Put away the props, put down your weapons
About 50 days before our baby was due, an acquaintance at a dinner party asked, “So, do you have your bag ready?”
“What bag?” asked my partner, the whites of his eyes showing. He’s the logistics guy. He’s the list, plan and equipment guy. If there’s a bag to be packed, he’s the one making sure it’s the right pack, with the right capacity, filled with the right stuff. When we’re out in the field somewhere, I’ll say, “oh man, did we even think to bring some tape/firestarter/toenail clippers/a bottle opener?” and he’ll shrug quietly and pull out a little bag of supplies and there it will be.
“What bag?” he asked. “What do we need in the bag?”
He shot me a glance as if to say, “You’ve been going to all these midwife appointments and you never mentioned a freaking bag! What else have you been holding back? How am I supposed to do this if you aren’t giving me the critical intell?”
I’d had a similar flash of panic, and reached out to a dear friend, the kind you can ask your most stupid questions of, and confessed the question that had most been concerning me, that most indicated my total lack of preparedess or qualification for this whole parenting/birthing adventure. She’d had two children, was a vet, had a third on the way, was someone I trusted to give a no bullshit answer and not shame me for my stupidity. So I asked it. “This birthing business… What exactly am I supposed to wear?”
She broke it to me as gently as she could: There are a range of things you can start in, it doesn’t really matter. It will become irrelevant pretty quickly.
I could have gone and purchased a special birthing muumuu or bikini or had someone bless a sports bra and yoga pants to imbue them with good energy. I could have had my toenails polished or my hair cut or my bag packed with all kinds of amulets and talismans. But it wouldn’t have mattered. All the props would become irrelevant pretty quickly. The business is the business.
Her advice boiled down to something that I have discovered applies in all situations in life: Do what makes you feel good and prepared. But don’t worry too much because it’s mostly irrelevant. Mostly just surface. Mostly distraction. When it comes to the stuff that really counts, the emptier your hands are and the less burdened you are by fixed ideas about how things should go, the better.
That is the one really profound thing I learned having a baby… the actual birthy part of it (most of which I’ve forgotten, to be honest) and all the tending and parenting bits that have come since — there are no tools or props or special infallible techniques that will get you through (though people might try to sell them to you.)
It might feel safer to be wielding a phone, a coffee mug, a clipboard, a power suit, an avalanche airbag, or a pair of super-smart-looking-specs… but when it all comes down to it: All that you need is within you.
Bring what you’ve got to the table – your strengths, your skills, your enthusiasm. The hurts and the things you’d rather not admit about yourself, too. (One recurring thing I’ve discovered from dozens of people I’ve interviewed is that if you’re willing to work with those, you can make a truly powerful contribution.)
Bring it all.
It won’t be enough.
It’s all that you can bring. But it won’t be enough.
I try and remind myself every day, when I walk out the door, feeling woefully unprepared for whatever lies ahead. I have probably forgotten a snack, a water bottle, my toque, the magic word, how to access my superpowers. Even if I had them all, there will be moments for which I am actually unprepared.
I think strapping on your phone, your gun, your cynicism, helps people feel prepared, geared up. It’s hard to be empty-handed. It’s so much nicer to have a prop. To feel purposeful. To feel as if the schedule, the diaper bag, the plan, the phone, the first aid kit, will protect you.
But ultimately, it all comes down to us, individually, stripped bare to the bone, trying to make it all work. Doing our best. Bringing what we’ve got to the table, trying to push love up front and fear behind, and relying on the people around us to contribute where we fall short.
That’s what I already suspected before the kid came along. But it keeps coming home.
In the end, we packed a bag. It didn’t get opened once.
The Velocity Project: how to slow the f*&k down and still achieve optimum productivity and life happiness.
(Photo by Amie Leblanc.)