When I was in high school I wrote an essay explaining that I would never get married, I would never have children, I would never even buy a house. I wanted to find a job that would have me travelling around the world in perpetuity. I wanted out of my dysfunctional home where I had more responsibilities toward younger siblings than I thought fair. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to experience real freedom. How I wish the internet of today existed back then. There would have been so much more information available to me. I was stuck with so little understanding, thinking becoming a writer required a college degree and that I couldn’t afford college anyway.
I did get to travel a little and through a twist of fate I finally settled 3,500 miles from that home. Looking back to me then, it’s amusing that I’m now, almost 20 years later, a happily married co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, crunchy mama to two gorgeous little girls. It’s been a long rocky road to happiness, but now I’m here it doesn’t look anything like I thought it would. I’m older, wiser, and more confident but there’s nothing you can say to a younger, less experienced girl to really explain life. Regardless, here’s what I would say if I were to try:
I know you feel like it’s a big world out there to be explored and you’re like an overexcited puppy pulling on the lead, suffering at the choke chain that is family life right now. It is undeniably a big wondrous world full of potential and you feel a little like a caged bird. No one ever likes being forced into slave labour, so it’s hardly surprising that you want nothing to do with a home or a family. You want to be out on your own living life for yourself and indeed I see no reason for you not to do so.
So go! Get out and go off to college two states away or ten. Don’t just sit at home so you can spend time with your boyfriend, who will not always be your boyfriend. Don’t just get a job as a waitress and enjoy the relative freedom that this brings you. Move to Montana and work for a dude ranch like you were dreaming of the other day. You will love it! And if you don’t then leave and do something else. As you know there are a myriad of possibilities, don’t let the inertia stop you.
Do some reading about proper nutrition now so that you don’t have to later when it’s much harder. It’s not very difficult really, just eating real food that doesn’t come out of a package will do the job. But take an interest now. Going through an unnecessary anorexia-like year or two and then gaining too much back before learning how it all works is not so clever. However! There is absolutely no reason to worry about being supermodel thin again once you’ve been there and back. As a proud woman full of independent thought, crying in your husband’s arms because your unending battle with 15 pounds is grinding you down should have been the pivot point where you realized it’s not worth it.
It’s only been since having my oldest daughter that my eureka moment, “I am more than my body!” occurred to me. It took stretching of my already fluffy belly, scrunching of internal organs, SPD (hip pain in pregnancy), a 26 hour labour and a 2 week recovery period. When I asked a good friend with a two year old how long it takes to feel back to normal she responded “I’m still waiting!” Thanks Christina! It was after all that happened to my body, and let’s not forget breastfeeding into toddlerhood, that I’ve realized a healthy body is important but how it looks is incidental. Motherhood for me began by worrying so much about how to wake the sleepy jaundiced baby so she can eat that all the pain in my recovering body was literally erased for those moments. It was staying awake for the first four days of my firstborn’s life to make sure she kept breathing. Strong and fed is important; taut and toned not so much.
Speaking of worry, you know how you think it’s so cool that you’re so laid back? Forget it, laid back is out the window once you’re a parent. Worry is now a way of life. You’ll learn to live with it and keep some of the more ridiculous worries to yourself. Those anxious jumpy mothers you deride? That will be you. It’s a harsh, cruel world.
In the next twenty years you will learn love and empathy to an agonising degree. It’s not easy to exist in the raw vulnerability that a parent does. Before kids you were emotionally indestructible. You kept yourself to yourself and no one could hurt you. It was an understandable approach all considered, but you can’t be a parent this way. Certainly not an effective parent. You will learn to live inside out, with your sanity at risk of annihilation dangling by the most delicate of threads, another human life. It’s not all that bad really, except in the darkest moments of exhaustion when it’s all just impossible to comprehend. This is why you must rest, you must eat and you must revel in the awesomeness that your daughters are. This is what it means to live in the now.
But you don’t need to worry about all that yet. You need to just experience life for you right now. Go apply to college, you’ll get funding I promise. You may hate the drudgery of more school but I promise it’s better than working full time as a server in a diner. You’ll learn more interesting things doing a degree in psychology or communications than cutting bread and making salad.
Life is full of more drudgery, more boredom, more love and more joy than you can possibly imagine right now. It’s such an overstated sentiment you’d think it’s a trope. But no, just you wait.
P.S. Coffee will never ever lose its appeal.
Image courtesy of Erin Kohlenberg