A caveat before I start sharing this aha moment with you: I am happy with my life. I love being a mom. I am grateful for the look and feel of my days. All that said, I had a bit of an epiphany this week and to articulate it, to make it real, I have to tell really honest stories that might make it seem like I am not happy or grateful. That’s not true. I am. And still, even with my happiness, there are aha! moments that need to be had in order for me- for any of us- to move forward. Here’s the one I just had.
We had just unpacked the car for our beach vacation and put the baby to bed. He was 10 months old, we’d been a family, together, for five months. Those five months had been intense– life-affirming, yes, universe-affirming even, but they had also been draining. The two of us, BF and I, were exhausted. Not just tired, but weary inside from too little sleep (you might recall that we had the nightly 15-20 wake-ups) and too much strategy. We were always strategizing, always figuring it out, and always, always pushing a stroller through town- fresh outdoor air the one thing guaranteed to make the baby happy and make the baby sleep. To this day, people still talk about us and that damn stroller. That stroller? Our best investment in our lives as new parents. Not kidding.
Back to the beach. We had just unpacked. It was 9 pm. We were now down to just 8 wake ups a night, and the two hour stretch from when baby went down and his first wake-up had begun to feel like possibility to us. Like dessert even. It was that rare. We were that desperate. I gathered the sheet of paper by the back door and looked at BF, “I’m going to the grocery store.” He nodded and tossed me his keys. BF drove a fancy car then. One we no longer have and that I never drove at the time because fancy cars both seemed like a waste to me and scared the daylights out of me (There is a history of ruining things in my life. I do not want to be responsible for anything fancy going down), but it was all I had for that drive to the grocery store and so I took the keys and descended the stairs to the parking spaces under the beach house. In the car, I opened the sun roof and moonlight spilled onto me. I searched the radio station and found The Outfield playing Your Love, a song that I had adored in 7th grade. I backed out of the parking space and faced the car towards the marsh where moonlight and carlights bounced off the water. Soon, I was going over the bridge that connects the island to the main land. And an inrepressible feeling came over me. It was physical and huge, expanding something inside my chest to the point where I almost couldn’t contain it.
“What is that?” I thought.
And all of a sudden, I realized that what I was feeling was freedom. For two hours, until that first wake-up, no one was looking for me. I had music that spoke to me, a sweet ride, and the only place I had to go was the grocery store. And bonus: I was in a new town. No one knew me. No one was going to stop and ask me questions while I picked out apples. I was anonymous. My whole life was anonymous. I could just be. I hadn’t had that in five months. Tears dotted the corners of my eye. I stretched that grocery store visit out like it was promise, like it was the possibility that I thought it might be, like it was all that I had. And when I got home, I told BF all about it, especially that feeling in my chest as I crossed over the bridge: how that loosening had felt.
Another anecdote important in this story: For the last couple years, as we fall asleep, BF will ask me what I am doing the next day or he’ll ask what I am doing right when we wake up. I find that I’ll loosely tell him, but only loosely. It’s not that I don’t want him to know. It’s that articulating everything that has to get done feels confining, limiting, oppressive, like the opposite of what I felt on that bridge. And I don’t want to go there with my words because I am already there with my life. Does that make sense?
Fast forward to Tuesday when I had breakfast with a dear friend who was in town for just a couple days. We squeezed in the visit right before she got back on the road. We were talking about the things that were to come in the new year, and I shared with her that it was time for me to settle back into my vocation, to do the work I was meant to do more deliberately and regularly. For years, for example, I have taught community writing classes that I just love. I hadn’t this year. And there are other things that I used to do regularly- for me- that I just hadn’t brought myself to do lately. And it wasn’t until I was talking to Erin that it dawned on me why that was. My scheduleable time is limited to when Happy is at preschool. I chair a non-profit, teach a women’s studies class, freelance write for magazines, author and promote books, guest speak all while Happy is at preschool, napping, or sleeping. And I have resisted adding anything else to the fray, like teaching these community classes, because there is a physical, visceral reaction I get when I see my calendar booked back to back to back. Mothering so tethers me to a calendar, to responsibilities, to a regimen, that I am reluctant to add any more of that to the fray. But it is more than that, too. I’ve also been reluctant to do those things that I used to just for myself- to just write for writing’s sake, to just paint for painting sake because, I imagine, those things need time made for them and I am reluctant to add the structure needed to create that time and to add more things that need to get done to my list. My list. My never ending list that BF says exhausts him by just looking at it. The truth has been that I have been reluctant to concretely schedule things like teaching community classes or creating for creativity’s purpose during those preschool hours because every other non-preschool hour is taken. I am scared to confine, to schedule, to commit any more because I feel so confined, so scheduled, and committed. And, yet, am I living a life that completely fills my well? Not entirely. And part of it is that some of what I thought I’d be doing needs to be thrown out the window. I am a firm believer that we create way too much emotional distress when we force ourselves to believe that our lives should be a specific way. So, it is not that I believe my life should be a certain way. It is that I believe that I should give myself what I want and can out of life– not avoid it because it takes time and I am scared of anything taking time. I need to claim what I want, even if it means it gets scheduled. Adding back in things that I love, that fill my well, and allow me to fill the wells of others would be good, would be life-affirming, would be exactly what I need at this point. These, I believe, are those small adjustments that I need to make in order to make my life work.
And then Erin said the thing that I most needed to hear, the clarifying sentence. She said, “Discipline means freedom.” She expounded, of course, because she is smart and insightful and incisive like that. But the big thought I want to share here today is that simple one. Discipline means freedom. If I were to wake up every morning to get my workout in or my writing in first thing rather than try to get as many winks of shut eye as possible before the baby (eh, toddler) wakes, if I were to create teaching or creative moments during preschool hours that would leave me feeling accomplished instead of overwhelmed by the list, if I were to allow myself to go to yoga rather than deem it necessary to fill that time with something more productive, if I were to make room for the things that I imagine that I would just love, even if making room means literally making room in my calendar, I think that what I would have is not a harsher mellow (which is what I tell BF when he asks me to spit out exactly how I am spending my day hour by hour, “Dude, you are harshing my mellow.”) but a more mellow me, a more centered me, the me of my imagining.
And so in the coming days, I’ll decipher what my discipline must look like in order for me to reach the freedom of my imagining. For now, I am no longer scared of calendars, of confinements. I am scared of not living the way I was meant to because of being paralyzed by those things. I am counting on the fact that the feeling on that bridge that night wasn’t a fluke. It was possibility. And I’m going out to find it.