Sometimes I just want time to stop. Or at least slow down so I can savor the day’s moments before going on to the next one. The azaleas, camellias, spirea, Dutch iris, anemones, and redbud blooms that all peaked last week are already colorfully decorating the ground. I thought I had time to enjoy them before they gave way to their hearty green leaves.
Milestones don’t stop happening when you become an adult. There are times that we grown ups finally learn to let in understanding, forgiveness, happiness. Maybe it doesn’t happen all of the sudden (maybe it does). Lately, I think of growing up akin to the process of letting my muscles become loose enough to comfortably sit in hanumanasana. It is said that the human body is innately flexible, that under anesthesia a doctor can contort his patient into any shape; but, the conscious nervous system prevents us from touching our toes when we want to, or flopping into double pigeon before a proper warm up. Little by little as an adult, I am learning what it means to hold grudges, to allow toxic people to influence my life choices, to be genuinely happy for the (seemingly) stress free life my sister lives. As I come to these realizations, I wonder if my busyness (you know, the pull to the iPhones, the computer, the newspaper sitting unread on the kitchen table) has been interfering with my ability to grow as a human?
This is a lofty question, and I do not intend to solve it on a quiet Sunday evening. But I am making a resolve: Sundays will be the day I unplug. I’m going to leave my phone where I don’t look at it when I am unoccupied for 30 seconds. I will use my real cameras. I’m going to stop checking social media on Sundays, devote this day to my family, my self, and the calming of my mind for a week ahead.
Upward and onward, is how I try to think about life. But sometimes, you just want to stay in bed. To rewind time and relive the amazing day you had with your family. Go back to the age of 1.5 and take back all the times you refused to nap and line them all up for an epic lie in. I’m not a lazy person, but who doesn’t long to linger in savasana? With this time I dust together on Sundays, I might make a dent in the to be read pile that is higher than the nightstand, finish a pot of tea, reuse the leaves and drink a second pot. On Sundays, I will stop hurrying the dog through his morning routine, and I might finally pot all the plants that are rooting in glass jars along my windowsills. I’ll read more books to my son, keep reading aloud even when his attention fades after five minutes. On Sundays in savasana, I will let myself cross that visible barrier between consciousness and sleep. I might fold laundry too, but only if I feel like doing it mindfully. No folding laundry begrudging the amount of socks my family wears. I can resume my despair of sock matching on Monday, but Sunday should be a day of peace. A day of action within every moment of inaction.
Don’t you agree?
I got dressed this morning, quickly. In fact, for the last 10 months or so, it has been effortless to get dressed. Whether I’ve been dressing for a date night, work meeting, or a day of play with my son, I’ve somehow become low maintenance, and I can go from sound asleep to out the door in 15 minutes (including eating breakfast) if I must.
Leaving the fickle New England weather is hardly the reason I’m suddenly so easy to dress. No, its more of a self-realization and self-actualization.
It’s that I finally understand my style. Sure, it has taken me the better part of 29 years to know what I like, or if I’m just trying to fit in. I remember when Seven Jeans were really popular my freshman year of college. I went and bought the first pair I found that fit me. I wore them a few times, but I never felt confident in them, and that is the one thing that a really fantastic pair of jeans like sevens should impart. My silly self was about the label then, not the style or fit. But when I go shopping now, I don’t buy a dress just because it is my favorite color by my favorite designer. I don’t try to teeter on heels I can’t walk in, and can’t remember the last time I wore mascara. I don’t need pre-approved adornments to face the world anymore, and I do not feel my authentic self when I’ve masqueraded in others’ ideas of what is acceptable.
With all the leftover time I have now (usually sometimes my husband takes longer to get ready than me) I’ve been trying to observe the intangible aspects of my life through the same lens. I think it’s interesting how I have periods where I feel the need to acquire and possess (I once ransacked the house for one specific bag only to find out I left it at work), and then periods where I just want to strip life down to the barest elements. I’m sure I’ve gotten rid of at least 40% of my closet in in the last year. I’ve given away boxes and boxes of once sentimental clothing, and I ruthlessly throw away birthday cards, candid pictures, and travel souvenirs.
This weeding of my life materialism often mirrors my writing: I’ve written over 1,500 words to get to this point, but I’m only going to publish, 6, maybe 7 hundred words. Whether its words or sweaters, I have weeded out the fatuous, ineffective, and abstruse. I hate clutter, anywhere. Some may call me obsessive: I call it an attention to detail, a character trait I hope will transfer to my writing. I want to compose something fresh and beautiful out of the words that have been around for hundreds of years. I love to organize because I love to prioritize. I like having options, though I hate being overwhelmed–complicated by my insatiable appetite for vocabulary and new outfits. I would rather choose between two than 500. I’ve needed new cross-trainers for weeks now, but every time I go try to pick them out, I end up putting eight pairs in my cart because I can’t decide. I love it when I find a way to wear my favorite t-shirt of the Wave of Kanagawa in a new way; I love playing with words in the same way I used to like playing dress up (ok, I still play dress up for when I have important things like interviews and wedding parties).
The point is, my sweet readers, I feel like I’m closing in on my life’s essence. What I really need–physically and metaphysically. I understand my tastes. It has taken me years of teaching myself to enjoy olives, martinis, corn-on-the-cob, and jalapenos; it took me even longer to learn I have no use in my life for foundation and eyeliner, hot curlers, hi-lo skirts, and cheap jewelery. Words are–without a doubt–less objective, and its hard to know what will work when at what time, but I think I’m starting to hear the voice that is going to tell my stories.
My closet is still enormous. I definitely have more pairs of jeans than I’ll ever need (I’m currently eying these on another open tab), but I can fit at least 90% of my clothes in my one closet now. No more struggling to get duffel bags stuffed with sweaters (or summer dresses in winter) to fit under the bed. My husband even has his own to freely hang his suits. There is–gasp–unused storage space throughout the house.
Too bad I can’t store the extra words I’m not able to use there.
I’m six months entrenched in my new addiction. It follows me when into my dreams as I sleep, it comes with me to work, and I sit through meals fidgeting until I can politely excuse myself to go get a fix. I daydream about the moments I can sweep together from the day’s busyness so I can retreat to my desk to write. You might recall that my last post avowed a writing fast. It lasted about 36 hours. Pretty decent as far as comestible fasts go…but wholly failing in what I claimed to be doing.
In my weak defense, it was a tough week, and I was drained from adventures in extreme baby caring over the weekend. I longed for the comfort of my book and bed. The pressure I put on myself to compose quantifiable words every day was more than I could agree to, so I shrugged it off. It was a good example of irony though, as I wrote through the very anxieties I was experiencing. Maybe it was a way of giving myself permission to take a few days off from the 500 word/day minimum I set for myself. Yesterday morning, I woke, dressed for a run, then looked outside to see soaking, sideways rain–so I returned to bed for two more hours of sleep. Last night I was sleeping by 8pm after falling between the last pages of The Prisoner of Heaven. Yesterday I was gentle with myself, and it was all the fasting I needed.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
As a side note, I’d like to acknowledge a certain loved one who has presently decided to step out of my life. She has a history with a much more serious addiction than my tongue-in-cheek writing addiction I claim to have here. She knows who she is, and I can only hope she’s reading these inane blogged words in the rss in her email like she told me she was doing a month ago. Why she has decided to not be present in my life right now is not a question I’m capable of paining myself with anymore. My anger is gone; what remains is a deep welt of hurt, fear, and sadness.
So: my dear sweet M, please know that whatever you’re going through, your recent actions are a thousand times more disturbing and upsetting than the catalyst. Shrugging me off is even more painful than it is to have lost my father. At least he didn’t choose to leave my life. Please come back.
We’re moving in less than a month. Besides that temporary sojourn to the Netherlands, this is the biggest move I’ve ever made. I’m legitimately allowed to bring everything this time, (except my house plants–more on that to come), and I have three live beings to care for, unpack, and help acclimate when we become Southerners. I’ll keep busy tending to our new home, hanging pictures, potting lavender, finding reading spots, testing out bathtubs. I’ll visit all 16 branches of the Charleston County Public Library System. I’ll organize my bookshelves by some new aesthetic postmodern cataloging standard. Maybe I’ll bake bread.
But the truth is, I’m scared to death about staying home all day with the baby. And before I launch any further into descriptions of what I hope my new life as a Southern Belle will be like, I feel the need to explain myself. Partly out of socially induced guilt (I have lots of friends who tell me “this is the best time to be home with baby,” or “a mother is the most important teacher to a child,”), but mostly because I used to love life as a lady of leisure. I didn’t get my first meaningful, moneymaking job until I was 26 (two weeks shy of 27, actually). That is barely two years ago, but so much has changed in that time. I’m a wife and mother now, and I’ve embraced my responsibility to provide and act as a role model with focused and tenacious gusto.
You see, growing up, my mother never worked. And yet she was present for fewer of my field hockey games and swim meets than my friend’s parents who worked as lawyers, magazine editors, and pilots. I regularly had to hitch rides home with these families because my own mother was too busy with her own life. Its not that she was a bad mother–on the contrary, she was superbly nurturing and caring. But she didn’t represent the archetype that traditional “stay at home mothers” portrayed in my small New England town. She is an artist, and by definition emotional, flighty, and self-absorbed. That she was teaching me about feelings, life, and the great world was irrelevant to me when I was a child.
I wanted her to be exactly like my friend’s moms who didn’t have jobs. I wanted to come home to freshly washed sheets, elaborate dinners in the process of baking, to find her on the back porch catching up with a neighbor over a pitcher of lemonade. Instead, she’d be shut off in her wing of the house (we were forbidden from entering if the door was shut). Sometimes we wouldn’t see her until hours (and as we got older, days) after we’d gotten home. Sometimes we’d see her after making our own dinner, she’d glide into the living room with her friends–the gay jeweler, the rambunctious Greek book artist, the waitress-cum-writer from their favorite restaurant. My sisters and I were doted upon by my mother and her friends during these impromptu parties. We had our portraits painted dozens of times, I had a jewelry collection to rival the Duchess of Cambridge’s by the time I was 16, (not to mention I was introduced to my first real Librarian–a mentor who still serves me to this day).
This was not the traditional life I wanted, but I know it was also not the artistic life my mother wanted. Her parents refused to pay for her to go to art school, so she studied archaeology and met my med school bound father instead. When he died, she was left alone with three young daughters to raise. I cannot even imagine how terrifying that must’ve felt–suddenly being solely responsible for parenting three children. I know she did the best she could. The same friend that told me mothers are “the most important teachers” a child can have also told me that as mothers, we have to find our own balance and take care of ourselves.
My great fear: that I’ll lose myself in my own ambitions. OR: I’ll lose my great goals for life while I’m busy playing baby games.
I know balance is the key to not falling into either seesaw pit of these extremes. But balance has been a tricky thing for me to grasp throughout my life. It usually takes me some trial and error. Like just now, two weeks before putting my career on hold indefinitely, I am getting into a groove with my writing, reading, spending time with my husband, with my child, running, sleeping, & eating. I’m even able to sit and breathe for a few minutes every day.
So, lovely lookers of my lexicon: please do not judge me too harshly, or write me off too quickly as a selfish person when I say I’m not super psyched to be a stay at home mom for the next phase of my life. But great things never came without some adversity first, right?
- Check email and reply (briefly) to one
- Text your mother/husband/sister/best friend to say you’re thinking of them
- Stretch your perpetually tight hamstrings
- Sort the recycling and change the trash
- Empty the top rack of the dishwasher
- Update your Facebook/Twitter/G+/Tumblr page
- Measure and soak some beans to cook tomorrow
- Update all your iPad and iPhone apps, charge your iPod
- Dust off the leaves of the plants, water a few of them
- Fill the dog’s water bowl and give him a hearty belly scratch
- Flip through a catalog and fold down a few pages of things you’ll consider buying
- Sort the laundry, switch the laundry, and start another load
- Take these precious unscheduled free moments and sit. Just sit and be. Do not stretch, do not savor your tea, do not gaze out the window at the world. Close your eyes if you have to so you can focus your breath and ideas inside. What do you hear? If its quiet enough, my ears are usually ringing with a white noise. Do not judge this noise, but observe it, listen. Do not try, just notice, breathe, and be.
The biggest moment of life might be waiting to happen tomorrow. Rarely for me does preparedness necessarily yield a satisfying outcome. The special outfit I pick out for an important meeting may provide the confidence needed to walk tall, but in my experience, it is usually only after working with my head down and getting very dirty that important changes happen.
My husband just got this amazing job opportunity last week. The idea was proposed on Wednesday afternoon, and by Friday morning all the papers were signed and hands shook. When you know you’re capable of more than you’re doing, sometimes it is hard to sit still and wait for the next chapter. Husband had been actively reading the first few lines of several new scenarios for a while, but some things were not falling into place. And then, just after he’d decided to take a break from forcing change, it was as if the world sensed his readiness to consider a totally revolutionary idea, and jumped at its chance. He’s moving South for a month to do some consulting work. All the sudden, he’s incorporated, and I’m getting instructions about what does and doesn’t qualify as a business expense (bottled water, yes; diapers, no; Gap.com, maybe).
Does change pop up for anyone else the same way? We’ve been humming along in our little life for a while now. The newness of being a family unit instead of a married couple is starting to fade. Even though there are constant changes to baby Rex’s routine, I have anticipated them. We have teething supplies, we’ve baby proofed, and the sandman is coming to repossess his yawns because of my huge sleep debt. These are exciting changes–first teeth, first steps, first night of sleeping 8 hours–but expected changes. The big things, like the conversation when I learned librarianship is a career, or the day Kevin mentioned the phone call from an old partner, those are the unexpected and brilliant parts of life that motivate me to keep working hard to get the results I want. Change is one of the scariest things we humans face. But without it, would we know that the spiky leaves of an artichoke plant give way to a delicious heart?
It is difficult to remember that the life I had two years ago was real–fresh out of grad school, planning a trip to Italy, not really thinking about what I wanted beyond pizza and sunshine. Here I am now, planning my life as a single mother for the next month. I’m preparing for it, but life will nonetheless be hard and stressful at times.
So please forgive me if posts are not as frequent or quality. As usual, I will do my very best.
Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963. I read it in college, not understanding a bit, but obediently spouting back the theory to my feminist professor. Now, I’ve read it more seriously, and I’m fascinated. This book is a gem. Even though it is said to have ushered in second wave feminism and we’re here riding the 44th wave, it is still so applicable. I think people would pay a lot less attention to disputes over how women should live their lives if everyone attempted to understand what Friedan was trying to say.
Its taken me over a month to read this deliciously dense book. So I thought I’d save you all some time, and offer a little overview of my main takeaways.
It is easy to see the concrete details that trap the suburban housewife, the continual demands on her time. But the chains that bind her in her trap are chains in her own mind and spirit. They are chains made up of mistaken ideas and misinterpreted facts, of incomplete truths and unreal choices. They are not easily seen and not easily shaken off (77).
In the 1960s, women were expected to be fulfilled by having babies, a family, and a well-kept house. Society told females that the greatest good was to nurture, and in the decades following the World Wars, this makes sense. People ached for the comforts of home; Women, as the sex to bear children, felt obligated to fulfill real or imagined ideals.
I do not study psychology, but I believe this desire to meet expectations was fueled by two fires: the need to be validated, and the biological urge to procreate. If instead women were encouraged to seek a career (and validated once this was achieved), perhaps we wouldn’t have an entire generation called Baby Boomers. Today, over four decades since Friedan exposed women’s great dissatisfaction with their role, I see that society still has not moved on from this obsession that women be nurturers.
I’m not complaining though, not now, not at age 28. Maybe when I’m 48, and past my child bearing years, I’ll feel differently. Friedan was 42 when she wrote The Feminine Mystique. When I first started telling people I was expecting, one menopausal woman tried to relate with me: “Don’t you just feel so special?” As usual, I did not get it at the time. I was in the throes of misery most days, too busy to feel anything but self-pity. But I understand now. With the entire world speculating about when Princess Catherine will produce an heir, how can we young women not feel a little bit of self-satisfaction that we share this same life? Today we no longer have a feminine mystique, but a pregnancy mystique.
One of the differences between 1963 and 2012, is that today I do not believe the only way to continue to find meaning in my life is to have more children. Now it is my choice what I want to do–I mean, it was a choice for women in 1963, but not a socially accepted one to choose career over motherhood, or ever career and motherhood. I’m happy we had a baby last year. Now the hormonal drive that used to clutter my thoughts is quieter. I can focus on my career, on my marriage, and fittingly–my family. I know I may want to have another baby someday, but the urgency isn’t there quite like it used to be. I unexpectedly got pregnant in early 2011, which ended in a miscarriage. Until then, the ability for my body to conceive was something I was vaguely aware of, but with ten years of preventing pregnancy under my belt, it took some time to change my mindset to the other direction.
Then there was this hope that came from knowing I was pregnant–a previously mysterious mystique that I was suddenly privy to. But after three weeks it unraveled into a despair from learning the fetus was not going to survive. This fostered in us a baby exigency. If I lived in 1963, after my body healed from the trauma of a miscarriage or childbirth, I probably would be left to focus on having more children. In 2012, the option to make one’s identity motherhood exists for many of us, but for complicated and various reasons, we may not accept this role.
According to this tool on Salary.com, should a stay-at-home mom actually earn cash, she’d get $112,962 per year. Curiously enough, if a mother works out of the home, her median salary is $66,979. Why is there such a huge gap between the two?
I do not like these infographics: one depicts how “stay-at-home moms juggle 94.7 hours of work” each week; the other, that “working moms juggle 57.9 additional hours of work at home.” They completely upend the important work Friedan established. And, I’m confused. What are “working moms” doing with those additional 36.8 hours each week? I can think of a zillion things I would like to be doing, but in reality, I’m working too. Thankfully, I enjoy my work a great deal, and I’m not here trying to add to the raging Mommy Wars going on in the media, but to draw our attention back to a wonderful woman who made an important point decades ago–that women, despite a biological destiny to produce children, have choices.
Looking back at the college professor who first introduced me to The Feminine Mystique, I’m not sure if I should be agitated that she expected me–a young, naive teenager–to understand this book, if I should feel embarrassed that I so obviously missed the point, or if I should be proud that she thought me capable of understanding (and perpetuating!) this fundamental role shift the female gender had so recently wrought.
An entry level attorney makes over $90k. A professor of accounting at Suffolk University makes about $119k. A nurse practitioner should make around $100k. A librarian? $63k. It seems disrespectful to say that a stay-at-home mother is more valuable than a woman working outside the home. I think Betty Friedan, who died in 2006, would be saddened that a woman’s worth is still valued higher when she is her own domestic worker.