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Work It: Thoughts on Stay at Home Motherhood and Why I’m Not Sure I Can Do It Anymore

2 Nov
fashionable-mom

If only I were this stylish as a mom!

When I turned 16, my parents basically said, “You’re old enough to get a job, so now, if you want to buy something, you’ll need to pay for it.” I half-heartedly searched for jobs until I landed a gig at the movie theater where a few of my friends worked. I wore a collared white shirt and a black bow tie and took people’s tickets or made batches of popcorn with extra oil while downing Coke-flavored icees in water cups. I’ve worked ever since, at an ice skating rink, at Starbucks, at a counseling center, a charter high school, a seminary, and a magazine. I enjoyed many of these jobs, whether for the work, the colleagues, or just the paycheck. But even in my favorite jobs, I think I would have stopped working in an instant if I suddenly had all the money I needed.

So when I became pregnant and started thinking about whether I would work or stay at home or figure out some combination of the two, I thought maybe staying at home was the right decision for me. I didn’t have a job I absolutely loved, and taking care of a baby was going to be enough work as it is. I never really found my identity in my work; I always found it in my relationships. Even when I did a workshop where I reflected on the high points and low points of my life, work almost never entered the picture—even big moments like the first time my writing was published.

I assumed the thing I liked most about work was the intellectual stimulation, and the camaraderie. It seemed possible I could find intellectual stimulation and camaraderie outside of the workplace, if I could just find the right book club and moms group.

And yet, here I am, almost 10 months into this stay at home mom gig (and in a book club and a moms group!), and I’m longing to work.

Part of it is a longing for escape. Taking care of a baby sometimes feels like backbreaking work (how do people have more than one?!). I’m pretty soft, so maybe it’s just me. But really, what’s backbreaking is the constancy of the physical work required in caring for an infant. I mean, said infant pretty much must be carried everywhere; that alone is a huge amount of work that was not in my pre-baby life. (Especially now that Zadie is over 20 pounds and we live on the third floor!!) The baby’s feeding needs and bodily functions all must be managed and cared for by me. It’s kind of insane. And after 9-plus months, I am bone tired. Every night I get into bed and feel like I’m 80 years old. Everything aches. And the idea of going to work, and going to the bathroom without having to do it in less time than it takes my baby to crawl down the hallway to me/the bathroom trash can, sounds like a vacation.

Work would also give me some much-needed space from my baby. You know that feeling when you meet a new friend you really click with (for most of us, this was probably in high school or college), and you hang out more and more until you’re hanging out all the time? And it’s the best, until it isn’t. And you need space so you can remember why you liked this person in the first place, why they became your best friend. It’s like getting so close to something you can’t see it anymore. That’s what I’m afraid is happening to Zadie and me. My sister Rachel said it so well, that for moms, the question of to work or to stay at home is answered with a simple “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” She said if you work you feel guilty when you’re away from your kids (or even if you don’t feel guilty, you just miss them terribly) and if you stay at home you’re with your kids so much you stop appreciating them. I need a break from Zadie. I need a chance to miss her and to feel like I can’t wait to see her. Sure, sometimes I have those moments when I can’t wait till she wakes up from a nap so I can see her cute face, or where I spend an hour after she goes to bed looking at pictures of her. But mostly, lately, I think, “I can’t spend another minute with you.” It’s like we’ve been stuck in a car together on a 10-month-long road trip (and I’m not even counting the 9 months she took up residence inside my body). I need to be me again for a while, not me-and-Zadie. Work is starting to look like the way to that.

Something else I’ve realized is that even though I’m not a worker bee, everyone likes being acknowledged for hard work and a job well done. It’s been said a million times: mothers do an insane amount of work for an even more insane lack of appreciation. We don’t get paid, and we hardly get a “good job.” It would feel good to go to work, do the work, and take home a paycheck. Also, the paycheck itself would be nice, because we live in Los Angeles now and one income in Los Angeles is a fool’s game.

Here’s what it comes down to. Last week, my attention was turned toward a Facebook post by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a “feminist manifesto” written as a letter to her friend who recently became a mother. The manifesto is a response to the friend’s question, outlining 15 suggestions on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. The first suggestion stopped me dead in my tracks.

“Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders once said to a younger journalist, ‘Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.’

You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfillment that come with doing and earning. Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive.”

That paragraph makes me want to shout, “YES!” from the rooftops. It makes me want to run up a mountain, or skydive out of a plane. It feels like freedom. I’m guessing the extreme reaction stems from 1) I have not felt like a full person since I had Zadie almost a year ago, and 2) I have somehow, for some reason, bought into the idea that motherhood and work are mutually exclusive, and I have felt both bound to my duty as a mother and also restricted by my lack of a job I love and can’t bear to quit, like my sister the physician’s assistant or my sister the teacher. I’ve felt that, if I were to be away from my baby, it would need to be for a noble reason, for a job that was changing the world. But perhaps there is no more noble a reason than a job might make me feel like a full person again, and only a mother who is a full person can fully offer her love to her child.

So I guess what I’m saying is, do you know anyone who’s hiring? 😉

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When It Takes a Long Time (Like, 7 Months) to Start Enjoying Your Baby

31 Aug

JoyZadieArboretumIt takes me a long time to adjust to change—an embarrassingly long time. Motherhood, and taking care of a baby day in and day out, has been no exception. In some of my grumpiest, most melancholy, or—let’s be honest—crazy moments, Robert has said something to the effect of, “Well, at least I know you’ll be back to yourself around January 4…” referencing how it takes me about a year to adjust to any major change.

Adjustment is what I was longing for the first several weeks (OK, maybe the first few months) of Zadie’s life—to feel used to it. For everything to not feel so scary and unfamiliar. To not see Zadie as a stranger or little alien. I longed for relief from the new, from having to figure things out. You know how when you get a new job, you go home and dream about doing it? All day I nursed Zadie and changed her and bounced her on the yoga ball to get her to sleep. Then all night I’d dream of nursing her or changing her or bouncing her, or just of her crying. I’d wake from dreams that she was in our bed, and then feel so confused when she wasn’t, and look for her frantically before realizing she was sleeping peacefully in the bassinet beside me, where she always was.

My fear was that my resistance to change, my slowness to adjust would make me miss Zadie’s first year. I worried that I would wake up on her first birthday to find that she was finally not a stranger to me, and that I finally enjoyed being her mother, only to realize I’d missed out on her only year of true babyhood.

Thankfully, I started to enjoy my baby before her first birthday. It was slow at first—right around three months, I had moments when I was just in awe of Zadie, and sincerely enjoyed being with her and taking care of her. The moments of overwhelm and fear and exhaustion definitely were more abundant, but still. I look at a photo of us on Easter, back in March, when Zadie was almost three months old. She had started to truly smile, and to be less larva-like, and the smile on my face in that picture is the smile I always wanted to be on my face when I was with my baby. As I got to know her more, and as she became more active and playful, I began enjoying her more and more. This past month, Zadie’s eighth month on this earth, I feel like I’ve fallen totally in love with her. She’s just so sweet, so beautiful, so strong. She makes my mama heart swell with pride and love for her.

But now that I’m into Zadie as a baby, I’m preemptively mourning her growing older and bigger. In those early weeks I kept wishing for her to get older and bigger, so things wouldn’t be so hard and scary and I wouldn’t be guessing as much about how to take care of her. I thought the baby stage (and, let’s face it, the toddler stage) would be something I just had to get through, in order to have my daughter, a person with whom I’d have a lifelong relationship. But now I don’t want the baby stage to end—her sweet little gummy smile (no teeth yet!), her diaper booty, the way she scoots across the floor on her belly, the way it’s so easy to get her to smile, the way she squeals in delight on our walks at what I can only imagine is the thrill of seeing trees and flowers for the thousandth time instead of the millionth. I love the way she drops her head onto my chest or my shoulder when I hold her and sing “Jesus Loves Me” before her nap or bedtime. The way she’s so pleased with herself when she stands or bangs two toys together or claps her hands. The way she plays with her loveys in her crib for half an hour after her nap without even making a peep. The way she eats with gusto, like a little football player. How she brings stuffed animals to her face so she can give them open-mouthed kisses, and how she teases Asher whenever she’s holding a ball and knows he wants it, waving it under his nose and laughing. The way she holds her hand out, bent at the wrist, when she meets new people, as though directing them to “Kiss the royal hand.” Her new thing, burying her face in my neck shyly when she encounters strangers.

I spent the first few months of my baby’s life wishing time would speed up, so we could be done with the terrifying newborn stage. Then the next few months I was still future-focused, thinking things would be better or easier once she wasn’t nursing so much (true), or she could sit up on her own (also true), or some other milestone. Now we seem to have stepped into a crazy time warp, because it’s going by shockingly fast; every Monday I blink and it’s suddenly Friday. I know better now than to wish for a certain event in the future—it’ll come. Now I have more moments where I want to stop this train of life from moving so damn fast, taking my baby away from me.

Or is it just that I’m resisting change once again? Realizing that at every new phase and age Zadie enters, I have to readjust and readapt my methods, my schedule, my very heart.

Letting Go of My Past Self: Thoughts on Motherhood

11 Apr

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“After a while you could get used to anything.” This quote, from Albert Camus’ The Stranger, struck me as profound when I read it as a senior in high school. The main character says he believes he could live inside a dead tree trunk, with nothing to look at but “the sky flowing overhead,” and little by little he would have gotten used to it.

This is about as deep as it gets for a 17-year-old, and to be honest, the line has stuck with me as a sort of mantra through different transitional times in my life. The discomfort of change can be paralyzing, depressing, crazy-making, or can just plain suck. But I’d remind myself that I could get used to anything. Working at a summer camp where I had to be ready to leave my dorm at the ungodly hour of 6 am every morning? Sure, it was tough at first, but I got used to it. Reading a required 1,200 pages a week as a grad student? Of course it was intimidating, but I got used to the workload and to spending Saturdays in the library. When I became a teacher, I thought I’d never get used to getting up every day in front of a bunch of kids, but I did.

And back in January, when I suddenly had a tiny baby to care for, and had to learn to handle her and wash her and change her, when I spent hours a day on the couch learning how to feed her, I knew that at some point in the not-so-distant future, I would get used to this, too.

It’s the less tangible parts of my new role as a mother that are harder to become familiar with.

It’s like when I got married and became a wife. It didn’t take long to become accustomed to the weight of my wedding ring on my finger, or for waking up next to my husband to feel normal. But it took so long to get used to my new identity as a wife, to get used to a totally different way of being in the world: married rather than single.

So it is with motherhood. I’m no longer staggering under the workload of caring for my baby. I change diapers all day without blinking an eye. I can strap Zadie into her car seat or wrap her up in a sling with ease. I settle down to nurse my baby a half dozen times a day and (usually) don’t think twice about it. I haven’t slept in since New Year’s. All of these things I’m somewhat used to.

What I can’t get used to, though, is the sheer weight of responsibility I carry now as Zadie’s mother. It is my job to protect her, nurture her, and sustain her with my own body. The diapers and the breastfeeding will stop one day, but the responsibility I have for my daughter will continue for years. While it’s an incredible privilege to be her mother, if I let myself think about it much I feel suffocated by the burden I carry for her health, her happiness.

Recently I had a bit of an existential crisis about it—I longed for the days when I was only responsible for myself. I wanted to hop into a time machine and go back to my early twenties, to my traveling days, to Israel and Australia and Norway and Ireland and the rest. I wanted to strip off the heavy cloak of motherhood and be free again. I felt a weight in my chest that felt remarkably like grief, and then I realized: it is grief. I’m mourning the loss of my old self. She started dying during my pregnancy and now she’s gone forever.

I read a little devotional yesterday that had these words to share:

Out of Christ’s death comes life, and so for us. If there’s something you need to pronounce “dead” or “deadly” in your life, pronounce it. If there’s something of your past life that’s simply on a ventilator, let it die. It’s the only way you will know life, know the resurrection life that Jesus promises.

That desire to hop into a time machine was a wish to bring the dead back to life. But the only way to experience life now is to accept the death of my old self and embrace the new one. On that first Easter Sunday thousands of years ago, women who were mourning Jesus’ death arrived at his grave to pay their respects, but instead angels and an empty tomb greeted them. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angels asked.

Why do I look for life in my past? The only life I can experience is here, now, in the present. That’s where God is working, that’s where the Holy Spirit is hovering over the darkness in me. A few years ago I wrote an essay called “To Be Born Over and Over Again,” and I had no idea how true my words would become.

In Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, one character says, “To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to die one hundred deaths.” And this, truly, is what I am resistant toward. I am resistant toward those hundred, those thousand deaths that make up a true, growing life, keeping us from stagnation and decay. The death of dependence as I walked into adulthood and learned to pay my own bills and manage my own affairs. The death of childhood friendships as we diverged into different life phases—marriage, children, singleness—and could not keep our ties tight enough. The death of dreams, of relationships, of innocence, of longtime habits and sins, of ideals and ignorance. We all die these deaths.

And yet if we have lived long enough to be marked by death, we know by now the great mystery that death brings life; all births require a kind of death. To live is to die a hundred deaths, but you might as well say to live is to be born over and over again. It is the approach to that birth that we fear and resist and see as death. But the pain of letting go of my girlish dependence made way for the birth of the woman Joy. One day, this fear and pain of giving up my independence will make way for myself to be born again as a mother—just as the literal pain I endure will bring forth my own baby.

…But the birthing process, and the first terrified and joyful weeks, will be raw, because that is an essential quality of new life. And I must labor again when I agonize over my children’s taking flight from our nest, and I must be reborn as another woman, another Joy, and learn to give birth to other ideas, relationships, and dreams. Oh God, let me never resist the deaths and the births that make up my life.

And that’s still my prayer. That I won’t seek the living among the dead. That I won’t stagnate and refuse to die or to be born again. That I will be changed, marked, by the deaths and births in my life, and become a better self because of them.

My Baby, The Person: Thoughts on Motherhood

11 Feb

When I was pregnant, my husband always made a point to say we were expecting a child, or expecting our daughter, rather than expecting a baby. I’m not sure why–maybe because he was more excited about the child part than the baby part. To be honest, neither of us were over the moon about babyhood and all that comes with it–the milk, the diapers, the spit up, the pure helplessness of the baby and total responsibility of us as parents (did I mention we are both youngest children??).

And here we are, in the thick of Zadie’s babyhood. She still can’t even hold her head up. She grunts and cries and sucks her fists and eats and poops more than anything that small should. At first she was just a little creature to us, just a bundle of needs; or, as one of our friends put it, thinking back to his own son’s newborn days–just a little day ruiner. I mean, she doesn’t even smile yet! Sometimes it was hard to feel connected to her, and not simply see her as a burden.

One of my friends mentioned that getting to know your newborn involves “welcoming the stranger” into your home and into your life, and lately Zadie has felt like less of a stranger. As the weeks have gone by, we truly are becoming attached to her, and it’s so different from the way you become attached to a pet (even as great a pet as Asher Lev!). It’s different because not only is Zadie a human, like us, but she is a person–her own person, with potential, with a future, with a completely separate identity from myself and from Robert.

When I was pregnant and full of fear and dread over what parenthood would be like, I read this beautiful quote by (who else?) Frederick Buechner:

The grace of God means something like this: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been the same without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.

After reading that quote, I finally saw my pregnancy and my upcoming role as a mother in the grand scheme of things. It wasn’t about me at all. I was a carrier, the one chosen to help bring Zadie into the world, not because I wanted her, but because God wanted her. He knew the party–life here on earth, and life forever afterward–wouldn’t be the same without her. It was my job to carry her and nurture her, to protect her and guide her; it wasn’t her job to make me happy or complete or anything else.

The “beautiful and terrible things will happen” bit gets me. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed thinking about Zadie experiencing all the good and bad of this world–the delicious feeling of swimming in a cold pool on a hot day, or the thrill of traveling to foreign lands, or the joy of deep friendship; also the scary things that can happen to her, the shame she might feel at some point, the heartbreak or violence. I remember many years ago feeling very cynical and asking my mentor why anybody brings children into this world. She had a sister with four daughters, and passed on what her sister had told her: she loved that she had helped bring into the world friends of God. People who would know the creator of the universe and be known by him. People who may know the joy and peace and hope of the Spirit.

When I feel like I’m drowning in my baby’s round-the-clock needs, sometimes I do well to remind myself that this is simply a very short season–one that every person must go through, one in which every person needs a parent to feed and comfort and care for them. My mother did it for me, and now I’m doing it for Zadie. And I imagine what she might be like at 5, or 20, or 45, and those blurry images get me through.

**I love the photos above because it looks like little 2-week-old Zadie is having a conversation with her daddy. (All photos by the amazing Shyla www.ShylaPhotography.com)

Winter Love: The Story of a Marriage (So Far)

10 Dec

Each winter, when temperatures start dropping and I take to wearing your old grey hoodie around the house, I can’t help but remember our first winter together. Only five years ago you took me for a hike in the hills of Santa Monica on an unseasonably warm day in December, but the hike was boring so we got back in the car and got lost and even though that’s one of my pet peeves somehow I wasn’t peeved, and we ended up in Malibu hiking through the shaded canyon and we sat on a log by a waterfall and ate the lunch you packed: gourmet sandwiches with avocado and bottles of iced tea, for which you even remembered to bring lemon wedges. It was the kind of first date—though we didn’t call it a date—that seemed to go on forever, and we were shy as we told our stories, timidly revealing bits of ourselves. I’d known you since you were sixteen and I was nineteen; now in my late twenties I had to keep reminding myself that you were no longer a teenage boy but a man, a man with a degree and some travel experience and a future career as an engineer.

Two days before Christmas you sprung an idea on me: let’s go to the Getty museum. Our second date. And so I drove through the foothills in a torrential downpour, terrified of my hydroplaning Geo Prism but exhilarated at the thought of a day at the museum with you. We splashed into the museum and you looked at a painting so closely that your nose almost touched it and a security guard asked you to step back. We walked outside and the rain had stopped and we stood looking out at Los Angeles under its charcoal blanket of storm clouds and for the first time but not the last we shared a sense of awe, and I stood as close as I dared to you and wondered what it would feel like to kiss you.

A week later we drove to San Luis Obispo, your old college town, for the day; our third date. You’d packed snacks—small, bright orange clementines and little bags of trail mix and chocolate. I peeled two clementines for you to eat as you drove. You showed me all your favorite places, and we took a canoe out on Morro Bay and walked along the sand and we saw an otter pop his head out of the water on our way back to the shore. Later we climbed up on rocks to watch the sunset, and I said I was cold so you put your arm around me. You were wearing this grey hoodie. And I couldn’t believe how much I felt for this man who used to be this boy I knew.

When the weather gets cold I think about how I fell in love with you that winter, so fast it shocked me and scared me to death. I remember being so lovesick I could barely eat, all I could think about was you with your scruffy beard and the way you threw your head back when you laughed.

That was five years ago. But, when it gets cold, I also think back to four years ago, our second winter. I think back to our frenzied wedding planning, to the fear I felt as I approached marriage, so terrified of losing myself forever, that it would end badly for me, that this dream would die a terrible death once I said “I do” and sealed my fate. But you were perfect. Our day was perfect. This was also a sunny December day, but not so warm. The California light filtered perfectly through the oak trees, our friend Michael played guitar, I floated down a dirt aisle to a sea of faces turned toward me and beaming…the fear had left me, but it returned the next day. All through our Hawaiian honeymoon I was a basketcase, sure that you would mistreat me and let me down somehow. We had terrible, blow out fights in the middle of our timeshare condo in paradise.

Those first few months of our marriage were the worst of my life. I was so afraid—all the issues I’d managed to bury for so many years were like land mines now, and you were a casualty. You fought back, you withdrew, you hardened, you lived up to my fears—I pushed you there. It all felt like such a mistake. We didn’t have a bed yet; we slept on a futon in the middle of the living room, and I couldn’t believe you were the same person I fell in love with just a year ago, the gentle guy in the grey hoodie. I couldn’t believe I was the same woman, the one who let herself fall head over heels in love.

The next winter, we went to Palm Springs to celebrate our first anniversary. We wrote new wedding vows and read them to each other on our sunny patio with the San Jacinto mountains towering over us. Now we knew which promises really mattered to us, which ones were the hardest to keep and therefore the most important to make. We planted new seeds there in the desert, seeds of hope and commitment in our still-new marriage.

This winter, three years later, as my body grows to make room for our first child, I marvel at the harvest we’ve gathered from those seeds we planted. We are best friends. We listen to each other and respect each other and are much quicker to apologize, and to let things go. We are thankful for each other, and our hearts are filled with hope for the future we have together with our new daughter, our little winter baby.

Before you, winter was mainly about Christmas, and about making it through until spring. Now winter is a milestone, a marker for me. One winter when I was so alone, when I least expected it, I found the love of my life. The next winter I became a married woman, but I also became the woman I never wanted to be. One winter later I made a decision to change, to grow up, to open to you again. This winter I’m just so thankful, thinking about how that first winter I had no idea what it would mean to love you, no idea how you would surprise me, how you would grow and change in just five years, how I would one day be unable to imagine my husband and the father of my child being anybody but you.

New Body, New Rules: More Thoughts On Pregnancy

10 Sep

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When I first got pregnant, I was inspired by the pregnant women who embraced their growing, changing bodies. I wanted to be one of those women. I wanted to be Maya Rudolph, just like this. (Isn’t she the greatest?) But the thing is, I’ve never been a person who is truly comfortable in her body, so why would pregnancy suddenly make me so? Instead, it’s given me feelings of being simultaneously trapped in my body and having no control over my body. Lovely. It’s also quite horrifying to have the one part of my body about which I’ve always been most self-conscious, my belly, to be growing rapidly and also, apparently, a perfectly acceptable topic of conversation for friends, acquaintances, and I’m guessing soon, strangers.

Like it or not, pregnancy makes you think about your body, a lot. In those first few months when I was sick all the time, I had to constantly monitor my body, my appetites, my level of nausea, which foods I could possibly stand eating. I imagine once this (wonderful) second trimester is over, the discomforts and general hugeness of the third trimester will have me once again very consciously inhabiting my body. But I’ve never been very connected to my body, despite my discipline with fitness. I’ve always cultivated a life of the mind, instead. I’m not musical, I have very little rhythm, I don’t play sports. When I was a young teen hanging out at my best friends’ house, we ended up jumping in a pile of leaves. I barely remember this, except perhaps asking them what exactly I was supposed to do? But my friends’ mom, Gayle, probably brings up that memory once a year–it was just so funny to her to see my awkward joy in being a body, jumping in fall leaves. It was much more natural at the time to find me curled up with a book, or talking to a friend on our cordless phone with my feet in the pool. School and studying and books are comfortable worlds for me; athletics and new physical environments are not.

It’s terrifying, then, to think of being plunged headlong into a life of the body, and not nearly so much of the mind, for the next year-plus: from pregnancy, to labor and birth, to postpartum recovery and breastfeeding, not to mention taking care of our baby’s every single bodily need. It’s a very human life, though–and I can’t deny that I have longed to be more connected to my body, to my “creatureliness,” as Walter Brueggemann puts it. Frederick Buechner says “the biblical understanding of man is not that he has a body but that he is a body.”

Several years ago during an immersion course in Italy, I learned so much simply by viewing and studying Signorelli’s fresco The Resurrection of the Flesh in the little chapel in Orvieto, where he depicts the resurrection of the body (see below). His painting was truly controversial at the time, because people believed our spirits were good, our bodies were bad, and in the final resurrection we would be free from our evil bodies. But if you read Scripture like 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul talks about the resurrection of the body, you can’t help but think that we will have bodies–albeit new and different–in the world to come. Signorelli paints these new resurrection bodies, people enjoying them, trying them out. That fresco, plus the pure sensual experience that is Italy, made me feel more alive in my body than perhaps ever before–I remember treading water in the navy blue Mediterranean, exhilarated after a long, hot hike, gazing at the colorful town of Vernazza, and feeling one in body and spirit.

Could that be the beautiful possibility behind the bodily discomforts and sensations that come with early motherhood? I hope so. Today as I pondered these thoughts I came across the passage in Hebrews about how God disciplines those he loves. My life of the mind is lopsided, and the hardships and discomforts of pregnancy and childbearing could be seen as discipline, as a way of gently shaping me into the best version of myself, lovingly refusing to let me stay the way I’ve always been.

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A portion of Signorelli’s Fresco

Oh Darling, Let’s Be Grown-Ups

18 Aug

darlingMaybe you’ve seen it on Pinterest, the type over a color-saturated mountain scene, or on an Etsy print, or a tote bag or journal cover: the line, “Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers.” I’m not sure where it came from, but it’s certainly taken off in the past year or two, at least in the world of the Internet and upper-middle-class Millennials. Something about it rubs me the wrong way, though. What is it with my set and the idea of adventure?

I have to admit, our wedding invitations used the line from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: “To love would be an awfully big adventure.” For me, using that quote reframed marriage, not as simply an institution, a rite of passage, a joining of bank accounts. It would not only be hard, or work, or even compromise. It would be an adventure.

In my experience, my generation just does not want to grow up. Growing up is basically the worst. I imagine there was a time when growing up was a good thing, when people longed to move out from under their parents’ covering and strike out on their own, to lead their own family and run their own households. I wouldn’t know. That’s never been a huge desire of mine. Traveling the world? Yes. Having my own house just the way I like it? Meh, not so much. So, then, when I find myself again and again faced with opportunities to grow up (and at 31 and pregnant, there are plenty of them), I want to whine and transport myself to my adventurous traveling days, when the world was sprawled out at my feet and I couldn’t wait to stamp any remaining spaces in my passport.

Take last Saturday, for example: two of my girlfriends were planning on spending time by the pool, and can I just say all summer long I have been dying to go swimming? To the point where I was researching the best places to swim in Colorado? And here my friend was, with a pool at her apartment, planning on having a lazy day with popsicles and girl talk. Heaven. But, our car was totaled a couple weeks ago in an accident, and we needed to shop for a new one. I pretty much threw a fit that morning to Robert, whining about how I didn’t get to enjoy myself all summer because we’d been packing, moving, unpacking, settling the house, etc. “I just want to go the pool!” I whine/moaned like an eight-year-old. When we left the house a while later to look at a few cars, I packed a bag with a swimsuit and towel, in case we finished up early and I could meet my friends. On the way to see the first car, both Robert and I were grumpy and snappy, until Robert said, “Let’s be grown-ups today.”

I needed that. I needed to flip a switch in my head and say, I’m not eight years old. I’m an adult who needs a car to get to work, and today that means I’m not going swimming. Just like that, we changed gears, and we spent the next 10 hours (literally) car shopping, with an IKEA trip thrown in, having a very grown-up Saturday devoid of summer fun. But we did what we needed to do and what no one else was going to do for us.

I think any woman’s first pregnancy has her thinking about growing up, because it suddenly feels like a whole new level of growing up to contemplate, being an adult with a tiny life in her charge. I’m hyperaware of my bad moods, my whining, my tantrums and complaining and fussiness—basically, when I’m acting like a child. How can I raise my baby to be a good, upstanding citizen and family member and friend, if I’m setting an example of laziness, whining and complaining? I have to get my act together—fast.

Driving together recently to Rocky Mountain National Park, Robert and I were listening to a podcast by Erwin McManus. In it, he asked a question like, “Is there something you’ve been struggling with since you were a child—and you’re still dealing with it as an adult?” I felt sheepish. I thought about how much I’d been complaining lately, how negative I’ve been, how miserable my company has been for Robert. I remembered when I was a horrible teenager and my mom and stepdad would say, “You can’t talk for the next hour unless you say something positive.” How am I still dealing with that, a decade and a half later? In his podcast, Erwin said something like, “You have to make the choice, and say to yourself, ‘I’m not a child, I am an adult’—and move on from there.” That got me. It’s just like Robert said in the car: “Let’s be grown-ups.” Like most of life, it’s a choice. It’s just making that choice, over and over again—that’s the tough part.

Oh darling, let’s be grown-ups. That’s my motto for this season of life—it doesn’t sound as exciting as the adventurers version, and it wouldn’t look as whimsical on a pillow, but I think the fruit of that motto, for now at least, will end up tasting a lot sweeter.

P.S. More posts on here about growing up: Never Too Late, Never Too Early; 30 and Nostalgic: Is the Fun Over?; Young and Wild and Free: How Travel Is Different Now I’m Nearly 30.

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