There are some lessons you can never be sure you understand until you have actually put them into practice.
Maybe that's true of all lessons.
I don't know.
What I do know, is that I just proved that I can A) put myself first, B) say no, and C) let something go.
I just edited my last newsletter for a club of which I am a member. It's actually The Last Newsletter.
That's right--I'm not even handing over the reigns, I'm just letting something go away completely.
There's a little, tiny part of me that feels remorseful.
The rest of me feels so liberated that I could jump in the air and click my heels together. But I won't. Because I'm old. Yes, it took me til I got old to learn this lesson.
Still, just in time.
Yeah, I've got almost 38 years of ridiculous self-sacrifice and martyrdom behind me, but I've got the rest of my life to make good decisions for myself. The best part is, I've got an entire lifetime (Ella's) that might not end up unbalanced because I (hopefully) will set a good example of making healthy choices, setting healthy boundaries, and having healthy priorities.
Now, without spending approximately 10 hours each month on the club newsletter, I have more time to work on my own writing and photography and see where that takes me.
I just re-read that and am a little taken aback. Ten hours is not even a whole work-day in my former life, but in this life, the good one, ten hours on one project is pieced together over time--a few minutes stolen before she wakes up, a few quick clicks here and there between tea party courses and nursery rhymes, a couple of hours late into the night when she's asleep and I should be, too.
Spending that time on the newsletter last year was a gift for me--I got to keep my skills up with a tiny bit of writing and editing, some photography and design. It was also my way of contributing to my new community, but I'll fill that need with a different role in the club next year.
It will be interesting to write and take pictures without the excuse/reason of the newsletter to do it.
It's one thing to be confident because you have a job or a title or a project; it's another to just be confident.
It's interesting, this feeling of being a person without a job. I mean, obviously, I haven't had a job in a lot of years. I haven't had a "real" job, a career job, since January 2006. There was the disability, the hostessing, the freelance writing and photography, that one month I edited a magazine for that crazy lady with a publication, the waitressing, the whatever-it-is I did for that crazy lady with the education company, the unemployment, grad school (a few weeks--until the miraculous and perfectly timed high risk pregnancy became a reality). And obviously, being a mom is a job. A full-time job.
But not having my identity wrapped up in some superficial degree of success marked by a grade, or a comment on a paper, or a trophy, or a scholarship, or the purchase of a photograph or painting, or a raise or a promotion--that's new. That's three decades of habit unlearned.
That's learning to be a person.
One of my best friends, who happens to be a pastoral counselor, told me years ago that we are "human beings, not human doings."
It's been more than six years since it became vitally important that I understand that lesson. I finally think I've got it.
I'm Ella's mom.
I know. It sounds like, perhaps, just possibly, my identity is wrapped up in a little, tiny, 24-7 job.
But being Ella's mom isn't being wrapped up in the human doing part of the experience. Yes, there's waking up when she does, changing her, feeding her, dressing her, playing with her, dancing with her, driving her places, teaching her letters and numbers and colors and words and sounds and listening and manners and names and places and routines and how to ride a tricycle, and bathing her, and reading to her, and soothing her, and comforting her, and quieting her, and holding my breath hoping that she'll sleep until it's time for her to wake up again.
Being Ella's mom is being the best self I can be. It's smiling and laughing and giggling even when it's too early in the morning. It's acting calm until I am calm, despite the circumstances. It's looking at everything like I've never noticed it before--like the moon isn't supposed to be there when the sky is light blue. ("Moon!")
Now that I don't have to edit the newsletter, I don't really have a job anymore. (I did say there's another role for me in the club, but that's not product oriented, so it doesn't seem like a job to me.)
I just get to be Ella's mom. Who happens to write and take photographs.
Maybe I'll get published somewhere besides my blog. Maybe I'll get hired to do some photography. Maybe someone will buy a painting.
But maybe not.
No matter what, I'll still be Ella's mom.
Plus, I'm in the incredibly fortunate, blessed, unbelievable, dream-like position of not having to earn an income. It doesn't seem real, but it is. I know I'm really lucky because of it, and I never believed this would be my life, even if I wanted it. I am not even sure I wanted it--as a feminist who has always been caught up in her accomplishments, being a woman who depends on her husband financially was never a goal of mine. Honestly, it was something I scoffed at. But now, living it, being Ella's mom. It's not a job. It's a calling. I am grateful to answer that call.
OK. It's time for some Ella stories.
This morning, Ella slept until 8:40, and I didn't have to wake her up earlier so that we could go to a class of some sort.
That's probably enough for a mom to consider a day ideal.
Don't even hope for more!
Then, while she nestled against me and I wrapped my arm around her little body and she drank her milk while we watched political analysis on MSNBC, she turned her face up to me and said, "Hair!" She reached for my hair, which was in its standard morning messy bun. I was not sure what motivated her sudden interest in my hair, but I smiled and said, "Yes, hair." At least she wasn't pulling it. Then she looked back at the TV and looked at me, and I realized both of the men on the screen were completely bald.
Ella's first recognition of a bald man.
She's always learning.
This evening, after her Montessori mommy-and-me preschool class, I took her to a hole-in-the-wall sandwich restaurant one of our friends told us about. There was a table for two and a high chair available (there are only three tables in the place and a few picnic benches on the sidewalk in the strip mall), so we ate in the restaurant. She was an awesome dinner date. I got her two chicken and cheese tacos from the kids menu, and she didn't want to just pick the filling out. She wanted to Eat a Taco. Naturally, her tiny hands weren't capable of holding the entire taco while taking a sideways bite and not letting all of the filling fall out. So, I cut the taco into mini tacos, and she was very proud of herself for Eating Tacos.
She tried some tofu from my sandwich. So far, she is not a fan. We don't mind when she spits stuff out though--in these situations--because she is enthusiastic about tasting the new food and obviously tries to enjoy it (you can see her beginning the chewing process and letting the flavors play around in her mouth before she looks at you with a little bit of shock, grimaces, and opens her mouth to let the food fall off her tongue). She doesn't freak out and start crying, and she still trusts us to give her new things that she might enjoy, even though sometimes it doesn't work out.
She still had food on her plate when I finished my dinner, so I offered her the opportunity to sit on my lap while she ate the rest of her tacos. She, of course, jumped at the chance to sit on the bench (not my lap), but ate only a bite before she wanted to stand up and walk around. I told her she had to "sit on her tushy or in the high chair" if she wanted to eat more.
She turned to me, patted her tummy with both hands and said, "Full!"
As I cleaned up and packed our bag (seriously? I have to pack a bag and all we did was grab dinner?), I said, "Ella, you're a good dinner date."
She kept repeating "dinner date, dinner date" until we got home.
Then, because it was a perfect dinner date, we blew bubbles in the backyard until bath time.