I say that I worry about how my kids will handle transition, but the kids are pretty resilient. At least they let their big feelings out. But I tend to hold it all in. I try to manage gracefully and stay positive and make myself a shock absorber so that I don't wander into the tricky territory of big, sad, angry feelings that have the danger of leading to regret.
The first week of my new job was bliss. I got to spend the day doing tasks uninterrupted. Stuffing thousands of letters into envelopes then organizing them for bulk mailing became an exercise in Zen meditation. The smoothness of the letterhead paper, the crisp origami folds, the fluid repetitive motions, and best of all, knowing I could make my piles and do my work and nobody would come along and mess them up or start climbing on me. I felt dormant areas of my brain reactivating. I felt liberated. "Look at me! I'm so present and engaged. Former stay-at-home moms make the best workers!" I would say to myself smugly. I would come home physically tired but emotionally stable, and it was a pleasure to check back in with the kids who have been splitting time between two generous sets of grandparents and school. It felt challenging but manageable. We were doing ok. I was already starting to explore the "What if?" of seeking a permanent full-time position once the temp gig was done.
During the second week, life got real. My almost 3-year-old starting hitting me and only me, hard and often. He didn't know how else to show that he was missing me. One night at bedtime as we laid down together, I said, "You've been upset and angry with mama, haven't you? It is hard to be apart so much." He nuzzled in to me and hid his face, and I told him it was okay for him to be mad and that I missed him too. I felt the tension physically drain out of him as he fell asleep and he slept soundly all night. I wish I could say problem solved, but really that was just an alert to the fact that just because I put my time in with them early to establish connection, there's no coasting in parenthood. We always have to keep re-establishing our connection, every single day. That idea is both comforting and horrifying, as there is a part of me that secretly believed I could just put in the hard work during those early years and then float along reaping the rewards. Our foundation is strong, but the construction project of this family will never be over. There will always be more to do and more to build and more cracks to repair. Shit.
During the third week my heart arrhythmia started up again. I had lined up another full-time temp gig that would run through mid-spring and I felt the bigness of really pushing the family into a new phase in our lives. I started thinking about prospects for long-term child care and how to juggle the very different needs of my two kids. I started to feel the fatigue of spending a day fully-engaged with a job in the adult world, where work is hard but people mostly act reasonable and give you personal space, then returning home to the crazies. I would dream of the reunion with my kids at the end of the day, when we could cuddle up to read books and I would gaze into their eyes saying, "I missed you so much! Tell me about your day!" as they would regale me with stories and remind me what all this work was for in the end. Instead, the little one would demand to play a game on my phone then start hitting me when I said no, and the big one would run up and shove me from behind laughingly manically, then demand that I read him a book. Then they would fight over which book I would read. Then they would ask what was for dinner and complain about it. Then I would yell, "I need some space!" and run upstairs to take a shower because that is the only place in the house where I can get set physical boundaries, even though the cat sits outside the bathroom door meowing for me the whole time and I can hear the kids screaming in the other room. And I would sit there letting the water pour over me and think, "Is this really it? Is this our life now? What have I done?"
One night I retreated to King Spa, where I soak in hot tubs and sauna rooms until I can feel the anxiety seeping out of my pores, then I head to the quiet room to write. There I filled three pages of my journal with one long run-on sentence about fear. I tend to take all the big feels that I absorb from the news and Facebook and people on the street and funnel them into my particular fears of failure. This isn't anything new for me. But what felt new was how easy it was to keep coming up with new ways to complete the phrase, "I am afraid," and how many of those phrases seemed contradictory -
I am afraid that my kids will become so independent that they won't need me any more, and I am afraid that they will need me too much and I won't have enough to give.
I am afraid that I will miss my kids too much, and I am afraid that I won't miss them enough.
I am afraid that I'll realize that all of the time I spent home with my kids was a waste, and I am afraid that I will look back on those years as the best time of my life that I'll never get back.
I am afraid of doing work that is below what people expect of me, and I am afraid of taking on a challenge that sets me up to fail.
Then there were all the same old fears that have populated my journals for twenty years -
I am afraid of disappointing people.
I am afraid that I have made all the wrong choices.
I am afraid that I am going to ruin my [insert one: relationship/family/kids/career].
I am afraid that I am too [insert one: lazy/selfish/weak].
I am afraid that I'm not enough.
Aha! There it is! The big one. I am afraid that I'm not enough. Not enough of a friend or a mother or a woman or a partner or a feminist or a maker or an ally.
It's so tiring to realize that your big life projects are the ones that you'll probably be working on 'til the day you die. This is one of my big projects. Working through the fear of being NOT ENOUGH.
This is the time of year when we are supposed to focus on self-improvement. It's the time for taking stock and reflecting on our failings and failures and mustering the resolve and chutzpah to finally start living our lives the right way, and to commit to the particulars of our goals publicly on Facebook.
It is also the time of year when the days feel the darkest and the coldest, when the nights are long and dreary, when it feels like work just to go outside, when everyone is going stir-crazy, when the "holiday season" surrounds us with temptations of food and drink that we regret and pressures to show our love by spending money and family gatherings where we revert to the most immature, self-involved, annoyed teenage versions of ourselves. Midwest winters are no joke. This is my lowest time of the year.
This is not the time for focusing on a new regimen for elevating myself to a higher level. Winter is about hibernation. It is about conservation of energy. It is about survival. It is the time for reading novels under blankets and binge-watching shows and going to bed early. It is the time for building a fire then watching it burn down. It is the time for puzzles and cuddling and comfort food without feeling guilty about eating it.
There are things I want to do and new ways of becoming that I dream of for the year. But this is not my time to take on those challenges. What I need is a daily reminder that it is okay, for now, not to strive. It is okay not to push. I've started a new job and I have two small kids and I could easily fall into a panic about how I am going to make all of this work and what that will look like and how I will juggle family and health and work and community gracefully.
But maybe I need to just let go of the graceful part, for now. I will juggle and dance and cry through it, with the help of my hilarious kids and my mama village and my generous family. I will remind myself that it's okay if it feels hard, because it's hard for everyone, and what's hard today may not be hard tomorrow. Nobody feels like they are doing everything right, because there is no right.
I know that I need to keep bringing myself to the page, getting the pen in my hand, putting my hands on the keyboard, and every so often hitting publish.
I need to eat with care for my body and be gentle with myself when I indulge.
I need to connect and achieve and move and grieve and celebrate, and let myself flow between those states without self-judgment.
These are not resolutions. These are the deep truths that are screaming to be heard.
So for now, I am holding space for a New Year's Resolution of just one word - ENOUGH.
I am enough. You are enough. We are enough.
Let's just be still for awhile so we can hear the tiny voice of our inner truths calling out to us. When change starts to happen in nature let's trust that the flow and new growth will infect us too.
For now, settle in and just be. Enough with all the striving and worrying and fear already.