On a Thursday morning in early June, I was helping my four-year-old daughter get dressed for school.
I know some families have developed a nice routine where their children essentially get themselves ready. They have somehow put into consistent practice Maria Montessori’s wisdom that you should never help a child with a task at which she feels she can succeed.
I have plenty of evidence that my daughter feels she can succeed at getting dressed. Despite that, she and I have developed a routine which goes something like this. She insists that I physically escort or airlift her to her clothes drawers. I protest lightly because I am a parent who believes in Dr. Maria Montessori. Also, she weighs more than 40 pounds and my back hurts. She protests vehemently. I ask myself, rhetorically, in the grand scheme of life, Is she really asking too much of me, before acquiescing with a sigh. She then flops down on the carpet, rolling and lolling around like a crazed pre-verbal hedgehog with selective hearing. I ask her what she wants to wear. She pretends I do not exist. I offer suggestions. She rejects them. I insist that she select her own clothes then. She refuses. I dare to get up to do something else that needs doing, like getting dressed myself. She gets two notches more upset that I am no longer within rolling distance and demands I help her pick her clothes. I argue that I already tried. She points and waves her hedgehog foot vaguely in the direction of all of her shirts. I guess which one she wants. She is exceedingly angry that I do not pick the right one. I tell her that getting her own shirt with her own hands would be easier than asking me to read her mind. She wails and points her toes harder. By process of elimination and under great duress, I guess correctly on my third or fourth try.
Then we move on to pointing at pants, before she does her best impression of a boneless, opinionated jellyfish for the actual changing of clothes.
At around step 5B in this routine on the Thursday morning in question, I wanted to resign. I groaned and wailed to the ceiling, “CAN SOMEONE ELSE DO THIS???”
From the hallway, my husband laughed and said, “There is no one else.”
There is no one else. The simple, funny truth of it shook me back into the present moment with the will to carry on, and I’ve been thinking about it since.
As a parent, somehow I’ve known that as much as I might like to simply give up in any number of challenging situations, I can’t. To love my children sometimes feels like simply knowing in my bones that “there is no one else” to do the work of getting through the things that feel hard. Giving up on myself as a parent will never be an option.
For other parts of my life, I wonder. I think my predisposition has been to pretend that “there is no one else.” Not because there is no one else to do it or no one else who cares, but because there is no one else who would care about whatever-it-is in the same way. It’s been a recipe for taking on too much, and it’s taken me too many years to learn that I don’t have to care so much about things I don’t care so much about. It only takes me further away from the things I do care about.
Where it truly matters—in the living of my life, in the living of our lives—do we live the simple truth that “there is no one else” to do the living? How often do we surrender the experience of moving and feeling and acting through our lives, because something about it feels hard to experience? Or because it feels hard to choose what to experience? Do we keep remembering, with a jolt and ideally a laugh (that we forgot or wished otherwise for a moment), that this one life is ours alone to live and to love now?
Consider the most formidable question or challenging challenge you live with at the moment. Knowing that “there is no one else,” what will you do?
Because while there is no one else, I know this is also true (it’s why I love coaching): You are not alone.