The switch

by Jennifer on August 14, 2010

Twenty or so years ago. My friend C and I are on a Metro train headed north to New Haven to hear some live music or to go dancing, or both. To be seen, to see.

All at once, a feeling of unease twists through me like a corkscrew, an overwhelming instinct that we shouldn’t continue.

As well as I can, I tell C what I’m feeling, and if she thinks I’m crazy she doesn’t tell me so. Whatever brought on this reaction, it plants itself deep inside my gut and doesn’t let up.

The two of us start to study everyone on the train car with us. Did anyone look dangerous? Were we missing something obvious? Could we find malevolence on any face in that crowd? We discover nothing.

But still, that feeling.

We decide to turn back. When we can, we switch trains and go home.

I don’t know what peril – maybe none at all – we avoided that night. It could have been that some memory was triggered – a voice I heard, a smell – that set off that kind of reaction in me. I don’t have panic attacks, so I don’t think it was that.

But now, all these years later, I think of that night with a certain measure of awe. I had listened to my instinct and acted in concert with it.

It would not always go that way.

Maybe it’s a product of how I grew up, but confidence or self-assuredness has never been my default setting. I grew up learning how to get by and get along, how to please. The ability see a path and to take it, without rationalization, feels like foreign land to me. I can imagine a dozen different results to a decision and imagine that somehow any one of them could work out well enough. Adaptable, that’s me.

To a fault.

So now, when I’m called upon as a parent to make The Right Decisions, it’s a part of me that I spend a good deal of effort trying to tame.

Because while adaptable might be a good survival instinct, it’s not good enough. It’s reactive, not proactive. It’s taking what you have to take so that you can keep things on an even keel. It’s rolling with it. It’s the boat adrift, not the tidal pull.

It takes all I have sometimes, but I’m really trying to listen for what my instincts tell me, even when I feel like an Etch a Sketch that someone picked up and shook, right after I finished drawing a map for myself.

I’ve had to learn (am still learning) that it serves no one if I accept less than a fair measure. I don’t expect life to be spectacular – I believe that happiness comes to us in moments or even whole days, maybe longer at times, but it’s not an enduring condition – but life can be pretty good. Life can feel settled. I see it in the lives of friends, a level of stability and certainty that has felt out of my reach for so long.

I want that. In my soul, in my head, in my gut. And if instinct can tell me what to avoid, can’t it also tell me what to seek? I’m willing to believe it’s possible.

So I’m switching trains.


I’m not the only one making a switch:  If you haven’t heard, Emily Rosenbaum has moved her blog, Wheels on the Bus, to her very own domain. She was kind enough to let me design her new site (she knew I needed some fun in my life). And, hey, she’s already posted new content there (because she’s talented and lovely and awesome in all sorts of ways).

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Emily August 14, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I want THAT too.

Jenn @ Juggling Life August 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I share your view on happiness. In fact, I think many people are unhappy just because they don’t understand that.

Elizabeth Harper @ giftsofthejourney August 14, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I am so glad you sent out a reminder about your move. I would have sworn I added you to my google reader, but I missed it somehow.

I’ve corrected it and you’re there now.

So glad to see you back again. I always take away something good when I stop by to see what you have to say.

Smalltown Mom August 14, 2010 at 11:07 pm

“It’s reactive, not proactive. It’s taking what you have to take so that you can keep things on an even keel. It’s rolling with it.” You have described me. I hate to make waves. But sometimes I think a tidal wave is building up.

I am so glad to read your voice again.

Doris August 14, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Hi Jennifer –

I’ve made my blog private. Please email me and I’ll send you an invitation.

Peace – D

flutter August 15, 2010 at 12:15 am

I am really proud to know you.

phd in yogurtry August 15, 2010 at 12:15 am

One of the most unexpected aspects of parenthood is how much I find I rely on -in-the-moment instinct. Seems the things I plan, don’t happen, the things I least expect, happen. In some ways it can be liberating to let go and decide that so much of life is happenstance. That I’m not in control of all that much, really, when it comes to my kids, in the end. Maybe I’m seeing that so much more now that they are in the teen era.

injaynesworld August 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm

It’s said God tickles you with a feather and if you don’t listen, He hits you with a brick. I’ve been on the receiving end of a couple of those bricks. It’s made me a much better listener.

lee August 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

most excellent. bc how utterly boring would it be to ride the same damn train your whole life? i cannot wait to hear about your adventures.

Heather August 16, 2010 at 12:04 am

I love this. I have had moments of fear, impending doom, what have you, I try to listen and often times I seem like a crazy person but you never know what catastrophe you’ve avoided. Good on you listening to your inner self.

I’m switching trains in my life too.

Gwen August 16, 2010 at 4:09 am

The story about your instinct turning you around is fascinating. There’s this weird, perverse part of me that wants to know what would have happened.

I’m not sure we can be consistently proactive in parenting. The thing I’ve discovered about it is how fluid and changeable it is. Which is the very thing that makes it so hard. (that’s pretty much what you just said, isn’t it?)

jessica August 17, 2010 at 6:27 pm

you’re damn right. I have come to rely on my gut for everything. If it is one thing I have learned it’s that it will always be my best guide and again you are correct, NEVER SETTLE. It’s a guaranteed free ticket on the unhappy bus….< I know, wtf is that?

anymommy August 17, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Instinct is good. Listening to all that power inside of you is good. I can’t wait to see where it takes you.

Michael Manning August 19, 2010 at 2:23 am

Jennifer: A poignant and beautifully written story that resonates with me. I credit my late father with a “gut instinct” that has rarely, if ever, failed me. On life: I find it spectacular even during the ordinary course of a given moment. It’s as if we have a canvass before us and we get to create what gives us meaning.

Thanks for the heads-up on the new site address. I’ll make the change. Ciao (for now)!

the mama bird diaries August 23, 2010 at 9:53 am

It’s weird. Sometimes in motherhood I feel like I should go against my instinct b/c I tend to panic and fear the worst for my children. So sometimes I have to go against my gut and let go.

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