Lately I've been thinking about all of those times over the years when I've been told that these are the best years of your life! As far as I can remember, it started in high school, but when I heard it then I just wanted to puke. If those were my best years then life was some kind of cruel comedy-tradgedy in my book. I was shy, alone, and in my own head during most of high school. Were there good moments? Yeah, of course. They just generally happened far from those front doors. Then I heard it again during college. Of course during those years I was preocupied with getting transportation to be able to get around the small Texas towns I lived in, or writing papers, or dealing with boyfriend drama. But generally, I think I knew even then that those years were pretty special. I finally broke out of my shell, started my love of traveling, and just generally had a good time with some really good friends. College was good, but I wasn't satisfied. I was always looking ahead--where would I go next? What cool job would I get? Who would I marry and wouldn't it be awesome to finally live as a completely independent adult on my own?
I did graduate, travel, have an interesting job and go to grad school. And marry and start "adult life". The next time I heard that these are the best years of your life was after we had Angelica. Having young children at home was, in the opinion of those preaching, IT. (Ironically, those were also the people who didn't have young children at home anymore). One part of me screamed inwardly, "How can this be it? Do you have any idea of what I've given up for this? My life is a sacrifice for this little person, and every day from morning to night, she comes first. Not me. My dreams and plans are still there, but fuzzy and in the backlight of my daily reality. Do you understand that?"
And then I stumbled upon a blog last week based on an article from last summer out of New York Magazine, titled I love my children, I hate my life by Jennifer Senior. Tell that to the people preaching! I wouldn't go as far as to say I hate my life, but I have been tempted to hang poster-board sized "affirmations" in every room of my house and in my office at school with the message This Is Worth It on every one. Because day-to-day life is work. And I want to venture to say that it doesn't matter what balance of outside work, home life and children a mom carries--it is always a sacrifice and many days a struggle. And during those moments of frustration, our "best selves" get buried and we lose focus. The forest is lost for the trees (the kind that rise tall and don't leave room to see beyond them).
We (okay let me go back to the first person singular) I hash things out on my husband. I end it all with the statement "I feel like I'm always complaining". He replies: "You are always complaining" and quickly tries to turn it into a joke as my eyes widen and my jaw sets in them-are-fighting-words stance: "Well, I'm like your complaint department. That's what I'm here for". Really? Has it come to that? These are the best days of your life play again in my head and taunt me. I want to be better, do better at this. When did I turn my husband into my complaint department?
Deep down inside, I know that these really are the best days and I want to live them at my best. I think the best days are the ones you are totally present in, the ones you instinctively feel their precious value even when the trees are threatening to choke you all around. Angelica teaches me this over and over, day after day. When I am exhausted and cranky, distracted and dissatisfied, she pulls me back into the now. Sometimes she does it literally, pulling my face close to hers and staring intently with her big brown eyes into mine. She does it with an emotional intelligence that takes my breath away. One day recently after running some errands, I realized that we had left behind her favorite book and that I had no idea where it was. I was devestated because this was no ordinary book--she slept with it and took it everywhere with her. So I told her that mommy had made an oops, and I confessed, I shed a few tears (dang pregnancy hormones). She gave me that look of wisdom beyond her years and she asked "Mommy, are you sad?" As I blubbered and nodded, she calmly reached for a library book of the same series (which she had shown no previous interest in) and started leafing through it. She continued asking me if I was sad until I finally relented, realizing that she was teaching me something. She said "It's okay, Mommy" and never asked for the book after that (although I admit that I went and found a replacement the next week, as soon as I could, and it has returned to being one of her favorites again).
My two-year old felt empathy? I think she did. And that's just one example of why I live each day with its monotony of meal preparation or constant toy pick-up or running here-and-running there, and fitting work into it all with sparks of wonder. The sparks of wonder tell me that this really is IT. If I need to hang signs up all over my house and beyond as reminders when the trees get too tall, fine.
Isn't it an irony of life that the most difficult things are often what end up bringing the most joy? The sacrifices made, the plans deferred bring us to a new and more vibrant NOW that we never would have imagined of know had we stayed the course we once thought we had chosen. Well that's what has happened to me. I was the girl who said "Kids? Nah...not now..and not for a LONG time". I was never the one who dreamed of mommyhood as a young woman. Yet, here I am in the midst of balancing my life as mommy and wife and teacher and so on...and in spite of the madness of it all I find these brillant colors that only being a mommy can bring. And I want to hold on to these days because there are these moments that I never, ever want to forget. And to think, I could have missed out on all of this!
And of course, as we all know, these things that bring joy in spite of great sacrifice...well, they are never things.