This week I went to a behavior management workshop at my kids’ school, which, although attended by other parents, I suspect was an intervention for yours truly (#jokingnotjoking). Lead by the insightful, sharp-shooting Diana Tepfer of Interactive Kids, the workshop focused on “expected” and “unexpected” behavior – that is, behavior that is perceived by others as kind, helpful, and respectful, versus behavior that is perceived as unfriendly, hurtful, mean, or disrespectful. While the goal is ultimately to help children practice expected behavior, Diana said, unexpected behavior is absolutely necessary to their development.
“If they don’t mess up,” she asked, “how will they learn?”
I think my entire life might be a testament to that.
Those who love me will tell you I have an interest (read: obsession) with real estate. I am constantly trolling Trulia and Zillow, and take morning walks around the neighborhood to connect with God and find new houses for sale. I’m motivated partly by a wholesome love for design, space, color, and Home Goods, and partly from an addiction to geographical cures. There is a little voice inside me, cooing like Kaa the snake to a hypnotized Mowgli, that peace, contentment, and fulfillment are waiting at some unknown destination “out there,” probably in a converted Victorian with a sexy new kitchen. In pursuit of that lie, I’ve moved my family around the eastern seaboard (and once, to Israel) a total of nine times within ten years of marriage.
That’s right, folks: Nine.
I crashed and burned on this compulsion a few years back, after we’d been living in our beloved New Jersey community for a while. Suddenly, I got itchy: I needed a change. No matter that my husband, my children, and I were well established, or that we actually liked where we lived. The idea that this place might be “it”, my last landing point, made me feel like I was choking. There had to be “more than this.”
(For the record: you can tell you’re working with an addict when the goal is more of anything.)
I did what I always do: I bulldozed my husband into moving. First, I started dropping the names of different communities into our conversations, dangling the prospect before him like a carrot in front of a horse. I lauded the benefits of the move to anyone who would listen: the amazing resources, the selection of schools, the wholesome lifestyle. I didn’t actually know any of these things for sure; I had just decided in my mind that this was the way things would be. When my husband finally started humming my tune, I went in for the kill by showing him listings on Trulia.
My husband, poor man, wants only one thing: to make his wife happy.
So off we went.
About six months later, it was clear that our move was terrible decision. The fantasy life I thought we’d find in our new home was nowhere to be found. We had no friends, no community, and were in way over our heads financially. I’d been so lost in dreamland I had assumed the numbers would just add up. And wouldn’t you know it, that voice, the very same one that had brought me here in the first place, piped up again: It was the people here, their cliquishness and insularity; it was the schools, which weren’t progressive enough. And it was cold, like, all the time.
We had to leave.
When an opportunity to move again fell into our laps, we grabbed it. The struggle continued, however, in our new place. Despite our efforts to make it work, I talked constantly of where we were going next, and in the process, drove my husband insane. Then, just like that, the job that had brought us there ended, and we were suddenly forced to move. Too exhausted to start over again, again, we decided to return to our old home, where our friends were, and where we’d been happy in the first place. Despite my best efforts to find “more,” we ended up right back where we started.
It’s almost laughable, looking back now, how I’d tried to outwit God. I thought that if I forced my will hard enough, I could make the lies I told myself true. Instead, God had snapped me back to home base like a faulty slingshot.
And you know what? I’m happier here than I’ve ever been anywhere.
Part of me looks back on that year and a half as a nightmare I brought on myself. Had I not been so hell-bent on finding “more,” we wouldn’t have exhausted ourselves so thoroughly, nor wasted so much time, money, and energy. But I also discovered that God knows what I need way better than I do. My best course of action is to sit down, shut up, and follow God’s directions, instead of trying to make things happen. And if that reptilian voice starts whispering to me again, I sure as hell better ignore it, lest I get swallowed alive.
My sponsor recently told me that “recovery is the art of remaining undisturbed.” I love that zen picture of maintaining balance no matter what kind of external chaos is happening. I find it’s much easier to balance when I focus on my inner workings, instead of losing my footing by trying to arrange outer circumstances to suit me.
A few weeks ago, we got a note on our door saying that the house we rent is about to be sold at auction. Based on my history, you’d think I’d be thrilled: an excuse to go house hunting! But, this time, it’s different. I’m looking at listings, but not for the dopamine hit; I’m simply gathering information. Under no circumstances am I trying to make anything happen, because I know it’s going to work out in the best way possible if I just stay out of the way. I am peacefully waiting for the next right directions, and practicing expected adult behavior.
Today, I can’t help but be grateful for the time I moved three times. I am so, so glad I messed up.
How else would I have learned my lesson?