You Can’t Carry the Weight of the World

When I was growing up, a fitness center in our town had a huge statue of Atlas out front. At the front entrance, he hunched, a huge globe teetering on his muscled bound limbs. It was a time when carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders was considered a virtue. It was the era I grew up in and a philosophy handed down to me from my mother. It’s not unreasonable she thought to believe you can make everyone happy. Or at least die trying.

And that’s why at three o’ clock in the morning I’m lying awake in an AirBnB worrying about the rental car I picked up yesterday for our family vacation. I’m sure it’s way too small and everyone will complain about its limitations. The trunk isn’t nearly big enough for five bags and no one’s legs will fit in the short back seat. It will ruin our time, more or less.

I roll over, try to count backward from 100, but sleep will not come. In my head, I’m going over all the things I’ll say tomorrow when I ask the rental agent for a bigger car. It’s their fault for advertising that the tiny compact seats five. It’s impossible! The picture was so deceiving. I can’t afford to show up at the airport to pick up my adult children in a teeny-tiny car!! I want our vacation to be spectacular, not miserable. Worry won’t let me be!

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, in Greek mythology, the Titan Atlas was responsible for bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders, a burden given to him as punishment by Zeus. And that’s what’s going on with me. I’m trying to bear the weight of all that could go wrong, to control all the factors that make a vacation enjoyable, the sun, the wind, the rain, even the man at the Budget Rent-a-Car counter. I’m deep into control freak mode and it’s annoying as hell.

Why do we accept and continue to carry this punishment even though we can easily lay it down?

I’m not surprised I’m facing this dilemma. Renting cars online has always been a struggle for me. Finding the right one at the right price at exactly the right time seems like a Vegas slot game. But I’m determined. I’ve called their customer service and the woman on the line told me that I can request another car in that class and yes, she could see there were some available that might have a little more room. Yay! But,…I’d have to go to the counter at the airport and ask for something different. She couldn’t handle it for me over the phone.

This is where I get concerned. I have this mindset. that the people working the airport counters are monsters and all they want is for me to squirm in my sandals as they try to sell me more than I want or need. They make me feel like a cheapskate and a criminal as I refuse their add-on fees, their upcharges, and their warnings.

So early in the morning, I slap on some makeup to hide the dark circles from not sleeping and load the compact rental with my bags and head to the airport rental car center chanting open mind, open heart. Open mind, open heart. I’m determined to win the agent over, to get a bigger car and not pay a penny more.

I pull in the lane where cars are returned. I’m panicky because what if I return this car and they don’t have anything! Will they give it back to me? Stay confident, I tell myself. There will be something better. The Universe has my back!

I wheel my luggage to the Budget booth in the garage and set my rental agreement on the counter. The man there, Rob, asks what he can do for me. My voice is shaky as I explain that I’d gotten into a car that was too small.

“You got what you selected,” he tells me.

“Yes, I realize that,” I say and go on to explain that the customer service person I talked to said there might be something larger in this class and exchanging was possible.

“Hmm.” He runs his finger down his list, “I’m pretty much out of cars in that class. I’ve got an Avalon which is probably worse than what you have.” Silence and a thick finger running down the list over and over.

“Whatever you can do for me…” I say nicely, calmly.

“I do have a KIA Soul in that class that might be a tiny bit bigger.”

“I’ll take it.” I hand him my driver’s license. And after ten minutes of exchanging documents, I drive off in a white Soul to pick up my crew, feeling relieved and encouraged that I’d managed to overcome my fears of disappointing my children…even though they are grown. I’d gotten a bigger car, but that was just the first of other challenges we would face as five adults on vacation together for a week. How could I ensure that everyone would have a good time?

Later, while driving to our condo, I realized after all that struggle, that my greatest worry wasn’t whether or not they would have a good time. My biggest fear was that they would judge me if they didn’t. That our vacation, the one I planned and prepared for, would go down in family history as a bust and that’s how they would remember me.

I’m embarrassed that I still fall into the trap of controlling behavior. As parents we are expected to take care of a lot of things, but when does our “responsibility” turn into personal self-punishment and ego maintenance? How could I ever manage the weather, the flight delays, the cost of food and drink, the mold in the condo, etc? I couldn’t control all of it and in fact, no one expected me to. But part of me wished I could so I could also manage what they thought of me and “my” vacation for them.

Trying to control how others perceive us is exhausting and futile, yet we still do it without realizing that’s what’s happening. Often it comes across as concern for their experience, but really that’s only part of the picture. We’re equally concerned about what their experience will say about us.

On our two hour drive to the condo, while they slept off their early morning flights, I realized I’m not the same kind of parent I was for them when they were younger. I don’t have to manage things nearly as much. Lives are not at stake. They are all full-grown adults, creating their own experiences in life now, managing their own relationships with people, places, and things. I realized that most of my concern for their good time was really an attempt to make sure I looked good in the end. They were selfish needs at best and I determined that more important than getting a bigger car, I needed to relax and let them have whatever experience they wanted to have.

Driving south on I-75, I set the huge weight of my world down on the sandy strip between lanes on the highway. In the rearview mirror of that Kia Soul, I watched it glimmer in the sun. It will be there I thought when I get back if I want to pick it up again. Until then, I’ll bask in the freedom of self-accpetance and let the Universe handle the rest.

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