I start to daydream of warm places. I imagine what it would be like to live in Miami or what my life would be like if I'd never left San Diego. I berate myself for thinking it was a good idea to move to a place that is frozen for half of the year.
In the fourteen years I have lived here, February has come to symbolize the big cold, the long winter, the push through all the sadness and pain and the harsh reality of life for so many people, embodied in the composite grim faces framed by wool and fur.
In reality, Chicago Februaries have been good to me. In February 2004 I started volunteering at the Garfield Park Conservatory Demonstration Garden, where I unearthed a passion that carried me in my work for ten years. That same week I met the person who would, in February 2007, become my fiancee (and then later my husband). February 2011 led me to the mama village that saved me when I was drowning in new motherhood and desperate for community, and three Februaries later I brought home my second baby.
Yet February has always felt like something to be endured.
This year, after reading a children's book about hibernation and all the sensible ways mammals hide themselves hide themselves through this dark time, I thought, "Why not me too?" I re-branded February as my favorite month, the month when I give myself a pass to do whatever I feel like doing. I went to a game night with friends I love and attended my first gala event. I bought a pot of silky ginseng face moisturizer that became the highlight of every morning.
I said no to plans and complicated meals that I didn't want to make. I said yes to no-guilt falling asleep with the kids at 8pm and breakfast for dinner. I let myself off the hook for writing and avoiding sugar and all the other things that I know are important but which sometimes feel so heavy. I drank pots of Rose Hibiscus tea and gave myself permission to settle into enjoying the challenge and personal space of my full-time job and being okay with not managing all aspects of my children's lives. I stepped away from Facebook and put aside the yardstick by which I measure my womanhood, motherhood, humanity. I created space for feeling grateful, every day, for the splendor that is my life. I gave myself permission to make the easy choices, knowing they would only be temporary.
And before I knew it, March brought out the scilla, my favorite tiny blue flowers that cover lawns and parkways for one month of the year. I moved out of my puffy winter coat and I listened to the birds singing every morning as I woke up. I read Cheryl Strayed's "Tiny Beautiful Things," thanks to the winter care package from my dear sister, and I was reminded how good it is to read fierce, true, beautiful writing. I returned to my yoga practice and morning pages. Morning by morning I re-learned that life really is better when I start my day with an investment in myself.
I experienced a sparkling clarity about my professional interests - and with timing that felt unreal in the way that the right things often do, I was presented with a job opportunity that now allows me to act out my semi-private, long-standing love of databases with my more well-known love of people and problem-solving, topped with a ten-minute commute. I accepted a role that has allowed me to evolve into a more actualized version of myself.
I looked around social media and found myself in the midst of a political season that felt both startlingly different and discouragingly the same as other election years - candidates competing to drag each other down, commentators looking for punch lines, nobody really hearing each other. I emerged in time to witness Orlando and Dallas, tragedies distilled to the names of cities. I read daily stories of new terror and old fear around the world.
I started to feel overwhelmed, as I so often do when I let in all of the feels at once.
But then I paused. I returned to my hibernation stillness. And I had a radical thought. Grief and fear and abuse and injustice are not new. These things have existed since the beginning of humans. But so have love and compassion. Maybe what I get to do while I am here is to choose love and compassion.
I can just... choose.
It's like I've worked so hard to stay moving on this treadmill, running to absorb all the world's hurt without taking time to process, breathless as I attempt to argue a political stance with disdain rather than try to consider how people's lives lead them to believe what they do. I've been running desperately toward the right way to parent and the right way to lead. I've operated under the belief that I'm only worthwhile if I keep moving and that we're all judged by the ability to keep up with each other. I've fought to squelch my empathy and learn how to live in an overwhelming world.
But in February, my hibernation month, I chose to step off of the treadmill of expectations that I never approved of in the first place. So much of my life has been spent paralyzed by choice and the fear of choosing wrong. I have squandered years on worry and self-doubt and the fear of disappointing. The gift of my hibernation month was the opportunity to slow down, to stop running.
And in the stillness, what emerged was love.
I have had love poured into me my whole life. I have been blessed by family and luck and privilege. Maybe my life's work - the reason I am here, the whole deal - is to let that love spill out around me. I don't have the luxury of guilt or shame or withdrawal from the world. It's my responsibility, my obligation even, to spread the love that has been invested in me. Maybe I can be a healer by just being me.
For most of the year I need to do the hard work - eating well, refusing caffeine, staying hydrated, prioritizing sleep, avoiding toxic media, practicing mindfulness, nourishing relationships - to stay well so I have the capacity to keep my heart open for business.
I don't always succeed in that work. Just tonight I ignored the desperate cries of my three-year-old from the other room - "My legs don't work for standing and I can't sit and I can't walk, and I don't want to be alone here!" - because I had to put the sheets on the bed, dammit, or we wouldn't have a bedtime, and why can't they just act like reasonable people, and what about the times when my legs don't want to work? Why don't I get carried? What about meeee???
Even with all the self-care and smug convicton that I am living exactly the life I want to live, it is still such hard work.
But tomorrow, if I'm blessed with another day in this life, I will wake up and I will get to choose. My plan is to choose compassion and kindness and see where they lead me. So far I haven't been disappointed.
And in those times that it all just feels like too much? There's always hibernation to look forward to.
Thank goodness for February.