and happy life.
In the past few years as life has been particularly challenging, the parking lot is the place where the deep regret for the difficult life I am living seems to set in and I am hit with a staggering wave of despair. This parking lot feeling is so painful it’s almost not worth going to the movie. However, I can’t seem to resist the pull of Hollywood romance and get lured back time and again just for the fleeting feeling of relief from my life.
I have spent the past 42 years looking for the happily ever after ending. I have been reaching unsuccessfully for the kind of neat and tidy perfection only found in the Hollywood version of life. I feel as if I am just beginning to come to grips with a new version of the fairy tale but it is so easy to get seduced back into someone else’s version of ‘the perfect life’ and the happily ever after ending. As I have been writing this blog over the past seven months I have become aware that I am writing a book. Each chapter of the book has slowly unfolded right before my eyes and my job has been to document and preserve each nuance of this delicate unfolding. The tricky aspect of this book is that I have no idea how, where or when the story will end, so I just keep writing. I have the feeling I will know when I am done but until that time my fingers keep dancing over my keyboard each and every morning in the quiet darkness before my family awakens. I am, however, always on the lookout for the perfect ending to Michael’s and my story.
I got lulled into that make-believe happily ever after ending to the story just over a month ago.
Way back at the beginning of September, Simon and I met with Michael’s teacher to discuss Michael’s ADHD diagnosis and the various challenges he has had with school in the past. We shared the details and devastating impact of last February’s assault and we brainstormed ways of making grade three ‘a win’ (as Simon so eloquently stated it). As the meeting was winding down we also discussed our resistance to pharmaceutical medication. As September wore on and Michael was still struggling in school, Simon and I decided that we would begin a trial of meds in November. We decided we wanted Lynne to get a solid baseline on Michael in the classroom during September and October so she could really mark the difference that Ritalin would make to Michael’s ability to control his behaviour in class and get his work done. It had been a long and challenging journey but I had finally reached the point where I could consider meds without feeling a painful ache deep inside my body.
October found us in shocked and delighted awe as Michael made strides in the classroom that far surpassed any of our wildest imaginings. He was happy, he was calm and he was slowly learning how to get down to work. At the end of October Simon and Michael left for a ten day trip out west to visit Simon’s parents. They had a wonderful trip full of family, dogs, puppies, walks, swimming and fun. When Michael returned home, the miraculous transformation that had started occurring during October was even more pronounced. As I sat on the floor one evening with Michael and played Bey Blades, I felt a calm centre inside him that I had never felt before. He was sitting on the floor happily playing without fidgeting, jumping up or talking over me loudly and incessantly. I shared my feeling with him and he looked at me with that adorably endearing grin and casually said; “oh yeah, my ADHD is gone mommy.” I told him that I had to agree with him because I couldn’t feel a trace of hyperactivity in his body as we sat together.
My heart soared with a new-found hope; was it possible that Michael was right and he had somehow found his way out of the complex physical maze of ADHD symptoms?
A few days later I sat just behind Michael in a Monday morning school assembly. I watched in amazement as he sat through a 30 minute gathering with ease. He put up his hand when appropriate, he sang with the group and he kept his hands to himself even when one of his friends attempted to lure him into some monkey-business. I could not believe what I was seeing; Michael was as calm and focused as the other children and looked happy and carefree. I could feel tears burning my eyes as I continued to watch him. After the assembly I kissed the boys goodbye and started walking down the hall to go home. Just as I was reaching the end of the hallway Michael’s teacher called out to me and asked if we could have a quick word. I had a vague sense of the old feeling of; ‘oh no, what did he do?’ However, I was pleased and surprised at how quickly the sensation passed. Lynne took me into an empty cloak room so we could have some privacy (which did make me start to wonder if the news was bad).
Thankfully, Lynne came right to the point and asked me if we had started Michael on a trial of ADHD medication. She told me that Michael was so calm and centred in class she wondered if we had decided to move forward on the trial of medication without letting her know (perhaps so she could get an unbiased baseline). I was overjoyed as I informed her that Michael was not on meds and that we were experiencing the same feeling of calm at home. Suddenly, I was awash with a sense of relief and happiness that was so strong I had to fight back the tears as I stood there with Michael’s teacher. Lynne went on to let me know that she is working hard to shift the culture around Michael. Apparently, Michael is seen by the other boys in his class as the troublemaker and the class clown and that he is more than happy to acquiesce. On numerous occasions Lynne has reflected this phenomenon back to Michael to let him know that he has a choice as to how he responds to this old role. Lynne told me that Michael has responded well to choosing to show up in a new way and that the culture is slowly beginning to shift. I thanked Lynne profusely for all she is doing for Michael; for loving him, for raising the bar and for creating a safe space around him in which he can succeed. As is her way, Lynne humbly made it clear that she was simply doing her job (and what a job that is!!!)
Needless to say, I left the school that morning feeling as if I was walking on air. I was so happy I felt as if I was going to burst! All I could think was; Michael is healed, Michael is healed, Michael is healed! I could feel our story beginning to wind down and I felt unqualified delight with the neat and tidy happily ever after ending; child is diagnosed, mom tries everything to heal him, challenges are met, mom falls in love with child, all their problems are behind them and they walk hand-in-hand into the sunset. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? No looking back, the movie comes to a close and the credits roll while a lovely song is playing. And as the credits are rolling the director skilfully cuts to the best report card Michael has ever had and the wonderful parent-teacher conference full of optimism, praise and the promise of a bright future for the adorable magic child.
What more could any movie ask for? Hollywood eats that kind of ending with a spoon!
Imagine my surprise when, two weeks later, I was called into the library after school to have an impromptu parent-teacher conference about three difficult days in a row. Sitting across from Lynne and hearing her say; “the wheels really fell off the cart today” was like having a bucket of cold water splashed in my face. Okay, hang on. The wheels did what? I was so unprepared for any bad news I struggled to step back into my old role as I sat across from Lynne. I think I did okay as I questioned her and we worked on some new strategies for this latest setback. However, it was all I could do to sit and appear like this was the most normal conversation to be having when inside my body I could feel an agonizing cry building. The pain was so fresh and the grief so deep I had to force myself to sit when all I wanted to do was run. And all I could think a I sat there was; I don’t want to go back here, I can’t go back here, I don’t have the strength to go back here, please just make this go away.
It took me days to get my feet back under me and find a way to keep the story going. We had already walked off into the sunset and now I had to find the energy to start the cameras rolling again when that was the last thing I wanted to do.
Once I regained my shaky equilibrium I was able to reluctantly relinquish the Hollywood ending to our story. Over many early mornings of meditation I coached myself back into my well-worn role and started behaving like a mother again instead of a capricious Hollywood actress. I was able to look at the events surrounding Michael’s setback with objectivity and curiosity and what I saw was both interesting and revealing. What I realized is that Michael’s story is not going to come to an end and nor do I want it to. Regardless of ADHD symptoms or not, Michael is a delicious, adorable and complex human being with a compelling story to tell. I also came to grips with the fact that the Hollywood ending was not for Michael, it was for me.
It was time to let go of happily ever after once and for all.
I have always thought of happily ever after as a destination; go through some challenges in life, rise gracefully to meet them and then live happily ever after, the end. I always used to wonder; what’s next? What happens after the soaring music comes to an end, the beautiful couple end their kiss and the sun has set? Do they go out for a beer? Do they make a home together? Have kids? What happens when the next challenge comes along? Will there even be any challenges for this perfect Hollywood couple? The hopeless romantic in me would never allow for an ending to the ending; once happily ever after is safely in place that is the end of the story.
I think this is where I have been tripped up and held back over the past years since I met Simon. I have been clinging to happily ever after as the destination; I had the idea that at each milestone of our relationship we had reached the pinnacle of Hollywood perfection and it was smooth sailing from there. I have been inexorably shocked each and every time a seemingly insurmountable challenge has presented itself. It’s almost as if I have wanted to turn to the director of my movie and say; “excuse me, but aren’t we in the wrong movie? We already met all of our challenges, kissed passionately, walked off into the sunset and lived happily ever after. Be a darling and figure it out, would you?” But the director never does figure it out so I have been left to figure it out for myself and discover the next happily ever after that I am moving toward.
I have been reluctantly moving the destination out bit by bit for years; once I have met the man of my dreams, once we have a place of our own, once we are engaged, once we are married, once we have bought a house, once we have kids, once we are debt-free…it goes on and on. So what I was really saying was; ‘once everything is Hollywood perfect, then I will be happy’. The scary thing is that if I follow that particular recipe I will never be happy because that version of perfection does not exist. The irony in all of this is that every single one of my little girl dreams has come true; meet and marry a wonderful man who adores me and have a brood of beautiful kids who surround me with happy chaos and love. What I didn’t factor into the equation, and what romantic Hollywood wouldn’t dare to show, is that human relationship is stunningly complex and that life is rich with opportunities to grow and change and adapt to being in relationship together.
Looking at my life over the past 21 years through this new lens was painfully revealing to me. Is it any wonder I have been feeling despair, disappointment and depression? I was moving toward a destination that simply wasn’t there. I was building my life on a foundation of quick sand and the more I struggled the faster I was sinking.
In the days that followed these heart-rending realizations I sat in quiet morning meditation and attempted to force myself to reluctantly relinquish my penchant for my happily ever after ending. I realized that I had fallen for the Hollywood version of life and that to try and live that way was akin to a sort of madness, like a hamster on a wheel running his little heart out but never getting anywhere. So it was time to stop reaching for happy and come down to earth. It was time to come to grips with the stark reality of life. For days I mourned the loss of happily ever after until one morning I had a stunning epiphany; happy is who I am, happy is what I want and I cannot live without joy and passion and enthusiasm. So where do I find those resonant emotions while building a life on solid bedrock? Can I still reach for happiness and stop looking for happily ever after? The answer came so easily it was almost ridiculous; I can still have happily ever after but it doesn’t have to be the ending of the story, happily ever after can be the story.
I was ready to turn my back on happily ever after forever; to firmly reprimand the little dreamer inside of me to grow up and face reality. However, the past few weeks have shown me that happily ever after is not a destination, it is simply a choice I get to make on the journey. In every moment of every day I get to choose happily ever after and reach for whatever it is that makes me joyful. In every moment I get to choose and direct my journey toward the bliss that I have been hungering for all these years. But now there is no end in sight, no finish line, no sunset and no high fives because it all worked out so perfectly. It sounds ridiculously easy but it has completely changed the way I am living my life; I am choosing happiness, joy, love and fun because it feels good, not because that is going to get me where I need to be. This is not a secret recipe and it is not living with my head buried in the sand; it is quite simply being aware of how I am choosing to live my life. I get to live in, swim in, taste and touch happily ever after in every moment I reach for it.
I have been mindfully reaching for happiness over the past few weeks since this astonishing insight. As I have done so I have felt the darker emotions that have been claiming so much attention slowly falling away. It feels as if I have discovered a whole new path on which to walk and I am proudly claiming this path with a spring in my step that I have never had before. I am amazed at the impact it is having on my relationship with Simon and with my children. It is as if a light has been turned on and everything feels easier because I don’t have to grope around in the inky darkness anymore.
I will candidly admit that there are many moments (like Zachary lying on the floor in the chiropractor’s full waiting room yesterday and Michael pile-driving him from the other side of the room) that it is extremely challenging to choose to stay in the vibration of love and happiness when hollering and raging at my children through clenched teeth feels more appropriate. However, what I am slowly becoming aware of is that I have a split second to choose how to respond instead of my accustomed knee-jerk responses to my children; yell first, repair later. And sometimes I do choose a darker emotion but now I am finding a way back to where I want to be. I am not claiming it is easy and I can see that it will take a lifetime of practice but I will swim in happily ever after while I am doing it.
From this brand new vantage point it doesn’t matter if Michael is, by some linear textbook definition, ‘healed’. ADHD actually does not factor into the equation at all. All that truly matters is that he grows up on solid bedrock knowing how to reach for his bliss. It matters that he grows up with parents who love and embrace life to the fullest so that he has the opportunity to learn by example. It matters that he knows how to cope with adversity if it does come along and that reaching for happiness and joy in every moment is not pie-in-the-sky, it is the only way to truly live. And it matters that he learns that happily ever after is a gift to be developed and treasured every moment of every day.
So now as the house begins to stir around me I will walk off into the sunrise, the music will keep playing, the characters will keep acting and the credits will not roll. My movie feels as if it is actually just beginning and I have the rest of my life for my very own version of happily ever after. And now I get to step into, stand in and claim it for keeps.
Perhaps today I will even shout it from the rooftops.