Going with the flow….. such a pretty concept. It conjures up a lazy loveliness of meandering musings. Drifting down the river aimlessly on a warm summer day, the haze of sun misting the haze of thoughts in your head. But here’s the thing about The Flow. It takes you places you might not want to go.
And as a list-led, goal-geared, destination-driven kind of gal, that makes me very nervous.
Right now, life has kicked up a storm and the waters are choppy and challenging. But as always, even though she can no longer guide me to safety herself, I realise through the lessons she taught me, my mum is still holding up a light in the dark.
With life in freefall right now, I keep thinking I should be more of a ‘go with the flow’ sort of person. But even thinking about it makes me want to grab an oar and start paddling back to shore. Drifting aimlessly down a river is only a nice idea if you know exactly where you are drifting to. I’d be so stressed that I’d be missing out on the really important cafe on the far shore (I always need to know where my next decent tea or wine is coming from). Or that I’d get bogged down in the weeds – there are always a wrangle of weeds that all the rubbish has flowed into… rubbish that has literally gone with the flow into a cluster of clogged up leaves, sticks and discarded debris.
You see, going with the flow does not flow in my family. My mum was an agitated list maker and day planner. Four years after her stroke I’m still finding little notebooks filled entirely with lists: Christmas presents, groceries, clothes to pack (and one that I now keep beside my bed – “Things I love about Alana”…. a pre-blogger if ever I saw one, she actually wrote down all the things she loved about me……is it any wonder I’m a blogging, listing, planning documenting, organising queen?)
But I actually got the Double Determined No-Flow Gene.
My dad is also a list maker. His room is full of notebooks documenting every walk he has wandered, and every mountain he has climbed. Now that he cares for mum and runs the house, his kitchen looks like a paint splatter, scattered with scraps of yellow and pink Post It Notes. They represent all the bits of his brain stuck up on the wall so he knows what to do every day. And when I go to visit, I add my own so that sometimes there is no room on the kitchen counter to prepare food – only read what we are meant to be preparing.
As a child, nobody in my house was short of an opinion. Opinions flowed instead of going with the flow. Everyone had a plan, a view, an absolute belief that their way was the right way. It wasn’t a quiet house. But it was full of energy and ideas and plans.
So I never grew up learning to go with the flow – I was brought up to steer with a clear intent. Make a list, form a plan, don’t miss a trick.
And so I grab what I learnt as a child and implement it as an adult. As my life falls down around me into chaos, I am rising like a list-lunatic Phoenix, arms stretched high, pen in one hand, post it note in the other – screeching a warrior wail: I will survive and I will figure out where I’m going!
I wrestle with the uncertainty and crave routine and so going with the flow is not an option. I am going to wrestle uncertainty with Post It’s. I am going to stab uncertainty with a pen. And I am going to build routine with a plan. But I am also learning from my girls.
Like this flowed from my parents to me (a family flow rather than a go-with-the-flow), it now flows from me to my girls.
Daisy has notebooks filled with lists – she’d be giving my mum a run for her money. (although I doubt shes listing why she loves me….. instead she is obsessively listing (in order) who she likes best in Harry Potter, who is the best baddie in Harry Potter, what is her favourite teacher in Harry Potter (there’s a theme…). She likes to know exactly what we will be doing, at what time and woe is woe if we deviate from the plan! She needs a plan just to plan her plans (she obviously got my Double Gene and tripled it!!)
Ruby too likes to know how her day will look and that’s ok. Being 4, you still need a little direction.
So far, so on the same boat. We all have opinions and like to voice them. Loudly.
And then there is Poppy. Lovely softly Poppy who make the phrase ‘go with the flow’ sound positively military. She is so laid back she’s not even in the boat. She’s drifting down the river on her back, singing to herself, not a care (or a plan) in her head. She does like the odd list but they usually end up getting lost in the land-fill site that is her room. She brings a certain calm to the chaos of our new family.
My life has flowed in a direction I never imagined, and I need to navigate it back to a route that will bring me happiness, contentment and creative energy. For that I need lists, and plans and order. But as I’m realising more and more from these sandwich years, I take what I’ve learnt from my mum and I look at what I’m learning from my children. I may be mothering them all, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still teach me.
My mum made lists and planned plans, but she wasn’t bossy. She also knew how to see how things panned out. She knew when to flow and when to go. As I reflect on her style, I realise that while she spoke her mind, she actually steered our boat from behind. Like a train diver in the back carriage, full steam ahead, on the right track, but at our backs, having our backs.
And that is my job now. To steer her life in a way that she is safe and cared for, and to guide my girls through this storm until the waters are calm again. And to find my direction and flow there in confidence.