We women are trained to be Queen Copers. Granted, some of us are better at coping than others, but for the most part we all do the best we can. We can all identify with this definition of Cope:
Verb, to deal effectively with something difficult. Synonyms: manage, survive, subsist, look after oneself, stand on one’s own two feet, carry on, get through, get on, get along, get by, muddle through, muddle along, scrape by, bear up, make the grade, come through, hold one’s own, keep one’s end up, keep one’s head above water, keep the wolf from the door, weather the storm.
Sounds familiar, right?
Whether tiny or huge, we find ways to deal with life’s up and downs. One of my key coping tools is looking forward to the next good thing. It is something I’ve done all my life.
When we are young, looking forward to things is what we do all the time. It’s all about the next cool or fun activity. The next new experience, playdate, or celebration. We spend so much time looking forward to “what’s next” as children, that we beg for time to go faster.
As young adults, we are neck deep in looking ahead to what’s next. First jobs, new relationships, first homes, marriages, travel, babies… you name it. We are in a speeding vortex of happenings that keep us so busy we don’t have time to dwell on the invariable bad speed bumps that happen along the way. If something ugly comes up, we juggle it around, find a solution, and move on.
When we get older, our coping needs change. First, those challenges, difficulties and ugly speed bumps happen a bit more often or are bigger and harder. Secondly, we no longer want time to go fast – if anything, we are praying for it to slow down. We need the next good thing to be just ahead of us, where we can easily focus on it and let it help us slow down a bit and appreciate every day rather than wish it away.
I am constantly on the hunt for what I can look forward to, and can always find something, even if small. Wearing a new shirt or scarf will help me get moving and ready for work. The expectation of a yummy lunch will get me through a long meeting. Going for a bike ride or walk on a beautiful day will help me get my work and chores done, as will the prospect of watching a good movie or settling in for a great page-turning book. A get-together with friends will help me through any hard or challenging duties I have to get through first. Of course an upcoming family visit, a trip, or a vacation is definitely enough to put pep in my step. Heck, even something like knowing I can have some ice cream after oral surgery can be a glimmer of goodness to focus on.
Looking forward can help ease pain or sadness over big stuff too. When my brother’s health was failing, he and I would talk about the next theater show he wanted me to take him to in Boston. There was no need to discuss the fact that he’d never make it there, just the joy of talking about it, thinking about it, discussing past outings together, gave him a little boost and something positive to think about.
In four days, we will be moving my son into his college dorm for his Freshman year. That boy who for the past 19 years has been an integral part of most of my looking forwards will no longer be just down the hall in the house. Stopping in to his room to catch up on the day’s events is no longer something I can look forward to each day. He has grown from his baby days of being totally dependent on us for everything, and a young boy who needed us for all his events, activities, trips and celebrations, to now starting his own journey of life apart from us as a young adult. I know he’s anxious yet excited too, and I hope I have taught him how to look forward every time he hits one of those bumps in his road.
As for me, I’m struggling a bit more this time trying to be a Queen Coper. I’m trying to be excited for him, but I’m inherently sad. I find myself already looking forward to when he comes back for a visit for a long weekend, or for the holidays. But that comes dangerously close to wishing time would go fast, and I really don’t want that either. And so I need to make a shift to focus on other immediate future good things, like getting together with friends, enjoying the last of the summer weather, and having some of my favorite Netflix shows start up for the Fall season. (See? Even little things count).
On my morning walk today, something else started to appear on my horizon that I hadn’t really been considering. My husband and I have never had “just us” time. When he came into my life, I got the family package deal. Starting my life with him also meant starting life with my two stepsons, who kept us hopping long before the youngest was even a glimmer in our eyes. Now, with both stepsons grown and on their own, and our son starting college, it will for the first time be just me and my hubby. (And our mid-life-empty-nest puppy.) After 25 years, we can start dating. Imagine that.
My cousin recently gave me the sage advice to have something planned for the evening we get back from dropping my son off, so I have something else to focus on. In her way, she was reminding me to use my coping skills. Today I realized with that little glimmer of a boost to help me through my sadness, that I can start planning my first date with my husband.
Because it is never too late to look forward.