So I was leaving from my course at a small college the other day, just before I had to pick up my toddler from his babysitter, drive 40 minutes across the city to collect my four other children from school and preschool, then head home to host a meeting at my house.
You know, the usual Friday afternoon stuff.
Except that I couldn’t find my car key.
After I checked my handbag and pockets a couple of times, and shook out the contents of my bag onto the bonnet, I told myself it was time to NOT PANIC but go back into the building to see if I’d left or dropped it somewhere there.
I checked the college foyer, demonstration room, kitchen, toilet, and emptied my handbag a fourth time before calling my neighbour to ask her to pick up the school kids for me.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get home without a key, even if I call NRMA to get it open for me,” I realised, just as I said it to her.
I hung up, again told myself more sternly this time to NOT PANIC, got down on my hands and knees and looked under the car. Peered through the window. And swatted back a swarm of unhelpful thoughts which were circling me and trying to find a vulnerable place to land.
I got a glimpse of them though, on the periphery of my vision. Any one of them might have drawn panic with their sharp little proboscises. They looked like this:
I only have two or three free call outs left with my membership level with the NRMA with nine months left to go. I can’t afford to upgrade.
My phone is already nearly flat, will I be able to call the babysitter and preschool, plus the parents turning up to my house in an hour’s time?
Will I have to leave the car here? We won’t be able to make it to basketball and swimming classes tomorrow. I don’t know how I can get it home.
Pete will be so annoyed.
How could I not put my car key away properly?
Why did I make Friday afternoons so busy?
And the biggest of them, “What is wrong with me!? Now I can’t get to my kids, can’t get home. Peter’s going to kill me. My whole life hangs on the brink of a disaster all the time and this is just one way it’s all going to all fall apart.”
I kept them all at bay long enough to allow another calm, clear, thought to rise up from inside me; Check your bag again. It has to be there because it isn’t anywhere else.
So I emptied it again and ran my fingers along the bottom of every section and pocket. I found a hole in the bottom of the pocket where I usually put my key, poked my finger into it and realised that it wasn’t coming through into the main body of the bag.
I was feeling the bottom of the bag, between the lining and the leather.
I ripped the hole open a little more, and reached further in. There was my key, along with about a dozen other things I hadn’t missed – pens, hair clips, elastic bands, and scrunched up shopping dockets.
I was so relieved, but I know that if I’d let myself be overcome with worry or self-recrimination I might not have even found the key hidden in the bottom of my bag. I probably would have got a lift with someone home or to a train station, and left the car there for the next day when I could come back with the whole family to pick it up with a spare key.
It would have wrecked our plans for Saturday and been an inconvenience to a whole bunch of people, not just me.
I’m sure that a lot of situations with meltdown potential can be avoided if we know how to stay calm under stress. I Googled for you (you’re welcome!) this Forbes article, How Successful People Stay Calm, which has some great tips, and interesting material on how a certain level of stress is actually necessary in order for us to get anything done.
It’s too much stress all the time which is bad for us. With no stress at all, we’d be sloths hanging around in pyjamas all day, thinking of getting breakfast and doing something but not actually motivated enough to do anything.
In other words, we’d permanently be teenagers! I have a vague memory of being just like this. Not anymore though, ha ha!
But then I wonder how much is too much? What’s the line between ‘enough stress to make us step up and do things well’, and ‘enough stress to make us sick’? That the article doesn’t say, and I don’t know. But I do know that I should probably go and sew up the lining of my handbag so it doesn’t stress me out anymore. See you.