I grew up in a waterskiing family. My father had me, like my four older siblings, up on skis well before I could even string together coherent and complete sentences. In our family, this was a rite of passage -- one that we underwent at 3 years old. In many ways it worked well. For all of us, waterskiing is second nature, like walking. We were never afraid of trying to get up, or even of wiping out. In fact, by the time we were teens we knew a good wipeout actually made us pretty cool (thank you, Beach Boys). But unlike my dad and sibs, when it comes to waterskiing, I have always had one simple request: when I'm floating in the water behind the boat and the rope is sliding through my hands as I await its handle, I want my skis to be thrown out to me one at a time. For me, this is imperative: not just that they are thrown in one at a time, but that I have a chance to fully slide on and properly fit my first ski BEFORE the second one gets tossed in the water. Here it is: I cannot manage two skis at once.
In life, as in waterskiing, I can best handle one thing (as opposed to two, or worse yet, many things) at a time. To say I get overwhelmed easily would be a gross understatement. Don't get me wrong -- I can multitask and accomplish said multi tasks successfully, but not without immense panic and anxiety. I like to apply myself fully to one thing -- delve in wholeheartedly, with zest and vigor -- and really excel, before moving on to something new. In some ways this is good, because when I focus my energy on doing something, I am efficient, organized, dedicated, and all in. But unfortunately, the real world doesn't work this way. As a mental health professional, I don't always get to start and finish paperwork for one client before seeing the next, and I won't be able to completely finish and perfect this piece before my 2-year-old wakes from her nap calling out for her "Mama." And so, I am working on figuring out ways to (more calmly) manage multiple things at once, and learn how to be OK grasping a second ski before the first one is on and fitted to my liking.
Perhaps this is why, two years into parenthood, when I've finally got this "being married with child" thing sort of down -- when I am at last skiing smoothly on a sole ski -- I am feeling this deep, carnal longing to welcome a second ski -- er, baby -- and completely unbalance my finally functional family system.
Let me backtrack. I did not have the easiest transition to new parenthood. My first year with my precious baby girl was filled with debilitating postpartum depression, anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, and marital distress. It was as if I was flailing without a life jacket, desperately seeking stability in choppy waters, while trying urgently to slide on just one ski.
We -- my husband and I -- were sinking. We were in the eye of the storm, and we couldn't fathom ever even desiring an additional ski. Rather, what we needed more than anything during those initial months of intense and overpowering waves was a lifeboat.
And so, even in the face of others incessantly asking when and if we would expand our little family, a lifeboat, rather than another ski, is exactly what we sought. Accepting the difficulty of where we were, engaging in extremely helpful therapy, and beginning to build a supportive village of family and friends all helped to calm the angry sea thrashing around us. We began to consent to the notion that maybe all we could handle for now, or possibly forever, was just a lone ski. Maybe focusing on being the best skiers (or rather, married couple and parents) to that one single ski (our beautiful baby girl) would make us the happiest couple and best parents we could possibly be.
And then something incredible happened. As I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to add ski number two, and simultaneously worked hard on strengthening my marriage and accepting and overcoming my perinatal mood disorder, the colossal waves slowly and steadily decreased. As they began to break up and become weaker, suddenly I wasn't gasping for breath anymore. I was no longer drowning dangerously in despair.
Somewhere along the way I have learned to float. And as I drift along this newfound, more tranquil river, I feel a sense of ease. Of course there are times when the storm brews and the waves regain their heavy momentum, but in these moments I do my best to stay afloat and remind myself how much easier it is to flow with the current than to fight against it.
So here I now am, two years since I gave birth to my daughter, two years since that first ski was thrown out to me. And now, as I lie in the water behind the boat, just as my father taught me to do, I relax, lean back against my life jacket and let it support my body fully. Though it has taken some time to get here, to a place where the overwhelming and angry waters no longer overtake me, I am finally ready and waiting for that second ski. And when and if it should arrive, even if the first ski has wiggled loose and feels funny or isn't functioning exactly as it should, I will know that I can handle it.
This is something that I, as a one-thing-at-a-time type person, never believed about myself before. After all, after one child I felt depleted, diminished, less than, and powerless. But through enduring and overcoming my postpartum challenges, and learning that I am actually capable of handling multiple things at once, immense senses of strength and self-confidence have emerged.
And this is how I know that whatever happens, I will handle it. It won't be perfect -- nothing ever is. It will be messy, and difficult, and at times trying. But it will also be beautiful, wonderful, and inspiring. And so if we are able to round out our ski set by adding a second -- if my husband and I are blessed enough to one day welcome another babe -- well, for this one-at-a-time gal, that kind of multitasking will be so, so worth it.