We are not creatures of habit. Addiction is not our black dog. I have tried registration, dedication, resolution. I have calendars, reminders, i-minders, apps. But our patterns get interrupted; our plans change. I have been meaning to go to Zumba at the Y on Tuesdays for two years. I can get my kids to school everyday, but we will play hooky on the nicest blue bird day in winter and the first day we can show our skin in spring. We are responsible. We take care of our things and our people and no one goes hungry. We keep commitments. But I will never succeed at a weekly exercise plan. I will never take vitamins on a daily regimen. I am not wired for consistency. Its time to stop naming my lack of patterns my big failure and succeed at being me.
Yet I am a tradition junky. I must exist on a seasonal calendar; less axis and more orbit. My husband once laid out coconuts in a solar system pattern for me on a beach to help me understand planetary science, which evades me. I get the ellipsis around the sun. The spinning at the same time makes my brain hurt. It won’t sink in. It conquers me. I have to watch this once a year www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV4nk9or9SE for review. I will take my trip around the sun; but I am in total denial of rotation on a axis. We take the train to Red Wing to see Santa every Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve has been at mom and dad’s house for 25 years. President’s Day we spend with friends in the woods. In August, we camp. Etc. Etc. Etc. I am a creature of exclusively and obsessively yearly habits. But “bedtime” for instance, is an ongoing struggle.
I have wanted this to be different my whole life; to get up at 6, meditate for 15, jog for 30, shower, drink a glass of water, eat a piece of fruit to start the day “right” and greet my children with a smile at 7-to-the-second a.m. I think it was twenty years ago now I set the still unmet goal of doing sit ups every morning. I have also always wanted one of the jobs depicted in the “occupation cards” hung on grade school walls where each professional dons a different uniform; doctor, teacher, engineer. I wanted to be an X, do my Y and come home to my Z. But, it has not worked for me. I don’t do “regular” and I have judged myself for it far too long.
When I was 25 I called my mom, upset, because I was done with my teaching internship and didn’t know what was next. More teaching? But then how do I save the rain forest? And what if I want to be a Judge someday? What about writing? Or nursing? She said, “Sometimes I think you’d be happier if you chose one thing and stuck with it, no matter what it is.” I filled a journal and called a week later with my plan. “Mom; you were right. I am going to take six months and just: rock climb.” Not what she had in mind. I made it through Moab, Mount Lemon and Joshua Tree; six weeks. I couldn’t even commit to being a dirt bag.
After that escapade and a subsequent volunteer-year across South America, I moved to Montana with a backpack of earthly belongings and taught for two years (in a row!) I left Montana five years later with a truck, trailer, dog, husband and acceptance papers for a Master’s program in Maternal and Child Health. I worked as a clinical health educator for four years; then I had a baby and went part-time, I had another baby and became a consultant, I had third baby and quit. The slope was slippery from the start. Now I have been at home for five years. I have vacillated from totally committed and blissful, to rabid job-seeking for a ticket out of hell. When I left my career I felt at the top of my game; respected, on my way up. I had no idea how difficult it would be to weasel my way back into the working world. I now have a part-time job that I love, hired by parents that saw the value in my previous work and my time spent at home. And I write, because it keeps my brain buoyed above water-level in the vast and unknown sea of parenting.
Part-time work, writing, taking care of aging parents, volunteering on boards and being there for my kids have kept me breathlessly busy. Yet, I have trouble valuing myself and what I am offering the world. “Writing/working/advocating Mom” is not on occupation cards throughout grade schools. I have not had a supervisor saying, “you are succeeding, you are doing this ‘right,’ you are awesome.” A big, discouraging part of me still thinks I should be doing X, Y and Z.
Today, however, a neighbor on my street reminded me of who I am.
Every day, he says, he stands with his coffee in his doorway at 8am and spectates the “Stinson 100 Yard Dash.” The school bus arrives a straight-shot block from our house at 8:07. Rare days we all saunter together with the puppy and coffee mugs, but most days we race with various tactics intended to promote speed. Apparently the three-boys-to-one parent days are the most fun to watch. Everyday we wear different jackets and hats and mittens, like we can’t quite commit to our team colors. Sometimes the little one is just wrapped in a blanket. Jason and I range from p.j.’s to suitable workplace attire. Collectively, we wipe out on ice, we get wrapped in the leash, we bark various orders; we drop, run, skip, spit, laugh, cry, bleed, but we arrive. Apparently we also totally entertain our neighbors.
This is us. This is me. I don’t want to fight it anymore. The Stinson 100 Yard Dash is as close as we get to gently spinning on the axis. It’s no wonder parenting and writing are the jobs I’ve wanted to keep the longest. I love change; I enjoy managing chaos. I love writing because I get to create something new everyday. I like my job because I am helping to ensure that change happens. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not satisfied. I want to publish more and work more and exercise more and spend more time with my kids–but I have to do it my own way, and it will not likely ever involved sit-ups and a piece of fruit every morning. As I evolve from my role as a pro mom into whatever is next, I want a career like parenting that puts new expectations on me everyday. No more X,Y, Z. I am better in orbit.