Learning to walk again

“Learning to walk again. I believe I’ve waited long enough…” …Oh, thank God for the Foo Fighters.

It occurs to me that I’ve been chasing who I think I’m supposed to be. I kept feeling like I was barely keeping afloat but all the while I’ve been sitting in a shallow pool. And all I had to do was stand up on my own two feet. Claim who I am, right now. Love today. Enjoy my life. Deserve happiness without apology. And feel no regret for not just reconciling the past, but burning down the bridges that keep me tied to it. I’ve spent so much time with my gaze looking back — craning my neck to see behind me, like I’m twisting into an owl — trying to understand the past and how it formed me. But now is the time for living! Now is the time for happiness! I can blaze my own trail and sink or swim by the dictates of my fancy, not some notion of what station I’m supposed to hold in life or some idea about how a career is supposed to evolve, be it an inferno or a slow-burn or a beacon in the night.

And it’s at that moment that you stop chasing the idea of who you are supposed to be that the universe opens up and shows you exactly who you are.

Well here I am! I’m on the cusp of turning 35 (give it a couple months). I’m a mother. I’m a wife. A writer. A syndicated blogger. An activist. I weigh… what I weigh is irrelevant to my worth as a human being. I don’t match the conventions of beauty that society has prescribed for me with my gray hair, crows feet, crooked teeth and freckles. And I don’t give a fuck. I’m an accidental vegan. I have a love/hate relationship with Las Vegas (mostly hate), a place I’ve called home for 12 years and counting. And I’m (probably) never leaving Las Vegas. I never thought I’d be a stay-at-home mom. I never thought I’d be a mom at all. And maybe that’s the point. Things don’t turn out the way you think they will. You can’t see past the horizon. You’re not meant to.

I admit, this spring I thought maybe I was feeling the twinges of a mid-life crisis coming on. Not that 35 is old. I’ll tell you right now, it’s about the number. The digits. Not the actual age. I have never been a person who gives a shit about age. I celebrate every birthday. I love birthdays! And when I was the second oldest woman in my child-birth class, I just chuckled. Who cares? But at some point in my youth I latched on to this concept that the age of 35 was when you start being old. You are definitely an adult at 35. You are definitely not young anymore. And when I became a mother, I really started thinking about age. How old will I be when she’s 5 or 15 or 25? Will I see her graduate college? Find a partner? Build a family of her own? These have become my pressing age-related questions.

But damn it if that stupid 3-5 kept causing me heart palpitations! Fuck you, 35!

And even though I didn’t really feel like doing so, my brain started doing a little card catalogue (Google it) of my life. How many goals have I met? Well, I am not a ballerina, which was what the 5-year-old me wished for myself. Ever since junior high I have had this vague ambition to be able to do a pull-up on the chin bar. Still can’t do that. But I did survive a 37-hour labor and emergency c-section, so that chin bar can suck it. I’ve run two 5Ks in my life but I can’t run at all right now because of health issues. I have not written the great American novel, as I aspired to do when I day-dreamed in high school. (Considering the state of the book publishing industry, maybe I’ll never have a book deal.) Indeed, my life looks nothing like what I imagined it might when I was 15 and I met the person who is now my husband.

And ever since I left my “day job” in journalism four years ago, people have been asking me what I “do” now. And I always struggle to find the right, succinct answer. I am a writer. I’m a stay-at-home mom. I organized a rally. I’m learning how to use tempeh in recipes. Which of these is the right answer? Which of these accurately describes, in one sentence, exactly what it is I do? None of them. All of them. More of them than I have listed here.

The truth is that when I left my comfy journalism job four years ago, I thought I had untethered myself from caring about defining myself in easy one-sentence answers. And my scramble to sum up the work I do in my days and nights (it’s 2:30 am as I write this… the hours of a writer who has to wait until everyone else sleeps to get a moment of silence), hasn’t gotten any easier as the time has gone on. But ever since I became a mother, I had this fear that being a mother would eclipse everything else I do and am. And so I flailed. I scratched wildly to find that one-sentence answer. Who am I? Who am I? Who am I?

And all the while, what I was really looking for was a tidy way to keep a foothold in my “old” life. My pre-baby life.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my baby. I adore her! And my smart little dare-devil challenges me and keeps me on my toes more than any other job or role I have ever had. Period.

But it is inevitable, and probably natural, that when you transition into parenthood, that you look back to see what you were before. And you try to find out if anything from your old life will fit you now, like the clothes you wore before you were pregnant. But your old ideas and perceptions of yourself are a lot harder to deal with than packing up old clothes and dropping them off in the donation bin. Somehow, in my head, when I became a parent, I simultaneously let go of the dying-my-hair-pink punk self and the obsessive-career-woman self. I have no more time for collectables, record stores or gallery openings. (Which is not an indictment on those past-times and pursuits.) I can’t even find time every day to take a shower!

And the world doesn’t care if I feel like I don’t know the answer. The world marches on. (I know, it’s hard to believe.) And you will find yourself at cocktail parties or book signings or the grocery store and you will run into someone from your old life. They will want to know what you do (which is really who you are, in our society). And if you struggle or stammer, like me, it will be sign of weakness or ambiguity. And that can only mean one thing: Having a baby has destroyed your will to work and be successful. And even though that is absolutely ludicrous, it’s already out there in the air. The assumption is made. The end.

But nobody asked me if that is how I want to decide who I am! Nobody asked me if I wanted to be defined by something I “do.” Nobody asked me if I agreed to this premise! And nobody told me that what I “do” has to be the antithesis of being a mom who works at home and takes time to play games with her kid every day, instead of answering emails (or blogging at reasonable hours).

Now I see that I was caught trying to keep a foot in too many worlds because I didn’t want to be the woman who let having a baby “ruin her” as a productive, clever, resourceful career woman. Whether or not you see me… Whether or not you know the real me or just some image you’ve invented that stands in for the real me… I know who I am. I’m here. I’m getting shit done. And I’m done apologizing for not being who you want me to be. I’m done being who you want me to be. I’m done with the crippling self-doubt. And I’m totally and completely done with feeling like I have to apologize for being happy with the way things are turning out.

I own who I am. I like my life, even if you don’t understand it. I deserve to be happy. So do you.

And as for the age thing… Eh, who gives a shit!

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4 comments

  1. There is so much truth for me in this piece. I think we learn to walk over and over again throughout our lives. Maybe it’s just important that we know this is normal. That we give ourselves permission to take time to figure it out each time and trust that we’ll do it once again – in our own way. I’m approaching 65- not a number I like- but I don’t see any benefit in fighting it either. Coming out of and into life changes-Trying to figure out who I am at 65 and what new thing am I interested in. “I own who I am. I like my life”- that is the goal!

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