I’ve spent my entire adult life chasing the next thing. Just…spinning. And I believe most of the stuff I’ve run after (oftentimes, quite literally) and caught has been good and worthwhile—a marriage to a guy far better than I deserve, a crumbling old house that I love, five kids who fall into the same category as their father, a job I enjoy that contributes to half of the bills. But now that kids no longer occupy the “next thing” column—six just isn’t in the cards—I’ve been grappling for something else, something new to focus on. A distraction. 

Because for the last several years, it’s what I’ve needed.

I always feel like I have to set this context for blog posts I write that land in the “navigating life” category, because it’s colored my perspective so deeply. I’m an only child. My parents split up five-ish years ago after 30-plus years of marriage. My mom moved in with us for 18 months. Then moved out. Had trouble navigating the world on her own. Collapsed on a kitchen floor from heart failure. Suffered brain damage. Spent a year in hospice. And died in May of 2013. 

That’s not a “woe is me” story; those are “just the facts, ma’am.” 

I (along with a husband who did far more than his “til death do us part” vow required) grew accustomed to constant problem-solving during that time, to putting Band-Aids on an issue just long enough to say—a ’la President Bartlett in the West Wing–“What’s next?,” all the while prepping for new kiddos (three in four years) as a way to remind myself that I was still managing to build my own life in the midst of utter chaos.

Calm became uncomfortable. And, so, even with mom gone and all but the usual grief issues (that’s a whole other ball of Kleenex) resolved, my mind has kept churning.

What’s next, what’s next, what’s next….

It’s not a super way to live.

So, as I’ve wrestled with (and tried to put a chokehold on) that question, I’m finally letting it sink in that maybe everything I’m already doing is all that I’m supposed to be doing. That “more” isn’t necessarily better. That there’s nothing I want to miss out on right now (minus maybe post-birthday party bedtime routines—“I got everything I ever wanted and now I’m going to scream until I collapse in a ball of chocolate-covered tears”—and, you know, potty training).

That “more” isn’t what I need to survive today. That I don’t need to be distracted.

That maybe “more” would just be more. Like, “I was all comfy and cozy and then I ate that second piece of pie and now I want to throw up” more.

And in the midst of all this “what the heck is it that I want” clamoring, I’ve realized (or at least, I’ve had moments of realizing—constant work in progress, people) that up until now I haven’t held my role of mom in nearly as high esteem as I should have. That I’ve honestly taken it for granted.

If anything will make you squeal your brakes and re-evaluate, well, there ya go.

Maybe it’s because it makes me accountable. Whereas, if we have these kids and,  yes, I love them, and, yes, I’m proud of them, and yes, I give them lots of hugs and ensure they’re fed and clothed but don’t fully invest—don’t make them “the thing I did” for 20 years—then I can’t be terribly disappointed when they don’t turn out like we hoped. Looking for value outside of raising these kids has been safe. It’s safer to pursue (or, at least consider pursuing) accolades and education and external validation than to rely on these four little “squirrels on crack” (come over at about 7:15 p.m. some night—you’ll get it) and one eye-rolling pre-teen to define what I’ve done with my life.

For a person who considers themselves reasonably tough, I’ve been half-arsing one of the hardest jobs there is. Looking everywhere for a more fulfilling challenge when my greatest one is right in front of me. 

I lost a friend recently at a young age (because now that I’m 37, 38 seems young) and, after a conversation about how I was struggling, given this situation on top of everything else, I remember someone saying to me, “I feel like you were doing OK until Andrea died.”  And I think I was doing OK. But when a person you knew really, really well at one point in your life—who you viewed through the same lens as yourself, who you saw a peer and an equal, who you assumed had the same amount of time on this earth that you assume you have—dies that soon, you kind of go, “Is OK good enough?” 

No. It’s not. It’s just not. 

I’m attempting to do now what I’ve always said I’ve wanted to do. Be better than OK at the things I claim matter most to me. To actually live that. It’s an incredibly simple thing that’s ridiculously hard. Because you have to let a lot of expectations go. Imaginary and real.

It’s easier to keep spinning than to stay put. Than to “be.” Than to hold on tight to what you already have, appreciate it and truly feel like you don’t need anything more to live your life well. 

To be content.

I’ve wasted a bunch of energy making myself dizzy. I’m ready to stand still for a while.

Jessica Rettig

Jessica Rettig lives, works and, after years of being told to do so (she has a sneaking suspicion it was to make other parents feel better about their own chaos), documents daily life (at Facebook.com/fivelittlelunatics) with her husband, Brad, five kids—Keaton Amelia (11), Hutton (6), Rustyn (5), Joey Michele (2) and the baby, Roosevelt-- and emotionally-challenged Weimaraner in Lincoln, Nebraska. She also tries to run away on a daily basis--usually four or five miles--but she always comes back.