Friday, March 06, 2015

Pushing Through

This mom gig is not for the faint of heart. With two kids a year and a half apart, the early years are a bit of a blur. I had two babies in diapers at the same time, two babies who didn't sleep through the night at the same time, two toddlers who desperately needed daily naps they refused to take at the same time. I felt like I didn't sit down or have an uninterrupted night's rest for about five years. Of course, there were a lot of touching moments, too. I vividly remember the first time my oldest daughter, unprompted, told me she loved me. The first time my little one dragged herself all the way across the carpet, sliding out of her pants in the process, to ask me for a hug with open arms, clenching and unclenching fists, and baby grunts. It's an overwhelming feeling of being chosen to be both someone's one true love and their lifelong servant at the same time.

My first born turned ten recently, and her sister is now eight, so the baby days are long behind us. These days they are smart, passionate, driven academic stars. They are also goofball performers who don silly outfits and make videos of plays they act out in the living room. They are athletes, they are readers, they are selfless champions of their friends. They are everything I ever hoped they would be, and more than I ever imagined they could be. And they are wise and fearless in ways that push me to follow in the unique paths that they are now blazing on their own.

My oldest daughter has been in recreational (not competitive) gymnastics for years. She was invited to join the competitive pre-team class repeatedly. She said no, over and over, because, perfectionist that she is, she didn't want the added pressure. I backed her up on this. She holds herself to such a high standard that I've never once scolded her for not taking something seriously enough. Instead, our daily mantra was this very simple exchange. "What is your number one job?" I'd ask her. "To have fun!" she'd say, usually while rolling her eyes. Because it was hard for her to let up the pressure, to relax and enjoy the messiness of life, to laugh at her mistakes. But over summer, when she was asked again to move to pre-team gymnastics, she agreed to try it out. And she loved it. More time doing gymnastics meant mastering more skills and making more friends. But it came at the cost of her down time. In seven months she's moved up two levels, and quadrupled the amount of time she spends at the gym. It's been hard. She's got some brutal days where she's on the go from dawn to dusk without a single moment to stop and rest. I could see it wearing her down this week, when she had a fever that flattened her on Monday, fought through illness for an eleven hour day Tuesday, with the added load of make-up school work from her absence, and rallied for another eleven hour day on Thursday. She pushed through the entire exhausting, busy week on fumes. It was hard for the protective mom in me to watch. I told her that if it's just too hard, she doesn't have to stick with gymnastics. "Remember, your number one job is having fun!" I reminded her. She nodded, dark circles under her puffy eyes, soldiering on through a single sheet of Common Core math where the simplest division problem requires hundreds of steps and pages of graphics, and said, "I'm not going to quit. I want this." And it awed me, this grit of hers.

I will never regret the years of endless diapers, sleepless nights, toddler battles. They were the foundation for this, the privilege of now getting to watch these two amazing souls on their paths to being the kind of strong, fierce, silly and joyful women I myself aspire to be. I'm fantastic at not quitting. I'm better at that than at remembering to have fun. I've been the perfectionist who shunned challenges I wasn't certain I could beat. Of course. The mantra wasn't just for her. It never is, is it?

On Wednesday, halfway through the most brutal week she's had in months, I stood and watched my girl, my bright shining star of perfection, make up a silly song and dance number with her sister and friend. She staged this show on the lawn outside gymnastics, singing at top volume, spinning around with tons of people passing by and taking in the display. Because, you see, her number one job is having fun. The fact that she can do this, find this unbridled joy while running on empty, pushing herself so hard she can barely keep her eyes open after dinner, is my best example yet of my own potential. She's leading the way now. And I'm honored to follow her.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

You Are Enough

Like all of us, I've had my ups and down. More than I needed in the past few years. I went through a divorce that upended every facet of my future that I'd once counted on. I had to let go of all of those hopes and expectations, all of those future memories I was looking forward to, and embrace the now. A very different now than I'd wanted, but a perfectly valid, honest, and significant now just the same. I had to rebuild from the ground up. And I did. Because that's what I do. I've been taken down before, and I get up every time. Because what's the alternative?

I'm a little thing: petite, soft-spoken, and kind-hearted. But I'm tougher than I look. Beneath my lofty standards for myself, my perfectionist nature where I exceed every goal without troubling another soul, lies a very hard, stubborn core. I know who I am. I always have. And sometimes, when I wish I could be somebody else, someone braver or more social or more forgiving or less likely to be taken advantage of when I'm in an overly generous mood, being who I am feels like a liability. I'm stuck, you see. And this inability to morph into someone shinier and more impressive than who I am, who I've always been, this flaw of mine? It turns out it's actually my greatest strength. That has been my real journey these past few years. Learning that who I am, right now, flaws and all, is enough.

It started with being alone. I hadn't been single since I was sixteen years old. I'm not afraid of being alone. I like my own company. It just happened that way. As one relationship ended, a new one bloomed, over and over, my whole adult life. But not after my divorce. For the first time in decades, I was alone. I spent a year scrambling to care for two young kids and trying to remember who I was without a partner in life. Then I spent a year in a relationship where at some point I lost myself again. Then I spent another year alone, remembering all over again. It wasn't a fun time. But it served a purpose. Because after the house of your hopes and dreams blows down, you have to rebuild it. And if you build it alone, you get to design it to suit you above all others. I had never done that before. Built my life around me. It was hard and scary and involved a lot of sleepless nights worrying about the future that I couldn't see anymore. And it was amazing and promising and full of infinite possibilities as well. Who would I choose to be, if I could choose to be anyone, without anyone else's input? I'd choose me. Just as I am.

So I did. I let my kids in on a little secret: that I wasn't perfect, that I didn't have all the answers, that I was making it up as I went along. And a very cool thing happened. My oldest, a perfectionist herself, relaxed her ridiculously high standards, just a little. My youngest, even a shade more stubborn than her mother, stopped digging in quite so deep and hard whenever she was challenged. And we laughed, and we cuddled, and we told each other stories, and we made messes and cleaned them up, and we hurt each other's feelings and apologized and forgave one another. And we dreamed up limitless futures of endless possibilities together. 

And I wrote. I wrote every thought in my head down, because without a partner to tell it all to, I had no choice. I wrote a book-length journal about the failure of my marriage, as I tried to figure out what had gone wrong. I wrote stories about heartbreak. Novel attempts about loss. I wrote blog posts about single-motherhood. I put it all on paper, because that's also who I am, who I've always been. A writer, in secret, afraid to own the title. Worried that I wasn't worthy of it somehow.

But in my new house, built just for me, I let those worries go. It wasn't about anyone else, my writing. It was me putting my heart into words. And as soon as I stopped writing to please anyone but myself, I finally had it. A book worthy of an agent, a book deal, a new career.

I'm still learning, still faltering, still making mistakes as I stumble along. And still dreaming of bigger, better futures. I'm still building my house, filling it with myself, owning who I am.

And I can see now how many of us are doing the same thing. Struggling with the idea that we need to be bolder or more successful or funnier, sharper or more sophisticated to get the approval we so desire from those around us. So as this new year rolls out before us, I wanted to share with you what I've learned, and what I personally think of you. That right now, the person you are today, you are already enough. The next step isn't chasing some better version of yourself. It's owning who you already are. Loving that person. Giving him or her a house, or a room, or any safe place, to simply be.  You are enough.