I’ve been taken further away from familiarity’s bosom and deeper into life than I ever could have imagined. Moving across the ocean and becoming a mother has given me a new perspective of who I once was. Obviously, you don’t need to move far away or have a child to see a new side of yourself, but for me, this physical distance and change was the necessary jolt required to stop seeing myself through the rose-colored glasses of the past and to start seeing my past self in the magnifying lens of the present. Everyone experiences huge shifts in the way they perceive themselves at different points for various reasons. This isn’t the first time for me and it won’t be the last, but it has been the most troubling. Troubling in that I’ve seen my previous faults more clearly and objectively than I ever had before, and troubling because I don’t know where to go from here knowing what I know now. Could I still write? Should I still write? When would I write? What would I and wouldn’t I write about now? Could I be a better person or would I fall back into old patterns? Is this how other people see me or have they been fooled as I fooled myself for so long?
This will not be a post about motherhood specifically, though I feel it would be hard to keep it completely segregated from my writing altogether. I don’t want to write a “Mommy blog,” not that there’s anything wrong with them at all, in fact I’ve read about a thousand recently. Some have saved me in crucial moments when I had no idea what to do, others have made me laugh when I felt I was on the verge of crying (which was often). I could write one. I have moments that would make you snort-laugh and others that would elicit sympathy or cause you to cry yourself, because most parents do (poopsplosions, making up disturbed nursery rhymes involving vampires in desperate sleep deprivation, crying as my child was crying while simultaneously nursing her, rocking her and singing to her in front of a hairdryer for eight hours, the pediatrician telling me, “It’s just colic, get over it,” another pediatrician who actually told us he was, “scared for us,” upon hearing my child cry and calls us every week to check on us, etc). It’s just that I want to keep one part of my life from before, one part sacred. Is that selfish? Is that wrong? These two questions pop up a lot more recently than they had before.
I do, however, write TO my daughter. I do that often even though she can’t read yet and won’t for some time. Maybe I’ll give her the things I’ve written to her one day at a later date, maybe she won’t want them, but I do write to her often. It’s just that I don’t want my motherhood to become a “thing,” shown to the world, critiqued, judged, nor do I want to feel trapped in writing about one subject as if being a mother is all that I am. Being a mother is extremely important to me and the greatest achievement of my life no matter what I do from here on. It is certainly, along with being a partner and teammate to my husband, the most important thing that I am, but it’s not ALL that I am. This is not to say that people who write themed blogs are ONLY what they write about. On the contrary, they must feel super confident in their whole-personhood to be able to pick a topic and write about it on a weekly or daily basis confident in the fact that they are many things. I, however, am not confident in my whole-personhood and never have been. Therefore, as writing is my main mode of self-expression, limiting myself to one topic there would threaten my fragile creative whims.
I had this same conflict when I got married. I wondered if I should start writing about married life or if I should write about my marriage specifically. In the glowy days of newlywed bliss, I briefly considered writing about marriage, touting out, “advice.” I was learning and experiencing so much worth sharing, but what to keep private and what to share? I quickly realized I couldn’t tell anyone about marriage, because marriage is a life-long endeavor, or at least that’s the goal. We still have a long life to live. I had a mini writing-life crisis where I felt paralyzed in between wanting to zero-in and be the best wife ever thereby focusing on it 24/7 and finding a happy medium of writing about my new perspective occasionally, but not letting it limit me either. In the end, it didn’t effect my writing that much, only that now I knew what marriage was actually like, so if I wanted to write about it, I could with some sort of first-hand experience, although my own experience is just that, my own. I did write less, however, during this period of figuring out what I was and wasn’t going to be as a writer going forward. Ultimately, I decided I was going to be the same writer, just with the ability to write about more stuff, duh. This will seem like a pretty easy realization for most, but for this type-A person who feels guilty doing anything creative at all despite yearning to create all the time, it was harder for me to come by.
Now that I’m a mother I realized, if I were to start writing about motherhood on a regular basis, I would suddenly stop writing my fictional novel and doing my art and start writing a nonfiction book about some aspect of motherhood instead. I’d start thinking of new inventions to make parenting easier and would go on a crazy mission to produce them even though I wasn’t really THAT passionate about it. I’d feel guilty focusing on anything that wasn’t going to help me be a better mother. That’s just how I am. Once I do something, I go all the way. It’s like I start to live in a vacuum that eventually sucks me dry. But it’s no good for me, personally, or the people around me. It’s actually counter-productive because although I’m trying to be the best at whatever it is I’m trying to be the best at, focusing solely on one thing all the time actually makes me less great at whatever it is. For example, when I was teaching, I was all teaching all the time. I felt guilty shifting my focus to anything else. Everything had to be about becoming a better teacher for my students. I read teaching blogs and books. I posted Facebook statuses about teaching. I spent weekends writing lesson plans. I stopped writing. I stopped going out with friends because I needed to work ALL THE TIME.
So, all this preamble to say that things have changed in my life. And with these changes, a long hiatus was necessary while I figured my new self out and adjusted. The words husband, marriage, daughter, motherhood, family, sleep deprivation and the like might now enter my writing here and there from time to time, but they will not be the main focus of this particular blog. Instead, I’d like this blog to be what it always has been, a place for me to jot down my introspective whims and be read by people occasionally who find something that they can personally relate to or find moderately interesting as they scroll through their blog feed. This will hopefully be the place where I experiment with my writing and thoughts while I continue to work on my larger projects: family life, illustrating and writing my novel.
Without further ado, back to the initial topic: the trouble with seeing yourself in a new light. This often comes with age, but not always. Sometimes it can be that you’ve taken on a new role, at work or in life. Or perhaps a tragic or unexpected situation occurs. Maybe you’ve had to make a difficult choice that has shown you who you really are. Most often, it’s that someone flatly tells you what they think about you and you’re shocked at their perception. I say all of these examples because these are times when I’ve personally seen myself differently, but they are certainly not an exhaustive list.
While rocking my daughter endlessly in a pitch black room filled with a perpetual loop of “hair dryer sound,” white noise, I had more time to think than I had in quite some time. Post-grad, I moved at warp-speed. I started a life in a completely new state I had never been to or visited, I carried on a long distance relationship and traveled back and forth often. I got completely consumed in my first real job teaching. I got depressed and then recovered. I moved back home and started a horrible business-y job I hated (the job probably wasn’t that horrible, it was just horrible for me) and got all consumed in “being the best” at that. I moved in with my future husband. Got depressed as a result of job and recovered (this time, much faster, I had learned my lesson). I then had the best writing period of my life thus far. I got confident. I quit my job, decided to apply to grad school for an MFA. I was published a couple times in small online magazines. I got denied from grad school and decided this must mean I was not meant to be a writer. Managed not to get depressed and shifted focus instead. Started illustrating a children’s book and stopped writing. Decided to move to another country with my future husband, got engaged, got married, moved to another state, moved to another country. Self-published a children’s book with author, Georgia Lundeen. Started writing again, because I just AM a writer, there’s no “should or shouldn’t be.” Decided to start having kids because I felt like I finally got a handle on all my emotional baggage. Got horrible, debilitating morning sickness and discovered that our apartment had an abhorrent smell I had never noticed before and could not find the source of despite my many efforts of sniffing around on my hands and knees like a dog because I was too exhausted to walk around and find it. Stopped writing. Had a colicky baby after a hard labor and had no time to write. Decided I did have time to write painstakingly on my phone while I was holding her in the wee hours of the night and here I am now. Whew. A lot has happened. I really hadn’t had time to think about it. But in the dark, all I could do was think.
The embarrassing moments came back the most often, ranging from when I was super young and messed up a skit at a daddy-daughter function (I’m sure nobody else thought my slip up was as tragic and mortifying as I did, but I let it replay in my mind over and over again until adulthood [messed up, I know, I got anxiety problems]), to when I was black out drunk in college, saying ridiculous things, doing ridiculous things I would have to apologize for later (I vaguely recall several instances of being carried out of bars/football games thrown over someone’s shoulder, instances shouting out, “it would just be better if I was dead!”, instances where I tried to walk out of rooms wearing only fishnet tights at costume parties, instances throwing up outside of fraternity houses or bars, instances where I went overboard trying to be the center of attention when I really didn’t want to be the center of attention but for some reason felt I had to be, instances where I somehow evaded police officers trying to question me.).
I thought about all my breakups and how even though I was usually the one to end it, they really should have ended it first because I was a mess. Then I realized I was ending it first BECAUSE I knew they probably wanted to end it and I was scared to be rejected. I was scared to wade into the waters of conflict resolution. I figured if something was wrong, that was it, done-zoh. I was scared to know that, yes, I was the reason we were breaking up and it was because I had no control over myself and my emotions.
I thought about all of the times I had been so stressed out and anxious and now realized it was basically for no reason because being a parent was by far the hardest thing I had personally done in my life (this is not the case for everyone. Some people find it natural and easy) and all my former concerns were so paltry in comparison. I had been wasteful with my time before, procrastinating and procrastinating. This had been the main impetus of my creative goals. I complained about, ‘not having any time,’ ‘not having enough talent,’ when in reality, all I had WAS time and with time and practice comes talent.
I thought about all the times I was moody (particularly my nervous breakdown in college in which I decided I hated my major, should have never gone to a science and engineering school for college and thought it was “too late,” to do what I really wanted to do which was write) and blamed the dysfunctional marriage and ultimate divorce of my parents on my teenage/college identity crisis. I then realized that yes, it probably did mess me up a little, but I’m an adult now, those times are over and my future is my own- I’m in charge now. More importantly, my parents are people. They are flawed like all people. But they loved me and they spent the majority of their lives raising me into adulthood, providing for my needs, and trying their very best, doing what they thought at the time was right for me and my sister. I should have gotten over it sooner than I did and spent less time dwelling in the past and more time creating a new and beautiful future with them like I ultimately did, but it took longer than it should have. In the end, it was because of all of that that I really started to write again anyway, so I should be thankful it happened.
I thought about how stupid and naive I had been and how I had judged married couples or parents. I was so wrong to judge because I knew NOTHING. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the staggering true reality of those things. I remember thinking when I was teaching, “It will be so much easier when I’m just focused on my own one kid instead of hundreds.” HAHAHAHAHAHA! I remember thinking, “We’re so good at stuff, we’ll be good at parenting, we’re ready.” HAHAHAHAHAHA, “good at parenting????!!!!!!!” I imagined it was just another skill to check off of a list that you could read about, practice and do correctly if you just tried hard enough. I forgot the most important thing: my child is a unique individual. She is not the ever-happy, Gerber baby in the parenting books. You cannot prepare for how to parent a person, you can prepare to do things like diaper changes and baths, but you can’t prepare for how their temperament will be or how often they will be programmed to breastfeed, sleep, etc.
As a result of the #BlackLivesMatter movement going on around the world, I’ve done a lot of thinking and reading about things like cultural appropriation, white privilege and the like and have realized that even with the best of intentions, I had been an oppressor at times in my life or at best, I had been insensitive in certain situations to how my friends might have felt. I didn’t speak out when other people were racist or insensitive because I was scared I would say the wrong thing and be offensive myself, but that was selfish because saying something wrong would at worst, give someone the opportunity to correct me and lead me in the right direction so I could better speak the next time and be an ally. I never intentionally did or said anything to be insensitive, but the fact that I didn’t know, hadn’t read, and hadn’t sought out knowledge from the perspectives of others was just as bad-as if my perspective, coming from an upper-middle class, white, privileged life was the only perspective. History became new to me again as I considered how what I had been taught in school so often clashed with the reality of what happened (I thought I had already done this, but alas, there was still so much more for me to see). I realized I could have done so much better at introducing artists from different races, cultures, genders, ethnicities, identities, socioeconomic classes, etc when I was teaching because there are so many talented artists from so many different backgrounds even though most art books feature mostly white men (I did try, but I could have done a lot better). I started to see the more subtle and institutional ways that injustices have been woven into the fabric of our society and how I, by being a bystander, had helped to perpetuate them.
I was also surprised by memories of my previous friendships and how I always thought I was such a good and loyal friend and realized that, wow. I wasn’t. I was moody all the time, always had something to complain or stress about. I prioritized my, “stuff (job, relationship, school, etc),” over just having fun with my friends because in my type-A world of striving towards unachievable perfection, I thought fun was not allowed. In high school, I had destroyed many friendships when at the time, I thought I was, “above it all.” I avoided any conflict or drama as much as possible, but in doing that I never let myself truly be a friend. I never let that relationship deepen enough. I never depended on my friends. I thought needing people was wrong. I was supposed to do it all on my own. Needing people was for weaklings. As a result of this flawed thinking, I felt burdened by always being the one depended on and this made me bitter and angry, thus letting old friendships fade into the background until new ones emerged and followed suit sometime later, when really, if I had just let myself need them back, than we would be on more even footing, then the friendship may have worked out.
Over and over again, I kept big moments in my life a secret until they were basically happening and everyone just had to get on board. I didn’t let people help me through the decision-making process or participate in the lead-up to the big event. This was partially due to the fact that I realized in college I had been a sheep following other people’s will for me most of my life, but partly just because I didn’t want to lean on anyone. When we decided to move to another country, we kept it a secret until the decision was made and it was a couple months before the move. When we decided to get married, we kept it off of Facebook and had a small, quick wedding with only immediate family and a very few of our close friends (not even all of our close friends). My sister was my wonderful maid of honor. I did not have any bridesmaids. I didn’t want to burden any of my friends or my sister with bridesmaidly duties. I didn’t have any friends see the dress beforehand or go dress shopping with me. I went with my mother and bought a consignment dress (which was gorgeous, but still). When we found out we were pregnant, we kept it a secret for 8 months until we went home to the States have our baby (there were other reasons for this, but also, I just couldn’t deal with all the, “fuss,” over it. I didn’t want any showers or attention thrown onto me.). Looking back, I thought I was being so courteous, no one had to be bothered about us. No one had to throw us parties or buy us gifts. No one had to expend any extra energy thinking about us and our crazy lives. This was wrong. People want to do those things. I’m the only one who finds those things tiresome. But I was selfish, immature, and flawed.
There I said it. I admit it: selfish, immature, flawed. That’s what I had been. It was really hard to come face to face with this reality of myself when my perception had been so different. I actually sighed out loud when it hit me (almost waking my sleeping child, AGH!). All along I had been striving to be this independent, hard-working, needless and perfect individual and in doing that, I was a TERROR. Refusing to let others help me IS SELFISH. Living in my own world instead of seeking out and understanding the world’s of others is SELFISH. Keeping the big moments in my life secret to avoid, “fuss,” is not helpful to others, it’s SELFISH. Working so hard that I hate working leads to diminishing returns. Finding reasons to be moody instead of finding reasons to be happy is FLAWED. Trying to be flawless makes me FLAWED. Even when I got married and learned from my husband’s example to me more selfless, more caring, I still refused to let him help with anything. I needed to do it all, I needed to be it all, ALL THE TIME and because of this, I wasn’t anything positive at all.
Over the past 14.5 months and with extreme distance from family and friends, I have slowly learned (read: been forced by circumstance into learning) to ask for help, to be vulnerable and to really need people. I have learned that I can no longer strive for impossible perfection. I need balance. I need to rejoice in my flawed humanness. I need to speak up for others, even if I say the wrong thing and let myself be corrected and learn. I need to acknowledge when I am faulted so that I can improve myself and ask forgiveness of others in a timely manner instead of wanting to and not knowing how after years have passed. I need to let people love me, throw me parties if they want to and fuss over me if that’s what they wish to do (as much as it pains me). Most importantly, I need to balance my life so that I can be a good mother. Zero-ing and trying to be “perfect,” as a mom is not what’s best for any member of my family. It would only lead me down a path of anxiety, stress and spiraling depression once again. I just need to *try* be the best, “me,” I can be so that my daughter has a positive role model in her life and my husband has his best friend and teammate around. The best “me,” I’ve now learned, is one that writes on a daily basis and takes a walk with the stroller in the morning (even if it’s not my daughter’s favorite, we need to get out of the apartment!), but also looks up the lyrics to new nursery rhymes to sing. Is one who takes time to bake her husband brownies when he’s had a long week and to look up treatments for baby eczema half the day, but also takes time to read at night. One who spends months rocking her daughter to sleep 16 times a night and every hour of the day for 5.5 months, but then finally consents to sleep train her for her own good and the good of the family against her attached parenting beliefs, because by god we’re attached after 5.5 months of intense, above-and-beyond measures of colic and post-colic soothing and non-stop breastfeeding.
I hope the next time I’m forced into a wormhole of unending nostalgia that I can look back on this period of my life and say that I did better than before, but I know I’ll still have a long way to go. For once in my life, I’m not heading towards an unreachable goal with blinders on. My goal is to be happy most of the time (it’s impossible to be happy ALL of the time, I have to let myself feel all the emotions) so I can be a helpful, loving, and valued member of my family.