This is a picture of our car packed for vacation. And oh, is it packed. I am not exactly sure what we will be doing that requires this much krap. But rest assured (as my friend Molly pointed out) we will be well hydrated. Or drunk driving on a Disney Princess scooter.

The sound of our bumper dragging along the Atlantic City Expressway got me thinking about space….or, the lack of it. We were scheduled to begin our vacation – a time supposedly set aside for rest and rejuvenation- on Wednesday morning. However, instead of feeling a sense of freedom that usually accompanies a change in scenery and break from routine…I felt like I was taking a timed Calculus exam – at gunpoint. The energy of our house was like a soupy fog hanging over the Golden Gate Bridge: Phil, who has been playing catch-up at work since taking time off for my surgery, was coming home late with his ass cheeks fists clenched. Over the course of three days, Emma had averaged about four hours of sleep. Phoebe, who is going through the Hell otherwise known as the two year molars, spent the same three days with her fingers crammed in her mouth, whimpering “Mommy, Mommy” repeatedly while drooling like a St. Bernard. And then there is me, in the middle of it all, trying to cram shit into suitcases in between episodes of Caillou and lubing up with Preparation H dealing with post-surgical issues. I was moving through mud; emptying the dishwasher felt like a Feat of Strength.

The tension mounted like a pressure cooker until, on Wednesday morning, the lid blew off the pot. Or, as Emma explained tearfully to my 92 year-old grandmother on the phone as to why we were delaying our departure for a few days: “Well, Nanny…this morning everyone here just kind of freaked out. ONE. BIG. FREAK OUT.”

Now, this decision to hang out for a few days was hardly an informed decision. I didn’t know why I thought it was a good idea or what we were going to do at home with no food in the fridge and all our underwear in suitcases….I just knew that we needed to put the brakes on this runaway train for a minute and, incorporate the wise words of Steve from Blue’s Clues: “Stop. Breathe. Think.”

 So I stopped. I sat down on the kitchen floor and rested my head on my knees. I took ten deep breathes, and then ten more. I prayed silently: “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.”

And slowly, the tension in the room began to release. Phil stopped massaging his temples and announced he was still taking the day off. The girls stopped crying. We decided to go to the pool. We ordered a pizza for dinner. We skipped bathtime. We drank a few beers and watched The Real Housewives of New Jersey. (Nothing like watching a fist fight at a baby’s baptism to make you feel better about your life).

I began to realize that since my surgery, we have tried to jump back into ‘business as usual’ at a frenetic pace, trying to cram in anything that had been missed or neglected over the past three months….even though we all have red flashing “No Vacancy” signs emblazed on our foreheads. We’ve been filling the space we so desperately need. Space to be tired and cranky….space to process the months of Colon Craziness…space to heal.  Trying to pull ourselves together for a road trip was like trying to cram one more scooter into that packed car.

The funny thing is, a few days of down time was all we really needed. By Friday we were on the road to Avalon, ready to jumpstart our vacation with a weekend with my four best friends from college. Who, incidentally, are my ultimate space-makers, because they know me so well, make me laugh so hard and strongly encourage cocktails with lunch.

Somewhere in between mealtimes, naptimes, and hosing down sandy children, we were able to steal some adult moments and catch up on each other’s lives. (And we all know that it is these late night, wine soaked sessions where all the great mysteries of the universe are revealed). As it turns out, this issue of space – or the lack of it- seems to be a universal struggle. Single or married, professional or homemaker, parent, dog-owner, homeowner, or devoted daughter-sister-friend…we all struggle with creating space to just be…or, become.

Somewhere in between Kellie’s breastfeeding breaks, Lynne’s late night Roger Rabbit dance tutorial and the tweaking of Kathy’s E-Harmony profile, we came to the following conclusion about Creating Space:

1. Pencil It In: You literally need to create space for space. Kellie shared that she and her husband reserve Monday nights for ‘free time,’ and alternate week to week. Every Monday night someone gets the kid duties while the other gets to read People Magazine  a book, research law school, stare into space…whatever floats your boat.

2. Two Things Can Not Occupy The Same Place At The Same Time: When Emma and Phoebe try to sit in the same chair simultaneously, it never ends well. The same holds true for the amount of hours in the day. In order to make space for something new- whether that be a job, hobby, relationship, or (God forbid) relaxation – you will need to let something else go…like saying yes to every wedding you are invited to, or the dream that every room in your house will be clean at the same time. Or, The Real Housewives of New Jersey  ironing.

3. Surround Yourself With Spacemakers: Pay attention to the people you spend time with and how you feel when you are with them (and immediately following). Some people make you feel inadequate or guarded…you leave them with a brain crammed with “shoulds:” I should go to the gym, my kids should be fluent in Spanish, etc. Other people infuse space into your body by making you laugh (which relaxes your face) and giving you long hugs (which releases tension from your shoulders). These same people create room in your heart by letting you cry (which releases pent up emotion) and bitch about your husband (which just feels good sometimes releases old frustrations) It is these people who also create space in your mind by reminding you of your gifts. They remind you that you are loved. They remind you of where you came from, while opening up avenues of possibility for where you may be headed…and that you don’t need to go there alone.

These are my kind of people.

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