There is a huge amount of conversation on my post at blogher, you may remember it, about my choice to stay with Bam Bam instead of take off for a few days for a birthday party. Among the many other themes in the comments are those women very kindly warning me that if I devote all my time to my kids now I won't know what to do with myself once they grow up and leave home, and I will be a shell of a woman who lives a life of regret for the career I never had and the friends I abandoned in favor of my family who will leave me one day anyway.
"You must take care of you", they tell me, "apart from being a mom and wife, etc."
This reminds me of another post I was going to write a long time ago about the angsty days at the end of one's teens and beginning of early adulthood when I wondered who I really was and wished I could just figure it out so I could know what to do with my life after that.
I think the two subjects are related, at least in my mind. I hope you will see how by the end.
You see, finding yourself is kind of a load of horse crap. That's what I will tell every young person who asks me what they should do, and what kind of person they are. In the end you are what you do. If you spend 5 years navel gazing trying to discover who you are, what your purpose is and why you are here, the person you will most likely be at the end of 5 years is a narcissistic, self absorbed little shit who thinks that you are the center of the universe. Spend too much time looking at yourself and you will wind up completely empty, especially at the age of 20. There's nothing there for you to find.
When I was 20 and searching for the mystical answer to the question of who I am and what I want to do with my life, what I really wanted was someone to tell me that I am a rare and special, delicate flower with something special to do, that will be world changing, but won't cost me anything in the way of blood, sweat or sacrifice. Because it was who I was and if I did what I was made to do then it would be easy right? Then I wouldn't have to make any choices for myself, because making choices, without knowing the outcome, well, that's a bit frightening right?
I think the search for self is really just a search for guarantees, for an assurance that life will turn out the way you hope it will if you can just find the magical formula.
Of course, my adult self would like to go back and kick my pre-adult self in the rear and tell her to get over herself, make some choices, do some hard work and the "who she is thing" will work itself out along the way.
Who we are is ultimately defined by the relationships we engage in and the choices we make. In the end we look back at who we have become on the road to here and now and we see how this choice and that person affected the result, for better or for worse.
Which brings me to motherhood.
There is this idea, perpetuated perhaps by the women's movements of the last 70 years or so, that surrendering to motherhood results in a lack of self. That right there is a judgement based on an assumption that may, or may not be false. Because the assumption is that nurturing and care giving and what it does to our hearts and minds to consciously choose that results in a lesser human than one who is well read, can carry a conversation about Russian literature, avant gaard art, and the latest economic developments.
Who says that a woman who has simply loved well, and cared deeply and sacrificed more for the sake of others being able to fly is a lesser person? Do I really have to tell you how stupid that is?
Was Mother Teresa's life more, or less, futile than that of a successful business woman?
The problem is not that you lose yourself when you become a mother. I think I found myself much more thoroughly by giving in to the constant demands and the little people and letting go completely of what I felt were my rights to be an autonomous human being who slept, ate and sat by herself on occasion, without anyone pulling at her and embraced, fully the gift that is this crazy life of a mother with small children. I stopped telling myself that I was too smart to be spending my days cleaning up after other people's shit and became able to see the true value in what I was doing, to myself, as well as to my children.
No, the problem isn't losing yourself when you become a mother, the problem is that we live in a culture that doesn't value what it should. Our culture doesn't value sacrifice, doesn't see the point of time spent just being with a loved one, not doing, just being. We don't value the character that is formed from the endless choices of a mother, or anyone else, to say yes to another, and no to herself. We don't see the strength that is required for her to do that, day, after day, after day, and we don't realize just how wise she is for doing that for the many people blessed enough to come across her path.
We want glamor and glitz and six figures and success and we don't see that perhaps real success doesn't look like success at all. Real success may be that woman who has nothing to talk about but her children, and how well they are doing because of what she gave them to get them there. Real success is that person who has standing room only at their funeral because they loved well and were loved by many.
Ever wondered what we might missing out on by grasping so desperately for this mythical self we are told we should have? What do we shut out when we shut ourselves in and gird ourselves tightly so that none of our self leaks it's way out and blends into another and is shaped and strengthened by how we give and receive from them? Is what we have in our miserable tight clenched fists really so very valuable that we are deathly afraid of losing it?
Ever wonder if those old words are true, "He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life... will find it"?
I know I didn't really find my life until I was willing to lose it. I didn't find true joy until I stopped grasping at the shallow illusion of happiness. I didn't know how deeply I could love and be loved until I let go of "I" and embraced "us".
Because I'm not a special and delicate flower. I'm a person who has choices, whether to love and be loved, whether to give or take, whether to hold or let go. I, and you, don't find out who we are, we get to decide who we are and then be that person. What would a strong person do? Then do that. What would a loving person do? Then do that.
If you can see who who want to be, then the rest of your life is just practice to become that person.
I want to be the person who said that a walk with my 5 year old is more important than a pedicure. I want to be the person who didn't put herself first, but who put others first, in love. In order to be her I have to take care of myself and do what makes me strong so I am able to give, this is true. But there is a big difference between taking care of myself and preserving the mythical "I" that I am supposed to have.
I am the woman I choose to be, and what I actually do, every day, is who I am, and the result of the choices I've made, either actively or passively. Every choice strengthens me in one direction or another. I'm not losing anything. I have found who I am, this is the person I choose to be.
I have a few people I think of when I decide what kind of person I want to act like and become. Who are your role models? Who do you think of when you ask herself, "How would ____ handle this?" I would like to know.