I've always wanted to grow a family. I love the idea of a house filled to the brim with children. A bathtub full of laughing, splashing boys is a beautiful thing. I have three of them, so I'm well on my way to the family I've always envisioned. They will grow up together and tell stories of their crazy parents. They might remember the noise and the chaos. They might laugh when they recall that, most times, the first name wasn't enough to get the job done -- it was always Oliver Matthew, Levi Finn, and Milo Augustus! I have a lot of love to give. I don't easily wear out. And as much as I crave a few moments of quiet, nothing comes close to matching the fullness I experience when my boys are piled up and laughing or when they come sweetly to snuggle in or when they want to share their observations of the world.
But I'm a teacher, too, and there I take on additional mothering roles. I listen and I scold and I guide and (if I'm lucky) I teach them a thing or two. And of course there are the friendships to nurture. It's easy to become consumed and exhausted with all that giving, the ceaseless flow of love. In many ways, I have to confront the fact that I've neglected some relationships. I put them on autopilot and trusted they'd manage well enough until I found some time to give them. But we never find time, we make it.
I've been trying to make more time for myself lately. This is complicated for women. We're expected to nurture and give without reprieve. Taking time for ourselves is rarely what it should be -- relaxing and recharging and healthy. Instead, it's laden with guilt. We feel selfish. We feel like bad mothers. We feel like there's something wrong with us for harboring the desire to escape for just a few hours.
Growing up, my mother did it all. She ran the household. She cooked a meal from scratch every night. She made lavish breakfasts on Saturdays and Sundays. She drove us from activity to activity. She did all the laundry -- washed it and folded it and put it away. She even cleaned my bedroom, for God's sake. They were thankless jobs, and like the speaker in Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," I knew nothing of "love's austere and lonely offices." I didn't bother to try. But there came a point when I realized that my mother sacrificed her personal identity to be our mother. This is harsh and judgmental and probably cruel, too, but I didn't respect her for it, I begrudged her. When my brother and I left, what would remain for her? Who would she be? I didn't want to be like her. I wanted a strong identity of my own; I didn't want to be pared down to the singular role of mother (though it's an important part of my identity, it's only one part of me).
I've started running again. I've never been an impressive runner, by any stretch, but the practice of running has a miraculous way of offering some clarity. Pushing a bit more each day, watching the distance grow, and picking up speed reminds me that I am in control of much of my life. I am the shaper, not merely the shaped. When the body wants to quit, the mind can speak firmly to place one foot before the other. Progress is made. And running helps the writing come more easily -- it gets the wheels turning. It helps me notice. And it brings me outside.
It sounds cheesy, I know, but I feel like I'm moving into a new stage of my life. I want to move confidently toward it, but in doing so, I need to think about how my identity is evolving. I value stability and constancy, but I refuse to be stagnant. Honesty is incredibly important to me, which means I need to muster the courage to be honest with myself -- something that can be hard, ugly even. And then I can't merely confront it, but I need to take a hard look at it, assess if for what it is, in order to make a plan, in order to take action to support that identity. And running's helping me do the work. We have to show up in relationships if we want them to thrive and one of the most important relationships we need to foster is the one we have with ourselves. So I'm taking time. I'm showing up. I'm figuring it out.