January 15, 2015 by Julia
As I approach the decidedly “not very young, not very old (but can’t bring myself to say middle-aged)” age of 36, I realize that part of becoming an adult is a willingness to step up to life, rather than escape from it (or bang my head against it like an angry toddler).
Believe me, I’ve tried both the escape method and the tantrum/whine method, and neither one is all that satisfying in the long term. They don’t work as solutions, is what I’m saying. You have to face your challenges head on. It’s the adult thing to do, and feeling like a real adult actually isn’t so bad.
Last Spring, I planned the ultimate escape: a weekend at the beach by myself. I looked forward to the alone time SO much, for months beforehand. I dreamt of reading on the beach, margaritas, sleep, a leisurely brunch at the diner on the boardwalk. I was burnt out on the constant compromise and sacrifice of parenthood and felt that the best rejuvenation would be to go away by myself and do whatever I liked for 48 hours. Not even another adult to consider. Just utter selfishness. (Remember, I was doing it for the sake of the children, who were probably ready to trade in grumpy mama for happy beach mama, anyway.)
And although it was wonderful in many ways, and I would TOTALLY do it again if given the opportunity (what mother of young kids wouldn’t?)…it didn’t live up to my expectations. I felt lonely, despite the fact that I often crave solitude. I got to do everything I wanted, and I was free, but I also lacked direction. It was strange to sit alone in a restaurant and overhear everyone else’s conversations, hashing out plans and negotiating sleeping arrangements or what movie they might see. I returned home well-rested and happy, but also relieved to be around my family again – to have something practical to do and people to care for, even if meant messes and conflict and lack of personal space.
The experience was an eye-opener for me. In fact, I struggled with disillusionment to some degree for the rest of the year. Dennis and I love being parents, and our dreams have come true in the family we’ve been blessed with. But we are also creative introverts, and so much of our energy is spent trying to claw out a modicum of our old lives, when we had the time to make stuff, or read or watch stuff. That side of our lives has been hungry these past (almost) seven years, and we keep throwing the parenting baton back and forth as the other tries to scrape together some crumbs of creative, independent fulfillment, or just some rest. Anyway – alone time was the holy grail. Time and space to oneself was the light at the end of the tunnel. We loved our tunnel, but we still looked forward to that light. Escape has long been a reliable cure for whatever is currently ailing me.
But if escape was sometimes cold or empty, where did that leave me? What did I want, if not time to myself? The question haunted me; hence the disillusionment. I have a low tolerance for listlessness or boredom. Since childhood, I’ve taken pride in my ability to occupy myself with the arts in some form or another.
I am realizing, though, that alone time, creative pursuits, or appreciation of the arts are not “the things that will always restore me.” Of course I have always known that, but somewhere along the way, I built up that end goal of personal free time too much, and failed to view other aspects of my life – that at first glance look like drains, especially to an introvert – as aspects that actually feed me more than I know.
This is what I take away now from my weekend to myself last year. I missed my people. I actually missed serving them, working with them, compromising for them. As I struggled with not knowing what I needed, I began to see that my fulfillment might lie back inside my wonderful life. I am beginning to see my obligations as lifesavers. My everyday commitments and responsibilities as sources of meaning. My sacrifices as an important kind of nourishment.
More often now, I find myself choosing family activities even when it’s my turn to “take a break” (i.e., get out of the house or read in bed). I don’t panic quite so much about how the day is supposed to go, or what I am supposed to get out of it. I am starting to trust that there is enough goodness to go around, and I don’t have to keep score so much. Things can go badly, and it’s not the end of the world every time. What’s tragic at bedtime might be okay in the morning, because sleep heals a multitude of wounds. Expectations will be confounded left and right; my job is to keep learning and hoping.
I’m learning to appreciate life in all its topsy-turvy glory.
I’m going with it, letting go of my preconcieved notions, taking notes and trying to absorb nutrients along the way.
I am going deeper into my real life, embracing it, instead of imagining a separate fantasy space to get to. I am finding my way back into my work, my loves, my dreaded tasks and my enjoyable ones. If we look hard enough, there is a way back in to the deepest parts of our lives, and if we choose the right spot, the tunneling might even be painless. Yes, the work might be a challenge. But it is also a joy, and it shapes our lives.
I want to embrace reality with courage and persistence: chin up, sleeves rolled up, arms open, making eye contact.
So, back to you, 2015. I am determined to live you well, with curiosity, hope, and a dogged pursuit of the best you have to offer. Less of the fight or flight impulse, and more patient, loving resilience. More facing of the demons, whether they be messy closets (literally) or ugly thought patterns. More inner peace, fewer tantrums. Because I shouldn’t be surprised when things get hard. I am old enough to know better.
Oh, 2015, I know it might be early to say this, but I love you already.