I’ve had a crazy last week and with the Christmas holidays rapidly approaching, it doesn’t feel like things will be getting better any time soon. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had a nine-hour drive home from the San Francisco Bay area. On Sunday, I hit the ground running with a pre-dawn trip to the market, so we would have milk and bagels for breakfast. From there, I was on to laundry, creating an African tribal mask for Finn’s 7th grade history class, and following up on all of the homework that had ‘accidentally’ gotten left at home over vacation. After working from home on Monday and Tuesday, I headed out of town for three nights to work at my company’s Orange County office, leaving my sick husband and three kids in the care of my mother-in-law, who was thankfully visiting us from Montana.

I screeched into the driveway on Friday morning in enough time to drive carpool, and to shop and prep for a special event we were hosting at our own business on Friday night. Drinks, desserts and door prizes at “Ladies Night Out” at Wavelines! Come one and come all to shop for Christmas. Life was all good, all fine, all (mostly) under control, but as Tim and I got ready Saturday morning to head out to Molly’s soccer game in San Ysidro, just a ½ mile from the Mexican border, I leaned into him and sighed.

“Do you know what I want for Christmas?” I asked him.

“Do you know what I can afford?” he countered.

“Perfect,” I said, “ It won’t cost you a thing. I just want a button I can push that will stop the world and everyone in it for about 1 month…”

“You mean, like a vacation?” He interrupted, “A sabbatical, where you disappear for a month? I could maybe give you two or three days, but…”

“No, honey, like magic. Like everything in the world stops, except for me, like a bad episode of “Bewitched.” No one else moves and I can just scurry around and get caught up on everything, more than caught up, ahead even!” I pictured myself baking dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies, cleaning the house from top to bottom, including the closets, writing 50 pages for the book I’m dreaming of, having time to go to the gym, the movies and the beach for a surf, guilt-free.

He’s such a man. He suggested that I skip Molly’s soccer game and get some work done. Three hours versus thirty days…

Close enough, right?

But the thing is that I really wanted to go to Molly’s soccer game. Going to a soccer game, especially after being out of town for work that week, felt like the most important thing I could do that day, even though there was not a single Christmas present bought, or card sent.  I wanted to be fully present to my daughter for that hour, to share in her triumph or defeat, her grin when she made a good play, or the slump of her shoulders if she felt like she let her team down. I wanted to drive away from my chores, my laptop, the big box of work under my desk. I wanted to be out in the winter sunshine, cheering like a maniac with my phone nowhere in sight.

So I did. And it was glorious.

And when I got home, it was back to the drawing board. Laundry, dinner, sweeping, writing, life. Finally, I pulled myself away and got in a hot bath around 7, with the promise of a movie with Tim at 8. The kids were happily watching TV downstairs, and I was content. Tim hadn’t been able to get me that magic button I asked for (yet), but somehow I had found the button inside, the one that paused me. I already have access to the button that makes me stop, and I know it’s the only one I am ever going to get. I curled up next to him and we started to watch our film, but after 10 minutes, he thought it was too depressing and went downstairs. Oh well, it was time to get the kids into bed anyway.

So I walked downstairs and back into the firestorm of my life. I thought of the 6:30 am wake up call that was coming for Molly’s game on the border the next day and knew I’d better gather all the bits of her uniform right now. And I thought of the orange slices I had better cut and the socks I had better Febreeze. I thought of the pile of laundry that was still sitting in the dryer waiting to be folded. I reminded Keara, my 14-year-old, to practice her piano, which led to a tense conversation about the rights and responsibilities of parents’ to direct their children’s lives. I was so keyed up by the time that 30 minutes were through that I had to clean off my desk just to get my emotions under control. Have I mentioned before that I soothe myself by cleaning?

By the time I rejoined Tim upstairs where he had escaped to after he kissed the kids goodnight, another hour had passed and he felt badly that he had ever let me go back downstairs at all. I think he was googling “How to stop the world for a busy mom,” but he wasn’t having any luck. I shook my head at him, and sat down to write.

I am the only one who can choose to get off this merry-go-round, because I know it won’t stop. Things will get done, or they won’t, by my choice and my limitations. And that’s okay. As I write this, late on Saturday night, I plan on pushing the button again tomorrow. I am leaving my house at 8 and won’t be back until 2pm. Christmas lights be damned! I am going to watch my little girl run up and down the sidelines, defending her goal with all her might. I’ll invite Tim to lay his head in my lap and take a nap between games on the sideline grass. I hope to challenge a passel of nine-year-old girls to a game of BS and lose on purpose, just to hear them giggle. Those are the kinds of experiences I gain when I lose sight of what I should be doing. I may not be able to do it all the time, but after tonight, I realize how important it is that I do it at all.

I had breakfast with an old friend yesterday, and by old, I mean my age. She was a college roommate at Santa Clara, the first university I went to straight out of high school.She became known as Big Meg, which was unfortunate, because there was and is nothing big about her. She is 5”5’, slim and athletic, but we had to distinguish her somehow from Little Meg, who was maybe 5” and might have weighed more than Big Meg herself. She was in town, visiting from Seattle and got in touch. Out of the 4 days, between our family and work commitments, we found 90 minutes to see each other, early on a Monday morning.

"Big Meg" and me at a party, circa 1990

I would like to say that we hadn’t changed a bit. Isn’t that what you are supposed to say about a woman you haven’t seen in 15 years? But the truth of the matter is that we have. We might look youngish for our 40 years, but the restaurant was flooded with early morning sunshine and every line on our faces was highlighted, along with our crows feet and the sunspots on the backs of our hands. A darker café would have been more forgiving, but I was glad to be where we were. I think it made it easier to pick up where we left off, with the vulnerable honesty that came naturally when we were 19 years old. The bright light of day seemed to say, “Here you go; there’s no room to hide; just let it out.”

So we jumped right in and I asked her to tell me her story, the roads she’s taken since she left college, where she’s been and what she’s done. And I told her a little bit about mine as well. After our initial start, we spent very little time reminiscing, which I was so grateful for and in some ways, surprised by. We didn’t rehash the past, gossip about old friends, or relive our ‘glory days,’ because they weren’t. No matter what is going on in our lives now, the present moment is our greatest gift.

Not dwelling on our past allowed us to move right on to our presents and futures. Although our life circumstances are very different, it looks like we are both headed in the same direction – to find greater purpose and significance in the work that we do. We’ve both come to the edge of a cliff. But whereas Meg is leaping, because she wants to fly, I am hanging on to the edge, hoping that the universe hands me a parachute. I think our two approaches have everything to do with the stories we’ve been telling ourselves our whole lives. Meg shared that she always thought she was destined to do something significant, that she would make an impact on the world somehow, while I have never imagined that my influence would extend beyond the boundaries of my own home. But apparently, like it our not, we are both destined to go into freefall here in our 4oth years. It’s comforting to know that I am not the only one in flight.

And in that moment across that sun-drenched breakfast table, I did see the girl I used to know and she hadn’t changed a bit. She was still the kind, warm, authentic person I met and fell in love with all those years ago on the 11th floor of a freshman dorm. She still has the quick smile, the easy laugh and the self-confidence to be honest within the space of a few minutes. That kind of vulnerability is rare. Most people won’t be that intimate with you over the course of two years, much less a two-course meal.

We hugged as we left each other and made all the usual promises to keep in better touch, but the funny thing is, I think we actually meant them. After more than 20 years, we found ourselves meeting again in the same place we did the first time, emotionally if not geographically. We are leaving the security of a warm nest to discover our place in the larger world, to find out who and what we are meant to be, to bring our dreams to life.