End of year celebrations hold so much anticipation and possibility: much-needed relaxation, cozy moments with loved ones, favorite traditions including festive treats, and hopefully a bit of a time to reflect on the past year. This year has been really hard for all of us and maybe we are sick of reflecting on how it's gone...but the ongoing complications of the pandemic mean that many beloved activities won't happen in the same way or with people we have already been missing for so long. It is important to give ourselves permission to feel the real distress and frustration this is causing.
Can UP Tools cut through some of the disappointment or ongoing complexity and grief of these circumstances? I think they can in the same way Phoebe Bridgers sings about emotional "Motion Sickness" when she asks "Somebody roll the windows down." When we can reframe uncertainty as the bridge to possibility, we roll the windows down on all the negativity and anxiety. Seeing uncertainty as the shadow side to possibility enables a curiosity which can grow into a hopefulness about what is possible. It gets us scheming in productive ways and we can prime for what we want to make happen. Uncertainty makes us feel helpless but we still have so much control over what we choose to believe about the situation, how we show up, what we decide to do and how we d0 it.
We are using one emotional hygiene tool in the sustain phase of UP to help us carry the sadness of spending the holidays far away from our oldest, Jordan, whom we haven't been able to see at all this year. After planning and then cancelling three different attempts to meet up as a family--each scenario being revealed as too risky or too flagrant a disregard for the raging pandemic--we are feeling worn out but mostly, really sad. The "tool" is called "Be your own doula." We have scoured thesaurus and synonym lists to find a word that would be more inclusive but there isn't anything that rings true yet...Doulas are childbirth assistants who have been shown to cut time spent in labor, reduce the mother's anxiety, lower the rate of medical intervention and c-section, and improve mother-baby bonding! But the fascinating thing is that they are not there to support the medical side. They are there for continuous physical, emotional, and informational support with the goal of facilitating the best possible experience for the mother. A doula is someone who has spent time with her beforehand who knows what she really wants to have happen, what she is most afraid of, and someone who will remind her about those things in the intensity of labor and delivery.
A doula is like a version of our best self who doesn't judge or bark out orders but calmly and encouragingly reminds us that we can do the things we want to do, and will help us modify those things when complications or changes arise in real time. Doulas know the birth moms' triggers and what their dealbreakers are and what they most care about--but guess what? We know all that stuff about ourselves but we usually don't give the permission or take the time to really listen to what we need. And then we often fail to be a champion to that cause.
Right now, imagine a magical fairy godmother gifted you a "doula" who was going to assist you during your end of year celebrations. Whether you are going to be alone or celebrating with others, the doula would help you outline a plan and would listen to what you hope for. And as the moments and days started to unfold the doula would be right there to speak up for you or to remind you what it was you believe in or care most about. Just like doulas might recommend a mother in labor to drink some warm tea, hop in the tub or put on some soothing music, we can show up as our own doula with any number of physical, emotional or informational supports that we have chosen might work for us (giving yourself a pep talk, going back over the plan you made, considering a plan B, or letting yourself cry and feel the intensity of the moment).
When we first cancelled our travel to the USA, we needed to cry about the coziness of all the Christmas traditions that wouldn't be the same without Jordan (kids walking out to the living room from youngest to oldest, doing Legos together, watching Muppet Christmas carol, playing lots of games, etc.) but then Nathan set to work creating a spreadsheet of activities we can still do and invited us all to edit and add to the list and vote on our favorites. We ordered some highly ranked games that work over Zoom and we have a platform that will let us watch movies "together." We are also fanning the flames of excitement for the reunion we know is coming and thinking about how we can make it more meaningful than ever.
I didn't know about doulas when I had my four kids but I really wish I had. Knowing about their role is a gift for me now; I feel inspired by the selfless task they have raised to an art form and believe the metaphor can help us if we can gather even a fraction of that deeply nourishing energy and give it to ourselves.
Imagine the many stories that could be told about this holiday season. Which ones do you want to tell and remember later? All of us carry a lot of stress and weariness on top of the sadness we have felt during this past year which makes us candidates for needing our own personal doulas. A hilarious tip for handling interpersonal outbursts that reveal a lapse in emotional hygiene: just say, "My doula didn't show up!" It worked for us this morning when Nathan was going off on my version of this blog post. I loved his response! It explained exactly what happened and I can relate to the tendency to get overly critical when I'm in editor mode. We laughed together and remembered that what matters most to us right now is being kind and hopeful and courageous as we work on this project together. If we can perform this wise and comforting role for ourselves we might be able to save ourselves some negative and damaging stories and lay a foundation where magical stories can happen.