Long before Queen Elsa’s song in Disney’s “Frozen” added the phrase “let it go” to every four-year-old’s vocabulary, the concept of giving up control over what isn’t yours to manage has been important for living with balance and serenity. Twelve-Step programs call this “detaching with love.” It can also be described as plain old “minding your own business.” (The hard part, of course, is figuring out what is your business and what isn’t.)
A while ago I came across a saying that’s become one of my favorite ways of reminding myself to let go of things that aren’t my responsibility: “Not my circus; not my monkeys.” The image it conjures up makes me smile and helps me avoid stressing over things I can’t or shouldn’t do anything about.
Except, of course, that sometimes it is my circus and sometimes those are undeniably my monkeys.
Like the three-ring family extravaganza that took up most of last week. Ring One contained the usual local suspects: my daughter and son-in-law with their two-year-old, plus my stepson and his wife with their three kids, who are three, two, and seven months. Ring Two was my stepdaughter, visiting for the week with her three children, aged six, four, and ten months. That, ordinarily, would be quite enough circus for anyone.
To illustrate: one evening we celebrated the seventh birthday of the oldest grandkid in this particular bunch. It was fun, it was noisy, it was delightful, and it was surprisingly free from conflict. Until 7:23 p.m., when ice cream intersected with bedtime. Suddenly four children were in tears, one child was throwing a hissy fit and demanding to leave, and the adults unanimously agreed that the party was over.
But wait—there’s more! Last week we added one more act in Ring Three. The feature attraction, right there in the center of the Big Top (well, actually, in the maternity wing of the hospital), was the birth of my daughter’s second child.
My own participation in this particular circus was a balancing act—dividing time, attention, and energy among taking care of my daughter’s two-year-old, spending time with the visiting grandkids, having meaningful conversations with my stepdaughter in 27-second increments, helping provide a couple of family dinners, and being with my daughter and her husband for part of the 30-something hours they spent at the hospital waiting for their new son to show up.
More by luck than planning, his arrival was timed so I was able to be there when he made his grand entrance. Cue the trumpet fanfare and the spotlight for Fox Reed!
Fox is grandchild number 16, and I am thrilled that in part he’s named after me. He is a beautiful baby with the proper number of fingers and toes, he has brown eyes like his mother and grandmother, and he seems to be settling into his life quite nicely. So far his big brother seems to think he’s pretty special, although it’s possible that big brother assumes Fox is just another visiting cousin who hasn’t gone home with the rest of them yet.
As he grows up, I’m sure Fox will learn to appreciate the fabulous troupe he’s been born into. As one of the founders of this particular circus, I feel a certain amount of responsibility for him and all the rest of those incredible, amazing monkeys. I also am pleased and relieved to understand clearly that I’m not the ringmaster here. The next generation of performers have taken over, and they are doing a wonderful job. Their skills at balancing, juggling, and keeping the show on the road are superb.
Oh, I have a place, too. Sometimes I can hold a safety net. Sometimes I help out behind the scenes. Sometimes I get to just sit in the front row and cheer.
And always, I can say with pride and delight if anyone asks or even if they don’t: “Yep, that’s my circus. Those are my monkeys, all right!”
Plus one brand-new fox.